Now that the worst of this serious recession is over, manufacturing companies that have made it this far are likely significantly leaner, more competitive, and poised for growth. The efficiency-optimizing, cost-reducing, and working-smarter strategies that were required to make it through these past couple of years may also have prepared us to flourish when the economy expands.
Those companies that were able to use this period as an opportunity to take a fresh look at their entire production and service operations and execute specific enhancements in critical areas can look ahead now with greater confidence. And if your company hasn’t accomplished this yet, it’s not too late to take stock and initiate action.
Founded in 1937, Chicago White Metal Casting (CWM) was fortunate to emerge from many previous recession periods with added strength in its aluminum, magnesium, and zinc diecasting production, and related service offerings to OEM customers.
When thin-wall zinc diecasting was being introduced in North America as a lighter-weight alternative to advancing plastics applications, CWM was an early adopter of the new approaches to die design and production techniques for zinc.
Despite the fact that magnesium diecasting alloy had an extended struggle to establish acceptance in the U.S. industry, after extensive research of magnesium production in Europe, CWM embraced the alloy and in 1978 it was the first North American custom diecaster to install the then-latest development of a fast-cycling, hot-chamber magnesium diecasting machine in its production department. Today the company operates one of the largest and most advanced custom hot-chamber facilities for precision magnesium diecast components.
When it was clear that CNC machining was becoming the preferred choice for more cost-efficient and flexible post-casting precision machining of castings, CWM invested in its own in-house CNC machining department. The differences in the CNC post-casting machining of complex, high-tech diecastings, as opposed to CNC machining from billet stock, are significant. Special expertise in CNC preplanning and machining center fixture design is critical to cost-effective machining of diecast parts.
Routinely involved in delivering simple subassemblies, the management saw opportunities among its customers for a move to more comprehensive turnkey programs for complex mechanical and electro-mechanical enclosures. These projects can incorporate custom parts produced in processes other than diecasting, as well as procurement of all stock components, with single-source responsibility. The assembly cells of CWM’s contract manufacturing services are now housed in a 16,000 ft2 air-conditioned facility.
Not every company is in a position to make additional investments in facilities, equipment, and personnel training during tough economic times. On a strict short-term return-on-investment basis the decision is usually to hunker down. However, if resources are available and the company is committed to growth over the long term, this could be an opportune time to make investments in equipment and personnel.
Over the last two years, CWM has been able to upgrade its capabilities and resources in nearly every area of its OEM customer project workflow, including: improved techniques for distributing engineering information; in-house prototyping equipment and diecasting die design software and procedures to optimize die construction; the rebuilding of diecasting machines to the latest electronics and controls; and new larger and more flexible CNC machining centers to accommodate a wider range of requirements.
CWM developed a Diecast Design Center (DC2), a key focus of our overall website (www.cwmdiecast.com), to be a unique resource of diecasting design guides, engineering bulletins, and reference resources for OEM product designers, engineers and purchasing specialists. Visitors can instanteously view over 70 PDF documents that can be downloaded 24/7 and “Design for Diecasting” webinars. An on-site search engine now makes it easy to locate the specific subjects to visiting OEMs during the project planning stage. The Design Center provides the most useful information and data possible to those designers and engineers who are most directly involved in new product designs and redesigns.
The latest fused-deposition modeling (FDM) machine is being used now to produce rapid prototypes in tough ABS plastic for form, fit and function analysis, and for early general planning guidance for tooling, both in die cavity design and trim die design. FDM models also provide early planning guidance for required diecast part painting and machining operations. When metal prototypes are required, in-house CNC machining of the appropriate alloy is available.
The most advanced diecast process simulation software, the Magmasoft® system, is in routine use in the CWM engineering deparment. Die designs can be optimized based on accurate 3D computer predictions of metal flow in a cavity design, in advance of die construction. Once the Magmasoft® analysis is complete, the process data can be used as input into shot-cycle process monitors on the selected diecasting machine. The results are enhanced part quality, reduced porsity, improved die life and lower cycle times.
The latest programmable inspection technology is now being used for all first-article inspection and in process control checks. This new unit, the Scheffield Pioneer CMM machine, with PC-DMIS CAD+ software, allows for inspection programming directly from the CAD model. This system allows complex parts to be measures quickly and accurately, with operator error virtually eliminated.
The CNC department now numbers over 30 CNC machining centers, with leading-edge precision at high spindle speeds. The newest units are more advanced and very flexible in order to facilitate production on a wide range of part sizes and volumes. Equipped with pallet and tool changers, these units allow for machining of multiple parts and operations and offer efficient programming and extreme accuracy and repeatiblity to assure highest quality parts with shorter leadtimes. More complext projects with multiple parts can be managed and completed with a single setup.
As part of its program of aggressively pursing best lean practives, CWM has formalized lean manufacturing in its production procedures, incorportaing continuing in-house training. The program is based on in-depth investigations of the successful backgrounds in the formal application of lean manufacturing principles. The program has demonstrated its continuing effectiveness in revealing improvement opportunities.
In the past, CWM was able to weather recessions. Over the last two years, the company has added it DC2 Diecast Design Center, in-house component prototyping, process simulation software, inspection equipment, post-casting CNC machining capabilities, and has installed lean manufacturing practices.
Your custom porduction company will have its own strategies and priorities to broaden its appeal to potential customers as you move into the post-recession economy. That time may not be here just yet, but enhancing your strengths is essential to put yourself in the best position to be ready to roll.
|Jon Miller is the director of sales and marketing for Chicago White Metal Casting Inc. in Bensenville, IL. For over 70 years, CWM has worked towards leaner and smarter die casting innovations in aluminum, magnesium, and zinc. For more information on CWM and its DC2 Die Cast Design Center, visit www.cwmdiecast.com.|