National Machinery LLC, Transforming cold forming

Manufacturing in Action, Source : The Manufacturer US
Published : August 2003

National Machinery LLC just keeps growing from strength to strength with continual product development. Jerry Bupp and Doug Schubert spoke to Colin Browning

Cold forming is something of a ‘brute force’ operation. This does not mean, however, that it is carried out without a great deal of thought and finesse. Those using the process in their manufacturing operations are constantly demanding longer life machinery, capable of producing components of higher quality. But National Machinery has built a reputation for technical leadership and originality and continues to be a world leader in the design, development and manufacture of high-speed metal forming machines. Sold in more than 130 countries around the world, these formers produce top quality parts from coiled wire, bars and preforms. But in this field, innovation is the only constant. "We are continually developing our products," said Jerry Bupp, director of sales operations and marketing. "Every-thing is open to being updated and we have, on many occasions, changed the face of the industry. For example, in the early 1990s we introduced our Formax technology. This meant that for the first time formers were constructed with bolt together bed frames. Prior to this everything had been cast as a single piece. Not only did the bolt together concept mean that the machines themselves were easier to make, they were easier to operate. The customer could change the tooling in a fraction of the time it took with traditional machine concepts."

Since then, Formax has been subject to further revision. In the mid-1990s the Formax Plus range was launched. It effectively met the challenge of difficult to transfer jobs by employing pick-move-place transfer and zero-clearance heading slide guiding technologies. These were appreciated by the customer for the fact that they gave greatly improved tool life and better quality products. But where would you find an operational National former?

Customers in the fastener industry use formers to manufacture rivets, nuts and bolts. Formers also play a big part in the automotive sector, producing complex shapes such as spark plug shells, gears, components for shock absorbers and valve spring retainers. In addition the bearing industry uses formers to manufacture inner and outer races as well as precision balls and cylindrical rollers. Other uses can be found in the aerospace, appliance and machinery manufacturing sectors. To service such an extensive customer base, National Machinery needs a considerable operation.

The company is headquartered in Tiffin, OH and the plant covers 600,000 square feet. It was formed in 1874 by William Anderson with a workforce of just 10 and moved from its original plant in Cleveland to Tiffin in 1882. Within a year it was winning awards for its products, which were contributing to the growth of the nation. Right up to 1998 the company was a family-owned concern before being sold off. However, in February 2002 an equity purchase of all assets of the company was completed and once again the company became a family business with Andrew Kalnow as the majority shareholder and CEO. The Kalnow family has an exceptionally long association with the company, with its first hand management responsibilities stretching as far back as the early years of the last century.

Today National Machinery employs around 300 staff. As its products are expected to last for many years, it needs to be physically close to its customers to provide effective after sales care. So as well as a support function in Tiffin, National has a large service center at N�rnberg in Germany, with around 60 staff based there. It has also established a similar centre at Nagoya in Japan which is slightly smaller with 20 staff. But in the US, the company has again been busy displaying its latest product improvements.

National was present at the Industrial Fastener and Forming International (IFFI) exhibition and conference held in Chicago in June this year. This is one of the top global events for demonstrating new technologies in the formed parts industry and National used the opportunity to show the three latest FORMAX Plus features. These are the fine feed for the FXP machine, which permits adjustments of 0.01mm that can be carried out, using the industry terminology, 'on the fly'. The second advance is digital machine positioning, which allows the operator to dial in the exact position of the heading slide. However, the most significant new development is the Blank Rotator.

The Blank Rotator is a self-contained unit that rotates a blank from a horizontal to a vertical orientation. The significance of this is that within cold forming, almost all tasks are carried out in the horizontal plane. The effect of which is that to carry out secondary tasks on a component, it needs to be removed from a former and re-inserted to another machine. This may not be a complex process but is always time consuming. The Blank Rotator eliminates this need. The National Blank Rotator is an engineered to order item, designed to work on a particular product and already interest is rising. "A lot of items need to undergo secondary tasks, and anything we can do which allows our customers to save time during this stage of production is always welcome," said Bupp. "We also do a lot of close work with our customers to help improve their operations. They will often come to us with a part which is only partially cold formed and ask how it could be produced more efficiently. Our engineers can then develop solutions and machinery specific to that one customer." But National is also capable of improving its own operations as is shown by its recent software investments. "We used to run our whole operation off an IBM mainframe," said Doug Schubert, sales manager for the mid-west region. "We had it for many years and much of the software was written inhouse. It control-led our material resource planning (MRP) system but every department was basically running its own database. All this information needed to be merged and the financial reports it produced were not very good. Another problem was that it did not run in real-time, so the decision was made to replace it." National chose software developer, BAAN for this project. BAAN was instructed that the new system must link in all aspects of National's operation, operate off a single database and provide accurate, real-time information which could be easily accessed. The result was its 5b application which National is one of the first companies to use in the US.

5b is a client server based system fronting an Oracle database. National had the relevant hardware installed and a host of new PCs appeared around the factory. To ensure that the changeover to the new system went as smoothly as possible, it initially put together a full time team of eight. The team members were drawn from various departments within the organization including sales, purchasing design, engineering, finance/account-ing, material control, manufacturing and most importantly, a very capable and dedicated enterprise resource planning (ERP) support group. These people worked together for two years but over that period a further 80 individuals were involved on an ad hoc basis. "We had seen how other com-panies made similar switches, so our goal was to go for a 'vanilla' software option," said Schubert. "We thought it better to tailor our processes to suit the software rather than customize modules to match the way we worked. We began work in late 1998 and the first department to partially change over was finance in September 1999. We then carried on working with the software, in conjunction with BAAN, on an isolated development server, testing and re-testing to assure a 'best-fit' between requirement and software functionality." The full switchover occurred at the end of 2001 and the new system has been very well received in the plant.

Other recent developments at National include the update of its manufacturing area with the introduction of Mazak Integrex and Makino A88 machines. The Integrex is a combination turning and milling machine and in some cases these machines have decreased part costs by a significant percentage. This factor is especially important to National because of its very small lot sizes. New machinery has also been ordered for delivery later this year to improve on National's tooling and development capabilities. The order includes a CNC mill for 3D contours and a CNC plunge EDM for the tool room. The CNC machines will improve the company's capability to make complex tooling shapes, which in turn will enable National to achieve difficult parts easier and quicker for customer development jobs. The tool room capacity is important to help customers with parts that can remove secondary operations or produce parts that weren't possible before. A vital factor in National's sales strategy. On the test and development floor a total of 12 new units for wire drawing and wire payoff will also be added. National has shown that it's a company that takes great pride in its work and results but its best achievement is its exceptionally low staff turnover. It takes two years for an untrained recruit to be brought up to speed but National places great store in staff retention. As a result the workforce feels valued and is very receptive to new ideas. National knows without the capability of the staff, new ideas will just remain in the pipeline.