Okuma's "Universal" Theme
Break Through the Blocks to Productivity
At imX 2011, Okuma conducted a series of workshops and hands-on learning sessions that focused on the challenges and pain points that manufacturers face. Practical topics involving workforce training, tooling costs, simplifying automation, benefits of universal machine tool technology, raw material management, and many more were expertly conveyed in a learning atmosphere.
“Okuma was one of the eight major sponsor “Partners” of this event, and we are pleased that we played a significant role there,” said Jim King, President and Chief Operating Officer of Okuma America. “It was a different kind of trade show environment with the focus on sharing what you know versus what you have. The preparation for this educational-focused show spurred us to take a fresh look at our customers’ challenges and our role in tackling them head on. Then we built our presentations addressing the problem areas, whether there was a direct link to what we sell or not. For example, our discussions on training issues come to mind. An exhibitor’s wares were almost secondary to the spirit of this event.”
In Okuma’s case the focus of its exhibit was less on equipment features and more on the why, how, and where of a new process or overcoming a stumbling block to a company’s efficiency improvement. As such, many attendees took away corrective tips surrounding a number of issues that they could implement immediately. In some cases the session topics planted the seeds for a mind shift about one subject or another.
Fearless Universal Machining
One of those subjects was “Fearless Universal Machining” presented by Jim Endsley, Product Specialist Supervisor – Machining Centers. Mr. Endsley discussed the fear, complacency, and misconceptions about applying new manufacturing technology.
Over the last several years, most of Okuma’s equipment lines have evolved into what Endsley calls “universal” machines. Another term used to describe the concept is “multifunction”. Basically, these are machine tools that can completely cut a part in one set-up with the ability to perform all milling and turning operations in one machine. This approach reduces the number of machines required to make a part and increases throughput at the same time, thereby reducing cost and boosting productivity. “The return on investment happens often occurs in less than a year, depending on the application,” said Endsley.
While the theory and results are compelling for universal machines, some shop owners and machining department heads are hesitant to install them. “It all comes down to a mindset,” said Endsley. “People in general don’t like change. They might be afraid of it or they might be complacent – the old ‘we’ve always done it this way’ excuse. There are also a lot of myths out there about these machines. I’m hoping the imX experience helped change some minds or at least wedged open an entryway for the universal logic to work itself in there. Sometimes I think the concept is almost too simple and practical for people to grab hold of it. Almost as if they are thinking, ‘it should be harder than this; it’s so brilliant’.”
Just looking at one of Okuma’s universal machines, for example, the Multus B400-W, has two opposing 2-axis lathe spindles and a milling/drilling head is centered between them. The milling/drilling can be approached vertically or horizontally. Seems complicated, right? Not as much as you might initially think, suggested Endsley. “It’s a mind game. I always advise my customers to contemplate each spindle as though it’s a stand-alone machine. When an operator or programmer takes that approach, the process incorporating all three almost unveils itself in his or her mind automatically.” Further, Okuma’s intuitive programming approach takes a user step by step through each operation as each line of code is written. “It’s like holding your hand from start to finish. First time programmers are usually amazed at how much easier it is than they imagined.”
Universal Machine Design
The designs of Okuma's universal machines are varied. Generally, the predominant function dictates the form and structure, then the additional functionality is incorporated into that. For instance, the Multus series are lathes by appearance with a milling spindle. Conversely, the Millac series are either VMCs or HMCs predominantly, with turning capabilities. The choice of machines is dependent on the nature of the applications – square or round or prismatic, and their size range, weight range, etc. The good news is that these machines are so flexible that users might install a universal with certain applications in mind and yet they often can be applied to new work that comes in, if it’s sized right of course.
According to Okuma, over 60% of all parts today are machined on five sides, and these parts are all candidates for universal machining techniques. Only 5% of all parts require true simultaneous 5-axis capability. Several examples of specific parts that are now being “done in one” include manifolds, flow valves, computer hardware, and heavy motor cases, as well as round parts including couplings, impact drives, pump components, small engines, and even complex-shaped automotive suspension components. Many of these parts have multiple compound angles, precise geometric relationships, combined operations, and excellent finishes. For instance, Endsley cited the manifold as previously requiring eleven different set-ups and five different machines to produce it. That traditional process involved large capital investments in equipment and factory space, created significant work in process, and relied heavily upon labor. Quality was often compromised by all the set-ups. “There are huge costs associated with this manufacturing model,” stated Endsley. “Some are obvious and some are hidden, but they all have a negative impact on profitability.”
In addition to answering the need to reduce costs, universal machines also meet the trend of just-in-time manufacturing, requiring quick changeovers and relatively short runs. Today, companies may still run 200,000 parts on a machine, but they are done in lots from 2 to 200, according to Endsley, and then changed to another part. In those comments he dispelled a myth that universal machines are inflexible.
Endsley noted that a misconception exists in the United States about the competitive advantage gained by manufacturing in low labor cost countries like China.
“China doesn’t have cheap labor, it has unskilled labor,” says Endsley. “Its manufacturers are using advanced technology like universal type machines that practically run themselves with a modest amount of training, and that is what is reducing costs there– the technology.”
Endsley went on to explain that European manufacturers increasingly use advanced technology for completely opposite reasons. With highly skilled workers and labor costs that are roughly three times America’s labor costs, Germany, France, Italy and the U.K. need to reduce costs and increase output.
Advanced manufacturing technology reduces labor costs to a small fraction of the final part cost because it removes much of the human intervention from the process. He believes that America has the space, infrastructure, and workforce to create a renaissance in American manufacturing. “We’ve lagged behind in training and we’ve lagged behind in applying new technology. But, I also believe that U.S. manufacturing is starting to change. With events like imX turning up the volume on the conversation, more action will follow.”