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Manned cell puts brakes to competition.

Manned cell puts brakes to competition Careful analysis of material and production costs, and a total reorganization of its production process, help this brake-drum maker compete with overseas sources.

Connecticut-based Echlin Inc, is a billion-dollar producer of electronic, electrical, fuel, cooling system, and driveline components for the automotive aftermarket. The company's Hydraulics Inc, Div, in McHenry, IL, is its manufacturing arm for replacement brake drums and disc brake rotors.

Since opening its doors in 1967, the facility has invested steadily and sizably in capital equipment. Timely replacement of hand-operated machines with automatics and then another shift to virtually total NC production in 1979 enabled Hydraulics Inc, to maintain an excellent competitive position in a highly competitive business.

But, four years ago, in what is now an all too familiar story, foreign-made brake discs and drums began to arrive in quantity at a landed cost of X per piece. At that time, Hydraulics Inc's cost was 1.5X per piece. Obviously, the company's options were limited; they could find ways to take at least a third of the cost out of their products or cede the business to offshore competitors.

The company, with strong support from their corporate parent, decided to make a fight of it. Taking 33 percent out of the cost of any established product represents a monumental challenge. To have any chance of succeeding, the program required total commitment by engineering, manufacturing, manufacturing engineering, and purchasing. Their objectives were to (1) reduce material costs, and (2) increase throughput.

As their effort got underway, part designs, tolerances, and materials were painstakingly analyzed to uncover any time and material cost reductions which could be carried out without compromising component function and integrity. Each step of the manufacturing process similarly was scrutinized to uncover any possible time and labor savings. Purchasing carried the message to their casting suppliers and, by making it very clear what was at stake, was able to negotiate meaningful price concessions.

Working against the company was the very nature of their business. They provide discs and drums for virtually every make of foreign and domestic automobile as well as for a variety of trucks, busses, and construction equipment. They catalog over 400 sizes and styles of rotors and drums covering vehicle vintages going back twenty years. And so, while annual production at McHenry runs into millions of pieces per year, because of distribution constraints and the large variety involved, lot sizes are relatively small, ranging in size from only 200 to 10,000 pieces in most cases. The many workpiece configurations, in combination with small lots, made it economically unfeasible to implement full-scale automation.

Production then and now

The best way to gain an appreciation of how the company met its objectives, and understand what they've accomplished over the past four years, is to look at the production of brake drums then and now.

Four years ago, the process began with the receipt of brake drum castings from the foundry, which were sent to the turning department. From there they went to inspection, and then to the press department for punching of the lug mounting holes. (The larger, composite drums have a steel plate cast in for strength and rigidity. It is through the steel plate that the actual fastening of the drum to the wheel flange takes place.) From there the drums moved on to the balancing department, where each drum was checked and, if necessary, a weight crimped on to provide proper balance. The next stop was painting and then to boxing and shipping.

With tongue in cheek, some employees maintained that the drums piled up more miles going through the shop than they would on someone's vehicle. Even more damaging than time spent moving materials around the shop, were long queues, which backed up at each department. This represented an enormous amount of work in process at any given time. It was not uncommon for parts to spend a month working their way through the shop.

The elimination of these queuing bottlenecks represented a major cost-saving opportunity. In 1985, Hydraulics Inc began to reorganize the entire shop, converting from departments with like machines in colonies, to product-specific cells capable of taking in raw castings at one end and delivering finished parts ready for boxing at the other end. With this move toward just-in-time production, the plant now contains a number of cells solely devoted to brake drums, and other cells dedicated to complete production of rotors.

Since reorganizing, brake drum castings enter the cell and, with virtually no queuing time, are ready for processing. All necessary turning and boring on the drums is completed in one operation. After machining, parts are unloaded, washed, and inspected before being taken to the punch press. From there they go to balancing and crimping.

Depending on the cycle time of the part being produced, the entire activity in the cell might be handled by the turning machine operator. In the case of shorter cycles, the machine operator can be supplemented by a press operator, who would also do balancing and crimping.

The company's process studies also revealed other cost saving opportunities. In the case of larger brake drums, which may weigh as much as 50 or 60 lbs, production was transferred from horizontal machines to twin-spindle verticals. The verticals made part loading much easier, a factor in reducing operator fatigue. These machines, supplied by New Britain Machine, New Britain, CT, are Pittler four-axis machines capable of running two identical parts or two different parts of the same time. Because spindles operate independently, the operator loads one side of the machine while the other side is cutting. As one part is finished, the operator has time to remove it, wash and inspect it before the other spindle stops. With longer cycles, the operator also has time to perform other operations.

Two New Britain/Pittler verticals were installed in March 1988. Satisfaction with performance led the company to order another pair, scheduled to be installed in 1989 for additional cell capacity.

Manufacturing engineering finds more savings

While rearranging material flow through the shop, and the use of new, more productive equipment have had a major impact on cost reduction, much of the success of this program has come from paying attention to small things. With sufficient experience under its belt, Hydraulics Inc has developed resident tooling for vertical machines that will handle many different sizes and shapes of drums, without removal from the turret at each job changeover. Parts are now grouped and scheduled to machines by families, where possible, to further minimize tool changes.

Manufacturing engineering personnel have worked with the chuck supplier to develop a master jaw lubrication system that allows them to grease the master jaws on the machine. Prior to making this improvement, the machines had to be shut down every few hours so that the chucks could be dismantled to remove the cast iron dust. Now, the master jaws are greased every 8 hrs and any dust inside the chuck is forced out along with old grease. This has reduced downtime significantly. The ME department also has designed quick changeover, qualified top jaws for their chucks. Old jaws can be removed and new ones installed in a matter of minutes.

Even hand gages used to check brake drum bores have been redesigned to eliminate difficulties with inserting and removing them from the part. The ME group also spent considerable time evaluating new cutting tool materials and cutting rates. As a result, drums are now machined at speeds over 3000 sfm with ceramic (silicon nitride) inserts.

Questioning old methods and finding new ways to make the process more efficient has become an every day procedure. For example, recently a quality circle raised the question of why brake drums are painted after machining? Original equipment drums are supplied as cast. As is so often the case, it was determined that the painting served no functional purpose. Yet, it had always been part of the process so no one challenged it. Now, this operation has been dropped and another cost savings achieved.

It has been four years since Hydraulics Inc began trimming manufacturing costs. They have now reached the point where cost per piece is less than foreign competition's landed cost. Where previously parts spent a month in the shop, they now spend less than a week. This is a throughput increase of more than four to one. Workforce response to the cell concept has been very positive. They like having more responsibility over the process and a greater variety of tasks to perform. This illustrates what can be achieved by companies through total commitment and top management support.

PHOTO : 1. In a brake drum production cell, the twinspindle vertical machine operator removes a

PHOTO : completed part, washes it, then gages it before sending it to the punch press. Inset shows

PHOTO : the machine's drum-type turret, which returns to home position when machining is

PHOTO : completed.

PHOTO : 2. After the drum is turned, lug holes are punched through the steel insert at the press

PHOTO : operation.

PHOTO : 3. Schematic diagram of a brake drum machining cell showing sequence of workflow.

PHOTO : Depending on cycle time, all activity in the cell might be handled by the turning machine

PHOTO : operator.

PHOTO : 4. Balancing and weighting of the drums are the last operations performed in the cell

PHOTO : before drums are shipped.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Echlin Inc. brake-drum manufacturer cost control project
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:1562
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