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Vertical Machining Centers Deliver Precision, Reliability for Growing Franchino Mold
In central Michigan, leaders of Franchino Mold and Engineering bet big on a strategy to grow their business by investing in their people, improving processes and obtaining the best technology available. Beginning in 2012, Franchino began a $5 million shop expansion, which doubled their number of employees to 91 and expanded their machining—including the purchase of six Makino F5 vertical machining centers (VMCs).
Four years later, Franchino is expanding its position as a leading maker of die-cast and plastic injection molds—some as big as 420,000 pounds.
The company, founded in 1955, specializes in molds for automotive, construction equipment, appliance and consumer products manufacturers. Franchino also provides contract machining, and has long relied on Makino machines for their performance, reliability and durability. With three locations and more than 100 machines to create dies and molds for customers, the company is always looking to stay current with machinery.
When it was time to expand their small vertical machining center area, Makino was at the top of their list. Little did they know that at the end of their purchase cycle of six F5 vertical machining centers they would see improvements across the board: cycle time decreased by 30 percent, tool life improved by 25 percent and maintenance costs lowered by 20 percent.
CONSISTENTLY CUTTING TO NET SHAPE
Franchino had a lineup of older mills from various suppliers that were aging and beginning to experience chronic maintenance issues. As they looked to upgrade, there was one area of particular importance: the ability to accurately cut to net shape. When working with the large molds they were becoming known for, tolerances had to be minimal, since in large molds with multiple parts any tolerance error quickly adds up. The company determined that the ability to accurately and reliably cut to net shape would significantly reduce bench time for hand finishing mold components, resulting in quicker turnaround time and cost efficiencies for both the company and their customers.
“The components come right off the machines and fit right into a pocket. We don’t have to fit them. They will go in the first time.”
At the outset of their purchase research, Mike Hetherington, vice president of operations, and company president Robert Franchino spent 18 months studying new machining technologies. During that research, they worked closely with Single Source Technologies (SST), which provides machine tools, engineering services, tooling, supplies, application support and customer service to local manufacturers. Hetherington even traveled with SST representatives to Makino’s assembly plant in Japan to learn firsthand about how the machines are built and to better understand their capabilities.
The Franchino team later challenged SST with test cuts on complex workpieces that had to be held to tolerances of plus or minus 0.0002 inch. Not only did SST and Makino engineers successfully produce the parts on an F5, but they also offered recommendations for process improvements. These process improvements were possible because the F5 is designed to provide stiffness and rigidity for chatter-free cutting, as well as agility and accuracies for tight-tolerance blends and matches needed for complex, 3-D contoured geometry.
Franchino purchased two F5 vertical machining centers, and quickly realized the improvement of the Makinos over their older machines.
“The components come right off the machines and fit right into a pocket. We don’t have to fit them. They will go in the first time,” said Scott Pollok, a CNC programmer and team leader in Franchino’s F5 area.
Soon after the initial purchase, Franchino then bought a second set of F5 machines—and then a third set months after that, bringing its total to six F5 vertical machining centers. As Franchino purchased each pair of F5s, the company’s operators attended a week-long training program at Makino’s Die/Mold Technologies Center in Auburn Hills, Mich. They learned to operate the new machines and also discovered best practices for programming.
“We got a different perspective on what we had been doing for years,” Pollok said. “We improved surface finish by changing how our programs cut based on what their [Makino’s] engineers taught us.”
REPEATABLE TOLERANCES, SURFACE FINISH—ALL WITH THE LIGHTS OUT
One of Franchino’s goals in upgrading their small vertical machining centers was to improve the reliability of unattended and lights-out machining, especially during its second shift. Previous machines weren’t able to consistently hold tolerances without an operator continuously monitoring the program, and often required additional benchwork and hand polishing to meet requirements. The F5s changed all that.
“We are able right now to send a program to the machine and go home for the weekend, and rely on the fact that the machine is going to be running when we come back in on Monday.”
Hetherington estimates that with the F5s in place, downtime for repairs or maintenance has been improved by 100 percent. As a result, jobs can be set up and run unattended for six hours or longer during the second shift with only one operator on duty. The reliability of the equipment has also given Franchino the confidence to run some mold components over the weekend with no one in the shop.
“One of the biggest things we have now with the Makinos that we didn’t have before is the ability to trust that they’re actually going to do what we tell them to do,” Hetherington said. “We don’t worry about the machines going down or not making it through the programs that we run. We are able right now to send a program to the machine and go home for the weekend, and rely on the fact that the machine is going to be running when we come back in on Monday.”
Each F5 is equipped with the Makino Professional 5 control, which comes with an easy-to-use touch-screen interface and provides operators with convenient access to the tools and information necessary to program and process cavity components quickly and efficiently. The 30 percent cycle-time improvement Franchino has realized is due in no small part to how well the control assists the operators, Hetherington said.
“We now can take details off one machine and put them on any one of our six Makinos and be confident that it’s going to run exactly the same on any of our machines.”
One of the key process improvements SST and Makino engineers recommended was a standardization of the machines’ tool changers. Each F5 has an automatic tool changer (ATC) loaded with the same first 15 tools. Additional tools fill out the 30-tool magazines as needed, simplify programming and enable Franchino to define and standardize processes. Franchino also has cut in half the amount of time required for polishing and other benchwork because the rigid F5s cut accurately and consistently. A program can be set up and tuned in on one machine, and then transferred to some or all of the other F5 vertical machining centers. No matter how busy the shop is, or which operator is scheduled, Franchino can easily accommodate engineering modifications and production schedule changes without affecting quality.
“We now can take details off one machine and put them on any one of our six Makinos and be confident that it’s going to run exactly the same on any of our machines,” Hetherington said.
SECONDARY FINISHING CUT 30 TO 40 PERCENT
Blending issues are a common problem for manufacturers when they have to use two or more cutters of different sizes. With the Makino F5s, Franchino no longer has to worry about those issues; the repeatable accuracy of the F5s has eliminated that problem, because the rigid design of the machines reduces chatter. Core-cooled spindles, thermal-controlled spindle jackets and high-pressure through-spindle coolant also ensure long hours of rigid, stable cutting. In addition, the Professional 5 control quickly manages more tool points, and an automated tool length monitor ensures tool integrity. The cutting feedrate reaches 787 inches per minute.
“The F5s’ capabilities are just amazing,” said Jim Walter, Franchino Mold’s CNC supervisor. “They process programs so fast. The feedrates and chip loads are high. They’re in the cut all the time.”
MORE THAN MACHINES: ENGINEERING AND PROCESS ADVICE
Process engineering support from SST and Makino contributed to Franchino Mold achieving its business goals. Franchino’s leaders set out to purchase vertical machining centers, but they also received detailed advice on how to incorporate the new machines’ abilities into their processes; and they plan to incorporate new programming techniques and workflow.
“[SST and Makino] helped set up processes that we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. We use what we learned every day, and we’re seeing significant increases in efficiency because of it.”
Training during implementation of the F5s helped the Franchino team to take an advanced engineering perspective of their processes, giving them accurate information to calculate feeds, speeds, depths of cut and chip loads. A routine to drill a hole and complete details around a hole now is saved in the Professional 5 control, where it can be called up and quickly modified for new uses on subsequent jobs, saving significant time.
The common set of tooling, tool holding and work holding for each machine recommended by SST and Makino also met Franchino’s goal of standardizing operations. Engineers from SST and Makino have remained available ever since to answer any questions Franchino Mold has in preparing new routines that have reduced cycle times and improved component quality. Franchino estimates the F5s have helped cut bench time by 30 percent and spotting time by 20 percent as a result.
“They [SST and Makino] helped set up processes that made the most of those machines,” Pollok said. “We use what we learned every day, and we’re seeing significant increases in efficiency because of it.”
ACCOMPLISHING WHAT MATTERS
What matters most to Franchino is producing better products for its die-cast die and plastic injection mold customers with faster lead-times.
“We knew about the quality of Makino machines, but the Makino equipment with the support from SST has enabled us to improve all aspects of processes, resulting in a highly reliable system that enhances our products, services and overall competitiveness.”
When other manufacturers retrenched because of a slow economic recovery, Franchino’s leaders chose to boldly move forward by committing to three key areas: people, process and technology. They accomplished their business goals by adding skilled machinists and enhancing their employees’ skills with advanced training, standardizing processes and investing in the best technology available.
“Our commitment to customers means that we have to provide durable, quality product that is reliable and maintainable. We need good people, efficient processes and outstanding technology. If one of those isn’t up to par, our process falls apart,” Hetherington said.
“Makino and SST added to the value of our investment tremendously and help us to continuously improve our return on investment.”
Makino helped the company with all three: training their employees, providing process improvements based on the F5s’ advanced technology. “We knew about the quality of Makino machines, but the Makino equipment with the support from SST has enabled us to improve all aspects of processes, resulting in a highly reliable system that enhances our products, services and overall competitiveness. Makino and SST added to the value of our investment tremendously and help us to continuously improve our return on investment,” Hetherington said.
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Franchino Mold & Engineering