Specializing in custom-engineered, high-precision motion and integrated automation systems, Pittsburgh-based Aerotech is the very definition of exceptionally high-mix/low-volume (HMLV) production as well as high volume work. Since 1970, the company has grown from a garage startup into a global automation leader, bringing customer concepts to life, most often in small runs of one to 10 parts of varying sizes and features.
When running its small lot sizes for applications requiring 0.0001” – 0.0002” part tolerances, Aerotech experienced longer-than-normal downtime due to ongoing machine changeovers for each job. In fact, the company found their machine spindles were only running for approximately 10% of their available production time, with the remaining 90% of the time spent on complex setups and tool change overs. However, despite that labor-intensive downtime, Aerotech still managed to turn out some 300,000 parts annually for advanced research, medical implant manufacturers, semi-conductor fabs and other high-tech sectors.
It was at this time the shop reached out to Amanda Wiegel, their Mazak Sales Representative and Sales Engineer for A.W. Miller Technical Sales. Aerotech has relied on A.W. Miller as their full-service Mazak dealership for over 30 years, and Mazak is their machine tool of brand of choice.
Wiegel has been Aerotech’s sales engineer for over four years and in that time has been inspired by the company and their forward thinking culture. “Moving from a primarily vertical platform to a horizontal one meant changing some mindsets, but the Aerotech team made this transition beautifully, mostly due to their willingness to think outside the box and the careful vetting process with which they approach every project,” Wiegel said.
She added that the goal at Aerotech was to add horizontal machining capability to its production strategy. Doing so resulted in shorter job lead times, increased spindle uptime and improved output through more lights-out capacity.
For its high-mix operations, Aerotech added two Mazak HCN-5000/50S Horizontal Machining Centers. The machines with 240-tool toolhives are part of a 28-pallet Mazak PALLETECH high-rise system that features two loading stations and an overhead gantry loader to automate as much of the shop’s processes as possible.
“At first blush, choosing the Mazak horizontals seemed counterproductive,” said Anthony Fazzini, Director of Machining at Aerotech. “Those types of machines are typically associated with high-volume production. However, pairing the machines with the modular, pre-engineered PALLETECH system and high capacity tool hives definitely provided us with the job flexibility we needed to reduce setup times.”
Aerotech’s automated PALLETECH system gives the shop’s machinists the ability to setup numerous downstream jobs while the HCN-5000s continue to run uninterrupted production.
“We estimate our new PALLETECH system, with two HCN-5000s, does the job of eight standalone vertical machining centers that would have required six full-time machinists ,” said Fazzini. “Equally important, manpower requirements have been reduced significantly. The Mazak system requires only one part-time machinist and one or two full-time operators.”
Fazzini went on to say that the ability to set up 28 pallets worth of production in advance has also dramatically improved the shop’s automated, lights-out production capability. With the PALLETECH system, Aerotech machinists can set up enough jobs to keep the HCN-5000s running unattended over a long weekend.
The new production equipment further solidifies Aerotech’s long history with Mazak. The company has been machining with Mazak for decades and still operates a machine it purchased in 1992. From the very beginning, Aerotech decided Mazak was the badge of quality and appreciated the solid design and stability that went into its machines. Through Aerotech’s internal machinist training program, the company has also built a strong workforce that is very familiar with Mazak machines and MAZATROL controls. Aerotech machinists and operators know Mazak inside and out, the company says, giving production new horizons of flexibility for the future.