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- Aerospace machining job shop learns - buying the right CNC machines means getting the right people
Aerospace machining job shop learns - buying the right CNC machines means getting the right people
Challenge: Klune Industries is a large aerospace machining job shop that specializes in products for military defense and commercial aircraft. When selected by The Boeing Company as a supplier for the 787 Dreamliner, Klune launched an exhaustive investigation for a state-of-the-art equipment solution that would meet the demands of this and many other projects for years to come. Okuma horizontal CNC machines ultimately played a critical role in the aerospace machining business’ expansion plans.
A critical consideration in the selection process was establishing a foundation that would keep them competitive for the foreseeable future. To do this, they needed to engineer an automation cell to contain labor costs.
Initially, they kept their options wide open. Having all the major CNC machine tool builders in-house, there were no preconceived notions about which would fit the bill. But they knew there was one thing they needed above all – a committed partner to work alongside them as they built an innovative new process.
Real Help: Okuma was selected for their willingness to go beyond the sale and become a valued partner in ongoing process development. Okuma and distributor Hartwig provided intensive in-the-trenches support throughout the implementation process, even with a compressed installation schedule.
Today, Klune is armed to deliver quality parts at a competitive price for their customers. They plan to double in size, from $60 million in sales today to over $100 million in five years.
“We didn’t just write a check and get a product. Okuma is a long-term partner that rolls up their sleeves to support us in state-of-the-art innovation.”
Location: Spanish Fork, Utah
Equipment: Four Okuma horizontal CNC machines; FASTEMS flexible pallet system
CHARTING NEW TERRITORY
Klune Engineering Manager Bill Moore has always had a big job on his hands. The 200,000 square foot, full-service shop he oversees was already geared for large-scale operations.
But when Klune was awarded work producing structural titanium parts for The Boeing Company’s Dreamliner 787, the need became clear to develop a new manufacturing process with capability for doing close tolerance work with competitive pricing. Labor costs needed to be contained through the use of automation.
It had to be a state-of-the-art solution. And Klune needed more than CNC machines. They needed a committed team player to support them in creating an innovative solution.
INNOVATION OF A DIFFERENT KIND
Upgrading aerospace machining programs is nothing new at Klune. But plans for the 787 project were more ambitious than usual. They would not only fulfill the current needs of the project, they would also create a path to future growth.
Bill knew the answer would not be found with standalone machine set ups for typical batch-run production. A new approach would be needed to maximize a 24/7 work schedule and maintain labor costs.
According to Bill, “This kind of innovation takes a different mindset. You have to be able to understand how to integrate material delivery systems with the machines to be able to better utilize the equipment. If you don’t, you can fall into the trap of not getting full functionality and full efficiencies out of the system.”
So he conducted an exhaustive search for the right partners.
“CUSTOMERS HELPING CUSTOMERS” CRITICAL TO THE SELECTION PROCESS
As a large aerospace machining job shop, Klune utilizes a diverse equipment base representing all the major CNC machine builders. Their experience with the builders has been good. When the search for the equipment for the 787 work cell commenced, there were no preconceived notions about what equipment would provide the best fit.
When dealing with titanium parts, rigidity, functionality and the spindle configuration of the CNC machines are all critical. As Klune investigated these parameters, they began to gravitate toward Okuma.
“Up until then, Okuma wasn’t necessarily a household name at our shop,” says Bill. “But when we looked at the construction of the machine, how it was set up, and the spindle configuration, we liked what we saw. The Okumas can take a hit and keep on going.”
Adding to the benefits of strength and reliability of the machines, a preview of the partnership itself began to take shape. The Klune team had the opportunity to meet Okuma America President and COO Larry Schwartz, and gained an understanding of the company culture.
The meeting was a revelation for Bill. “We were very impressed with Larry’s candor and his hands-on knowledge of the industry. It was clear that Okuma wasn’t just selling a product. They were committed to becoming a solution partner with their customers.”
For the next step in the CNC machine selection process, the Klune team conducted site visits to look at different equipment brands in use in a variety of manufacturing settings. They interviewed customers from a wide range of different industries.
The turning point in the selection process came when David Mann of Okuma distributor Hartwig arranged for a site visit to an aerospace manufacturer with similar equipment to what Klune was considering. What they saw was astonishing. Uptime was 90% or better, shift changes went like clockwork, and efficiency was excellent.
For Bill, the benefit of “customers helping customers” during the site visits provided the tangible insights he needed. Seeing the equipment in place in another facility, and seeing the results they were getting, gave him confidence in his decision.
“Getting a first-hand look at what was happening at Spirit was a big factor,” Bill recalls. “We also recognized the professionalism of Hartwig, and Okuma’s willingness to jump in and make things happen. We added that up and it was a good fit.”
SUPPORT FOR SUCCESS
Just as the decision to go with the Hartwig/Okuma solution was finalized, the economy slowed down. And, as was the case nearly everywhere, business and projects moved slowly. The team went about clearing the manufacturing area and configuring the machine layout, but the slow pace compromised valuable lead time.
When the decision was made to complete the CNC machine installation, the timeline was compressed. Now the team would not only have to accelerate, but accelerate and innovate simultaneously.
According to Bill, “Getting all the machines in and completing the installation was a challenge. But Okuma’s willingness to dig in and work with us made it a smooth transition.”
“We didn’t just write a check and get some equipment. We got the support we needed to make this thing successful.”
THE RIGHT PARTNER
Hartwig and Okuma brought FASTEMS to the table as the right solution for the material delivery system.
Klune had experience with an integrated automation system, having previously used a proprietary version from a different machine manufacturer. But that product and approach was not the solution for this project.
The approach with their new partner would be different. Okuma took the lead with oversight of the entire project. Their CNC machine building expertise was combined with FASTEMS’ material delivery focus, and each team member bore responsibility for the effectiveness of their contributions.
Bill believes this was a winning approach. “We felt like, with Okuma and FASTEMS, they were just more committed, and more apt to roll up their sleeves and make this thing work.”
MUCH MORE THAN A PRODUCT
Spanish Fork, Utah is located about an hour south of Salt Lake City. While there is workforce to tap into, skilled labor is not plentiful. Training and support are therefore essential ingredients in the ongoing success of Klune’s 787 project.
Hartwig established a local presence in Utah, providing support just a phone call away. This is augmented by technical specialists from Okuma and FASTEMS.
The Klune team is impressed by the proactive nature of Okuma’s training programs. With programs and seminars at technical centers across the U.S., Okuma provides a variety of formats to keep operators informed.
Bill sees this as a difference that matters. “Typically, when you attend manufacturer programs, you can tell the number one goal is to sell you something. But Okuma is really trying to educate. They’re not just trying to sell a product.”
READY FOR THE FUTURE
Klune is confident the hard work invested in their new aerospace machining process will pay off for a long time to come. The automation will keep them competitive so they can win more work while keeping labor costs down.
They have plans for future expansion with the additional of four or five more CNC machines, and they can increase their flexibility with different sizes of equipment. And they’ve just scratched the surface of opportunities the THINC CNC control can bring to further optimize their processes.
It’s a system they can grow with. And that’s just the right fit, because Klune is a big shop with big plans for the future. The aerospace machining shop plans to double in size, from $60 million in sales today to over $100 million in five years. Bill looks forward to the journey. “We still have more we can do to maximize this investment. We know Okuma is the right partner for our long-term program.”
Okuma CNC machines: 4 – MA-600H horizontal machining centers
Partner products used:
Mayfran Chip Conveyors
ChipBlaster High Pressure Coolant Systems
FASTEMS Flexible Pallet System