Using Past Recessions to Come Out Strong,
Well-Run Supplier Companies are
Doing it Again
Now that the worst of the most recent serious recession is over, those manufacturing companies that have made it through are likely significantly leaner, more competitive and poised for growth. The efficiency-optimizing, cost-reducing and working-smarter strategies that were required 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 now look ahead with greater confidence. And if your company hasn’t yet accomplished this, it’s not too late to take stock and initiate action.
Founded in 1937, Chicago White Metal Casting (CWM) was fortunate to have been able to emerge from many previous recession periods with added strength in its Al, Mg and Zn die casting production and related service offerings to OEM customers.
Coming Out of Past Recessions
When thin-wall zinc die casting was being introduced in North America as a lighter-weight alternative to advancing plastics applications, the company was an early adopter of the new approaches to die design and production techniques for zinc.
Despite the fact that magnesium die casting alloy had an extended struggle to establish acceptance by U.S. industry, after extensive research of Mg production in Europe, CWM embraced the alloy and was the first North American custom die caster to install the then latest development of a fast-cycling hot-chamber magnesium die casting machine in its production department in 1978. Today the company operates one of the largest and most advanced custom hot-chamber facilities for precision magnesium die cast components.
When it was clear that CNC machining was becoming the preferred choice for more cost-efficient and flexible post-casting precision machining of die castings, investment was made in an in-house CNC machining department. The differences in the CNC post-casting machining of complex, high-tech die castings, as opposed to CNC machining from billet stock, are significant. Special expertise in CNC preplanning and machining center fixture design is critical to the cost-effective machining of die cast parts.
Routinely involved in delivering simple subassemblies, management saw opportunities among its customers for a move to more comprehensive turnkey programs for complex mechanical and electro-mechanical enclosures. These projects can now incorporate custom parts produced in processes other than die casting as well as procurement of all stock components, with single-source responsibility. The assembly cells for these contract manufacturing services are now housed in a 16,000 sq. ft. air-conditioned facility.
Making the Most of the Tough Years
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 the resources are available and the company is committed to a goal of growth over the long term, this period can be an opportune time to make such investments: equipment may be available at more attractive negotiated pricing; personnel time may be available for training in advanced new skill sets.
Since 2008, 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 die casting die design software and procedures to optimize die construction; the rebuilding of die casting machines to the latest electronics and controls; and new, larger and more flexible CNC machining centers to accommodate a wider range of requirements.
DC2 “Die Cast Design Center”
CWM developed a Die Cast Design Center (DC2), a key focus of our overall website, to be a unique resource of die casting design guides, engineering bulletins and reference resources for OEM product designers, engineers and purchasing specialists. The Design Center is especially useful at the time this information is most needed, in the project planning stage. It now contains over 70 PDF documents that can be downloaded 24/7. Also available for instant viewing are 5- to 15-minute “Design for Die Casting” webinars. An on-site search engine now makes it easy for visiting OEMs to locate specific subjects. The volume of Design Center downloads by OEM managers involved in new product designs and redesigns attests to the usefulness of the resources offered.
In-House Component Prototyping
The latest fused deposition modeling (FDM) machine is now being used 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 die cast part painting and machining operations. When metal prototypes are required, in-house CNC machining of the appropriate alloy is available.
Die Cast Metal-Flow Process Simulation Software
The most advanced die cast process simulation software, the Magmasoft® system, is now in routine use in the CWM engineering department. Die designs can now be optimized based on accurate 3D computer predictions of metal flow in a proposed 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 die casting machine. The results are enhanced part quality, reduced porosity, improved die life and lower cycle times.
State-of-the-Art Inspection Equipment
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 measured accurately and quickly, with operator error virtually eliminated.
Post-Casting CNC Machining Center Expansion
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 repeatability to assure highest quality parts with shorter lead times. More complex projects, with multiple components, can be managed and completed with a single setup.
Lean Manufacturing Practices to the Next Level
As part of its program of aggressively pursuing best lean practices, CWM has formalized lean manufacturing in its production procedures, incorporating continuing in-house training. The program is based on in-depth investigations of the successful lean programs in place at its largest customers, with successful backgrounds in the formal application of lean manufacturing principles. The program has demonstrated its continuing effectiveness in revealing improvement opportunities.
Ready to More Fully Meet Customer Needs
Your company will have its own strategies and priorities to broaden its appeal to potential customers as it moves into the post-recession economy. That time may not be here just yet, but enhancing its strengths is essential to putting your organization in the best position to be ready to meet the most demanding needs of your customers. ##
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