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Company reinvents itself with technology, innovation.

When Dennis Sobol and a partner purchased Rex-Buckeye Co Inc ten years ago, he knew things had to change at the Cleveland, OH, manufacturer of components for metal die casting equipment. Problems included a serious decline in business due to the recession and outdated equipment. The company was losing money.

The way Rex-Buckeye management and union employees turned the 29-person operation around illustrates the kind of hard work, innovation, and--when it comes to new machine technology--risk-taking involved in growing a small machining business in the current economic climate.

The company's main products are cast-iron "goosenecks" used in zinc die casting. Main part features are a bore for a hydraulically actuated piston that accelerates the molten metal "shot" into the machine and a long, curved neck through which the molten metal flows into the die. Sand cast from a proprietary alloy, the gooseneck castings range in size from about 12" to nearly 4 ft long and can weigh several hundred pounds. Although they share a roughly common configuration, bore diameters and some other part details are specified by the customer.

Besides goosenecks, Rex-Buckeye produces a variety of die casting replacement parts including nozzles, noses, plungers, and shot sleeves for aluminum die casting. An example of the company's innovation is a plunger tip for aluminum die casting that is fabricated from a proprietary copper-nickel alloy. Plunger tips previously were made from copper alloys containing beryllium, a metal that not only was expensive but also posed a potential health hazard. The new alloy tips eliminate potential health risks and allow easy recycling of worn tips.

"We decided the only way to get customers' attentions was to deliver quicker. That really got us back into the marketplace. The people here responded, and customers responded," says company president Mr Sobol. One problem, he adds: "When the company changed hands, the newest turret lathe in the shop was a 1929 model."

The new owners started out by installing CNC turning centers from Giddings & Lewis and Mori Seiki, eventually purchasing four machines. In 1992, the company added a Kuraki CNC boring/milling machine. Purchasing the boring mill was not only a big step toward allowing the company to serve its customers better; it was a huge risk.

"The machine cost us more than the original purchase price of the entire company ten years ago," says Mr Sobol. "Granted, the company wasn't in the greatest shape when we bought it, but that kind of puts things in perspective."

And it took a while for the risk to pay off. "The machine was installed in May 1992, but it probably wasn't running really efficiently until early this year," says Mr Sobol. "It took us a good six months to get experience on the machine and get up the learning curve on programming.

"We had what we thought was good CNC experience from our turning machines," he continues. "Translating that experience to a mill was a lot harder than we had anticipated."

The Kuraki KBT-11WDX CNC boring/milling machine features a #50 taper, 2500-rpm spindle driven by a 15-hp (continuous) AC motor. The 1400 mm x 1600 mm table can handle loads to 8800 lb. X, Y, and Z axis travels are 2000 mm, 1200 mm, and 1350 mm, respectively; W-axis (spindle axial) travel is 650 mm. Fifth axis capability is provided by a "turntable on a turntable" system that allows rotation of the parts in multiple angles and orientations.

Why purchase such a large boring mill? "The goosenecks range from about 12" to 4 ft long, with bores up to about 40" deep," says Mr Sobol. "You couldn't do that on a machining center. We wanted the table space, because we could do four-up machining of different parts."

Rex-Buckeye uses custom fixtures to machine up to four goosenecks at a time, using preprogrammed routines to handle different sizes and part features. "We probably have 150 different size goosenecks, and we may have 100 sizes of parts that fit inside the gooseneck," says Mr Sobol. "For example, in the back of a zinc die casting die is a bushing called the sprue bushing with a female radius on it. The front of our nozzle has a radius on it that matches the radius on the sprue bushing. We have separate programs for all the different radiuses and variations in other part characteristics, and operators just punch up the appropriate programs and run the job."

The Kuraki machine has been a good fit with Rex-Buckeye's focus on fast delivery, says Mr Sobol. "A typical order quantity for us is one part. What we're doing now is offering same day or next day delivery. When the company changed hands almost ten years ago, typical delivery time was 8 to 10 weeks.

Under development at Rex-Buckeye are tombstone-style universal fixtures that will allow operators to prepare a part for machining while the previous job is running. Currently, parts are placed in the fixtures using an overhead crane, a process that can take nearly as long as machining the components.

"We're completely machining all the goosenecks on the Kuraki machine, including boring, milling, drilling, and tapping. But we're not taking advantage of all its capabilities," says Mr Sobol. Still, "the increased productivity has actually allowed us to get into the world market," says Mr Sobol. "We've sold goosenecks in Japan, Germany, Australia, and England. Japan and Germany are new for us."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Manufacturing Solutions
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:897
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