“I have found that to compete in a global economy, I must have labor flexibility. That means all of my employees must be able to operate all of our principle machine tools. It eliminates bottlenecks for better product flow and keeps overhead to a minimum.”
Pelletizer Knives is a small but global manufacturer in Houston, Texas. Founded in 1966, it specializes in making industrial process knives for the plastic and rubber industries. Its product line has over 90 distinct part designs with hundreds of variants for each of these based on material and abrasion resistance requirements. The result is a low lot size production environment with an emphasis on lean manufacturing and process quality.
Almost all plastics used in the injection molding operations arrive as raw material in a pellet form. These pellets are created using giant extruders and a series of rotating knives that chop the material into pellets. The knives are the wear item and must meet exact standards to maximize life and maintain product quality.
Pelletizer Knives’s determination to make its knives at the highest quality and the lowest cost has made it an industry leader. Pelletizer Knives sells to major petrochemical companies across 40 countries throughout the world. Fully integrated with heat treat, grinding and machining capabilities, Pelletizer Knives is uncompromising when it comes to controlling quality.
With only 22 shop employees, Pelletizer Knives must practice “lean” in all of its operations. One critical aspect for Pelletizer Knives is selecting and utilizing equipment that is not only productive but also easy to learn and use for all of its employees. This flexibility is a vital requirement that frees up bottlenecks that often occur during the production process. Choosing the right equipment keeps unit labor costs down, reduces work in process, minimizes and lead times.
The bottom line is that Pelletizer Knives’s prices are the same as they were 10 years ago.
Hurco’s VMX42 Slashes Setup Times
Pelletizer Knives’s first Hurco machining center was a BMC30 purchased in 1992. Its 15 HP 6,000 RPM spindle coupled with 30″ x 20″ travels met the basic needs for drilling and tapping on the blade blanks.
About six years ago, Greg Messina, VP of Operations, added the manual work switcher from SMW. It permitted part unload and load to occur outside the machining area and thus increased spindle up-time by 25 percent. While the open work area is acceptable for most of Pelletizer Knives’s applications, it cannot meet the needs when higher spindle speeds and machining enhancers (like coolant through the spindle) are required.
Pelletizer Knives researched its options and chose Hurco’s latest machining center, the VMX42 equipped with a Midaco automatic pallet changer. The combination of higher machining rates and the load/unload capabilities of the pallet changer has slashed unit cycle times by 60 percent.
Messina purchased the VMX42 because of the unique capabilities of Hurco’s integrated control, a true shop floor workstation. Because conversational programming is easy to learn and simple to operate, anyone in the shop can run the Hurco machines. This allows Pelletizer Knives to quickly respond to its customers needs even when their offline programmers or CNC only operators are not available.
Pelletizer Knives builds all of their programs using Hurco’s unique conversational programming, which utilizes an easy to learn system with prompts to record all the data needed to create an efficient program. With the helpful drawing holder, the operator pulls up the correct program from memory, verifies it on the right-hand graphics screen, checks tool settings on the left-hand text screen, and makes adjustments as required. Then, the operator is ready for the next job.
In a typical operation, it would take an operator about 30 seconds to automatically unload and load fixtures on the VMX42’s pallet changer. He would then press a button and the changer would automatically cycle at the end of the machining cycles.
Messina’s original plan was for the operator to run another nearby machine when he was finished with pallet load/unload. However, he found that the Hurco machining cycle time was so significantly reduced with the VMX42 that the operator is now a full time load/unloader.
With 25HP and a 300PSI coolant thru the tool system, the VMX42 is very precise at the milling and drilling operations on the knife blank that is processed at RC 36-42. On the .200″ drilled hold, feed rates up to 20″/min are achieved.
Messina found that G-code only machines routinely created work-scheduling conflicts because workers could not be cross-trained easily. When Messina purchased his first Hurco machining center 12 years ago, he immediately saw the benefit of using Hurco’s conversational programming software on the integrated Hurco control.