Cutting Tool Engineering
September 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 9

Erecting better productivity

By CTE Staff

80/20 Inc. is a solutions-based company that offers a modular aluminum construction system it dubbed “the industrial erector set.” The basic frame component is a T-slot extrusion that, combined with brackets and screws, is assembled to make modular products, such as a table frame, machine guard, display case, chair or shelf. “The number of different applications our customers create is expanding all the time,” said Andrew Tate, a member of 80/20’s marketing team.

80/20 employs more than 325 workers and has a 250,000-sq.-ft. facility in Columbia City, Ind.

Courtesy of Haas

Operator Dennis Pease performs a quality check on a part using micrometers. The TM-2 Toolroom Mill in the background is cutting a custom-drawn part.

“It’s a unique culture here,” Tate said, who, like his colleagues, has no official title. “And that comes directly from the top. Don Wood, who founded 80/20 in 1989, is a driven man. He knows the importance of a positive attitude in life. He respects his employees, and he expects them to deliver the same respect and positive attitude to the company’s customers.”

Wood named his company after the 80/20 theory, or Pareto’s law, named after the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (1843-1923). Pareto discovered a relationship that occurs in the natural world in which 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of effort, or 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. In business, the 80/20 theory can help a company operate as efficiently as possible.

This efficiency philosophy led 80/20 to invest in 16 CNC machine tools from Haas Automation Inc., Oxnard, Calif., over a 3-year period, beginning in 2005. The machines include eight TM-2 Toolroom Mills, two VF-4SS vertical machining centers, five EC-400 horizontal machining centers and one GR-712 gantry router.

80/20’s older machinery wasn’t allowing it to expand manufacturing capabilities. “The older manual machines had the NC power but didn’t have toolchangers,” said Mike Downam, who manages the company’s facility. “All tools had to be changed manually and setups were hard.” He noted operators only knew a worn drill bit needed changing when it took extra effort to pull down on the drill press—“which, obviously, was not very efficient.”

Because each piece of equipment could only perform one step when making a part, 80/20 had to have a lot of machines. The first two Haas machines were custom-built CNC TM-2s with toolchangers and wings on them to handle long bars. The TM-2s alone replaced 18 pieces of equipment.

Another challenge 80/20 faced was standardizing controls so a machine could be run by different operators. “We wanted to reduce the learning curve for operators, making the machines easier to learn, but we also wanted to be able to download CAD programs from Mastercam straight into the machines so people weren’t programming at the machines,” Downam said. “Now we have a programming department where they write the software, dump it in the server and the operator calls up the program from the machine.”

The company’s TM-2s are mostly used to machine short-run or one-off custom-drawn parts held in manual vices. Typically, these parts need multiple machining operations on multiple faces, so the vices are set up to offer as many holding options as possible. “The TM machines are also used to process long extrusions, which are held in custom fixtures,” said Cliff Cornewell, a CNC operator in 80/20’s custom machining shop.

The VF-4SS VMCs produce higher quantities of custom parts and more complicated parts and bars that require more spindle power to remove more material than the TM-2s. The machines use hydraulic workholders. “We use those machines for the longer bars because they have windows on the side you can open. And they are a lot faster and beefier machines; they can do hard aluminum machining better than the TM-2s,” Downam said.

The company uses EC-400 HMCs to machine large batches of customer-drawn and 80/20 standard parts, such as joining plates, inside-corner brackets and stanchions. These machines are equipped with hydraulic vises on rotating “tower” fixtures to allow machining on three sides without handling. Swapping towers allows loading/unloading parts while a machine is still running. “Some of the EC machines were retrofit to accept existing fixtures from our older machines and eliminate changeover cost and production interruption when we invested in Haas machines,” Tate said.

Courtesy of Haas

A hydraulic vise on a Kurt rotating, 6 " ClusterTower fixture on a Haas EC-400 HMC holds inside-corner, two-hole bracket parts.

When customers order custom plastic or aluminum panels, 80/20 uses its Haas GR-712 gantry router with a large vacuum table. “We also use this machine for engraving and tapping,” Tate noted.

Tate added that 80/20 is set up to provide everything from raw materials to finished, packaged products. “We do have some customers who buy just raw materials from us and do their own machining,” he said. “Most of the time, though, we do the machining and ship it out, and then the customer can build their application. If they decide they want us to build an assembled product, we can also do that here.”

Cornewell has used the Haas machines since the day they arrived. “The Haas machines have greatly increased our productivity,” Tate said, “not to mention our overall manufacturing capability. We’ve found that everybody in each department has discovered different ways to utilize their capabilities.

“And not only do we create our own parts for inventory with the Haas machinery, but the versatility of these machines allows us to create project-specific custom components that, in reality, we would never have thought to offer without the input and designs from our customers,” Tate added.

As a growing company, 80/20 was looking to resolve a lot of different issues through whatever equipment it bought, Downam concluded. “With Haas, we gained faster equipment, greater capabilities, tighter tolerances and universal controls. Those older machines start to become high-risk because it is hard to find replacement parts and support. If you lose an NC board and don’t have one on the shelf, you are done.” CTE

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