QSM: Accepting the Zirconium Impeller Challenge

Location: De Pere, WI
Employees: 30 
Equipment: 3 Okuma machines

Making a Historical Industry Impact Quickly

A year is not a lot of time – especially for a new company to establish itself as an industry leader within the manufacturing space. Yet that is exactly what Quality Service and Machining (QSM) has accomplished within their first year of business by challenging their talented team to conquer a unique part specification that other machine shops would not even consider taking on.

Faced with a demanding, multifaceted parts puzzle to solve, QSM optimized their internal and external resources to deliver what seemed unimaginable. And their success continues to speak for itself.

The Challenge of Machining Zirconium

QSM was approached by a multi-national distributor of industrial pumps to manufacture an impeller. But this was not just any part. This was a very difficult, tightly spec’ed impeller that other companies were not willing to manufacture due to the topography complexities and the highly flammable nature of the zirconium material. Zirconium was selected as it’s known to withstand the corrosive environment in which the impeller would be used. Not only did the impeller have a very unusual radius on the central hub, but other companies were not confident in their ability to provide enough coolant on the material itself to keep it from catching on fire during the machining process.

Details About Zirconium

It is a corrosion-resistant metal that is used in highly corrosive environments commonly found in the chemical, mining, energy, and oil and gas industries.

It is a dense, soft, and highly flammable metal; many shops experience issues with the material catching on fire in their machines.

The material is very sensitive to deformation and expansion at higher temperatures.

Slow speeds, heavy feeds, and a flood of coolant is highly recommended.

Remaining Confident Under Pressure

Many vendors across North America were contacted in regard to manufacturing this intimidating impeller part. However, none accepted the calling. The urgency of finding a willing and capable machine shop grew intense as the oil and gas facility requiring this critical component was offline and awaiting the part to resume operations.

“I was excited when this project crossed my desk,” stated Don Miller, Special Projects Division at QSM. “It was a fairly complex part in a difficult material to work with,” Don explained, “but we knew with the people, machines, and partners we have, we could get it done.”

After quickly diving into extensive research, including combing through declassified nuclear plant documentation, the QSM team was able to better understand and predict the challenges of machining zirconium. With this knowledge at hand, the QSM engineering team proudly accepted the bid and was confident in not only their team’s skill but also in the abilities of their Okuma MU-6300V 5-axis machine tool.

“The narrow nature between the fins and the radius on the inside of the fins required an extreme comfort level of working with 5-axis contour,” stated Kyle Pizzey, CEO of QSM. “We were more than confident that our Okuma’s full-contour 5-axis features along with the thermal stability nature of the machine tool would allow us to make the impeller with no difficulties.”

After working around the clock, the QSM team not only determined how to successfully machine the impeller but achieved it on the first attempt – delivering a finished part within 79 hours. During this process, their Okuma MU-6300V gave them an incredible competitive advantage to work with such a complex part and material.

The gratitude from this customer has been evident in the repeat business they have secured since the completion of the impeller. QSM’s experience with zirconium has also been a success story that has reached the masses with others reaching out to collaborate on shop and material challenges they face as well. 

Engineering and Machining: There Are Always Two Sides to Every Story

Having a machine tool that can handle complexities is just the beginning of this story. Although the Okuma MU-6300V was the foundational equipment utilized, QSM also contained the second key ingredient to success – a highly knowledgeable and talented engineering team lead by Zack Tucker, VP of Engineering at QSM. In conjunction with the engineers at their Okuma distributor, Morris, Zack was able to quickly obtain answers to questions as they arose, as well as the support needed to promptly adapt to the impeller project.

“Considering how new the capability was, the nature of the material, and that this was our first major test - how well the project went is a testament to everyone involved,” stated Zack.

Talent Heightened with the Correct Machine Tool

Kyle went on further to explain how their MU-6300V supplemented the process as well, “We are fortunate that when using our Okumas, the know-how and expertise really shifts from being on the floor to the programming office,” clarified Kyle. “As we all know, it’s difficult to find expert machinists at this time in history and having the right machine tools in place allows me to continue a profitable operation.”

QSM employs a range of machinists within their facility – enlisting individuals with 20+ years of experience as well as newer, less experienced machinists. The company chooses to place the newer operators on its Okuma machine tools because of the intuitive OSP control as well as technologies like probing that removes the inspection processes.

“When set up properly, the Okumas do the work for your operators and a higher level of expertise is not required like with our other brand of machines on the floor,” explained Kyle.

Although Kyle was impressed with the overall features of the Okuma machines such as the OSP controls, thermal stability, and overall performance levels – the proof of concept was in the written guarantees that other OEM providers were not willing to provide during the evaluation process.

Advice for New Machine Shops

When asked to summarize the one major takeaway after one year of business and the zirconium impeller project behind them, the QSM team seems to be on the same page with the information they would like to share with other machine shops:

“Buy the best machines. Period.” explained Kyle. “The amount of time you try to compensate for the inabilities of a sub-par machine tool really delays progress and hinders profitability – and above all, these less expensive machine tools will never provide repeatable results.”

Don continued the conversation, “Although the initial investment for our Okuma 5-axis machines may have been a little more, the speed in which we can turn projects around and the number of satisfied customers we continue to have has begun to pay for the machine exponentially – not to mention how proud we are of the high-precision parts we are creating for them.”

“Time for the next challenge. With this team, if it fits on our Okuma machines, I don’t think there is anything we can’t do,” Don said with a smile.

Just like QSM, investing in a quality machine tool can truly make an impact on your shop floor as well as your overall bottom line. Let’s connect. Find out more about our 5-axis product offerings, contact your local Okuma distributor.

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