Reata Engineering and Machine Works in Englewood, Colorado, took a huge leap of faith when it acquired its first multi-tasking machine. None of the shop’s highly skilled machinists had any experience with such an advanced machine, but the shop was confident that multi-tasking would significantly reduce part setups and eliminate having to use multiple machines in processing the shop’s highly complex parts, in particular, components for peristaltic pumps used in the medical field.
The endeavor paid off. Multi-tasking has not only propelled Reata to an ultimate level of machining capability and flexibility, but also in terms of the types of parts it can manufacture. The shop, which is ISO and AS 9100 certified and specializes in medical, aerospace semi-conductor and other high-tech industrial work, can now take on an increased amount of high-mix, low-volume jobs involving parts that are even more complex than those it has been doing. Plus it can machine those parts more accurately and in shorter cycle times to provide customers with the highest quality work and the shortest delivery times.
However, successful multi-tasking machining at Reata didn’t come without a challenge or two along the way. According to Chris Reese, production manager at Reata Engineering & Machine Works, the most significant one was that the shop had to completely change its mindset concerning part processing because of the added flexibility that multi-tasking machining provided.
“We now approach part processing from both a milling and turning standpoint,” said Reese. “For instance, with parts once made from square blocks of raw material, we now have the option to produce them from round stock or slugs if doing so will shortening processing time. It is this greater amount of flexibility that has made our multi-tasking machine the most critical component of our manufacturing operations.”
Reata’s multi-tasking machine is a 5-axis INTEGREX i-200S Multi-Tasking machine from Mazak Corporation. The shop acquired the machine from Denver, Colorado, Mazak distributor Action Machinery in the summer of 2011. Reata’s INTEGREX i-200S features twin turning spindles, a milling spindle and a 72-tool magazine, as well as an added LNS Quick Load Servo 80 S2 bar feeder and Royal Products Rota-Rack parts catching system.
With 37 employees, Reata operates three shifts and, on average, puts out 190 jobs per month, 25% of which are brand new part numbers. Currently, the Mazak machine runs at full capacity and practically 24/7 producing five part numbers for the peristaltic pump Reata manufactures. The pumps are a key component for human blood separation systems that are used when patients are undergoing such procedures as open-heart surgery. Blood is drawn out and into the separation system, which then spins it and pumps it back into the patient’s body.
Prior to its Mazak machine, Reata processed the pump components on two separate machine tools – two operations on a turning machine and three operations on a milling machine for a total of five different setups. With such multiple-machine/multiple-setup processing, issues of scrap and part accuracy would also come into play. Most often, a few parts would be scrapped during the process of dialing in the various machining operations on each machine. And as parts moved from one machine and one setup to the next, the risk of out-of-tolerance parts dramatically increased.
Now, the components are machined complete in one setup and one operation on the INTEGREX i-200S and, for the most part, unattended. “There are just no setup times to deal with on the Mazak, said Grady Cope, president and CEO of Reata Engineering & Machine Works and former chairman of the NTMA. “Plus, we can do practically any part, no matter how complex, on that machine, so there’s no limit as to the types of jobs we can pursue.”
Because pump parts come off the Mazak machine completely finished, Reata is able to run larger lot sizes. The shop typically processes 25 to 50-piece lot sizes, but the jobs the Mazak is running are in the 200-piece range. Processing that many pump parts using the shop’s previous method would have involved routing all the parts through the first turning machine operation, then all of them through the milling operation and finally attaining completed components about nine weeks later. From setup to first completed part takes only a couple hours with the Mazak machine.
“This tremendous increase in processing speed has been the biggest benefit for Reata,” said Rob Volkert, vice president of operations at Reata Engineering & Machine Works. “It allows the company to grow, and our growth rate has been a consistent 40%. Plus, we have benefitted from a scheduling standpoint in that customers get completed orders faster, as opposed to receiving 25 or so pumps periodically over a longer time period.”
The peristaltic pumps Reata manufactures are comprised of a bearing housing, motor housing, end cap, roller cage and pump housing. Roller cages and pump housings are done on the INTEGREX i-200S, with roller cages produced from 2.500” diameter aluminum barstock – about 1.5 bars consumed per shift – and pump housings from larger size aluminum slugs. Both components involve extremely intricate and complex machined features. Cycle times per part average between 17 and 20 minutes, as compared to those of 30 minutes using previous multiple-machine processing methods.
Most often, Reata uses the INTEGREX i-200S’s second turning spindle primarily for part backworking. The majority of machining is done at the first spindle and using the machine’s B-axis milling head, then the part transfers, via synchronized C-axis rotation, to the second spindle. Reese pointed out that it is also the machine’s speed, power and rigidity that contribute to significant reductions in part cycle times.
Both turning spindles on the INTEGREX i-200S provide equal high performance with spindle speeds of 5,000 rpm and precise C-axis turning control. And the machine provides a bore capacity of 3” in diameter.
For C-axis contouring versatility at either turning spindle, the INTEGREX i-200S’s vertically mounted milling spindle delivers 30 hp, 12,000 rpm and a rotating B-axis range of -30° to +240°. The machine also features Mazak’s unique roller cam drive for its B-axis, which ensures higher accuracy and rigidity, while providing zero backlash for easily holding Reata’s +/- 0.0001” part component tolerances.
As a compact multi-tasking machine, the INTEGREX i-200S gives Reata an ample Y-axis travel of 9.8” and vertical X-axis of 24.2”, with 4.92” below centerline. It accommodates parts up to 25.9” in diameter, and because the machine’s tool magazine is located at the front, Reata’s machinists can do programming and tool setup with minimal required physical movement.
While his experience with CNC horizontal machining centers helped him better understand multi-tasking part processing, Reese indicated that it was the user-friendliness of the INTEGREX i-200S’s MAZATROL CNC control and training from Mazak that allowed him to quickly gain proficiency in multi-tasking machining. After ten days of Mazak training, Reese was able to confidently setup and run complex parts on the machine. And with only four days of training with Reese, Mike Birlew, a machinist at Reata Engineering & Machine Works, was also able to confidently run the INTEGREX i-200S.
“We are very thankful for Mazak’s support and its training programs, as well as the assistance we received from Action Machinery. Both companies got us into the multi-tasking mindset and were committed to us being able to master the machine ourselves as quickly as possible,” added Cope. “This level of support is what helps alleviate some of the hesitation many shops have when it comes to incorporating new technology, which is essential for being competitive. I can’t imagine us ever going back to a 2-axis lathe or vertical milling technology now that we are well into multi-tasking.”
“When we got the INTEGREX i-200S, we worried the economy might slow down again as in 2008. But the machine allows us to stay lean and do more challenging parts using less machines and with just a few very talented individuals. With a few more advanced Mazak machine tools, we could practically eliminate the need for all our other conventional machining centers,” commented Cope.
In going forward, Reata will continue to offer its customers expert design, prototype, manufacturing, assembly and special testing services, as well as providing engineering advice on product development and manufacturability. Additionally, the company plans to further expand into different industry segments, and Cope said that the Mazak machine would be a key marketing tool in doing so. Even now, current customers are eager to see the machine and, once they witness its capabilities, often come back to Reata with other additional parts they’d like the shop to produce.
“The Mazak machine allows us to give customers better products and better service,” said Cope. “And that’s a huge factor in our continued business growth.”