Business is all up hill for Black Diamond Xtreme in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. That is because the shop manufactures aftermarket high-performance components that transform average snowmobiles into aggressive, supercharged and lightweight extreme mountain machines.
For its custom-built Black Diamond Xtreme Pro-Lite “sled,” the shop strips down a standard Arctic Cat snowmobile then changes out and/or modifies the seat, gas tank, hood, rear skid, front suspension, motor, air intake system and chaincase. The result is a 212-hp, 940cc extreme machine that weighs only 420 pounds, which is 67 pounds lighter than the original factory weight. The sleds are balanced and built for shear climbing power, and over 90 percent of their parts are from Black Diamond Xtreme.
The company started in 2000 as the result of a patented drive system developed by founder Ray Schoenfelder. And from the beginning, it contracted out almost all of the machining work for its aftermarket parts and accessories sold worldwide for snowmobiles and other ATVs, as well as those used on the Black Diamond-version sled.
Then in 2005, the company established its now eight-person machining division shop with the intent to bring previously farmed-out machining work back in-house. The goal was to further boost component quality with more process control while at the same time manage costs and shorten lead times.
However, the shop’s original machine tools fell short when it came to part finish quality and fast machining cycle times. So in 2007, it purchased the first of its seven current Multi-Tasking machines – and most recently a VERTICAL CENTER UNIVERSAL (VCU) machining center – from Mazak.
And according to Schoenfelder, the shop now produces the same parts in-house as cost effectively as having them farmed out, even to overseas suppliers. In fact, he said that they have reshored over 95 percent of the company’s parts back to its U.S. operations. The shop has total control over its part processing. But most importantly, Black Diamond Xtreme is now much more agile and responsive to market needs and associated changes in production.
Schoenfelder’s son Jeff, vice president of Black Diamond Xtreme, added that the shop benefits greatly from the Multi-Tasking, 5-axis and DONE IN ONE® capabilities of its Mazak machines. Not only has quality improved significantly, the shop machines parts faster and with fewer required pieces of equipment.
“We get a lot more done on our Mazaks and in a shorter amount of time. They’ve allowed us to increase our production efficiency by at least 25 percent compared with standard machines. And without them, we would have had to double our workforce to achieve our current levels of output,” said Jeff Schoenfelder.
“The benefits of Mazak single-fixturing part processing are staggering,” he continued. “We’ve improved every component with that capability. And the less we have to handle parts, the more we boost quality and the tighter the tolerances we can consistently hold. Our parts can’t fail. Part failure in the field means one of our customers could be stranded on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.”
Black Diamond Xtreme has a QUICK TURN NEXUS (QTN) 250-II MSY Multi-Tasking Machine, two INTEGREX i-100S and two i-200S Multi-Tasking Machines, VARIAXIS i-600 and i-700 Vertical Machining Centers and a VERTICAL CENTER UNIVERSAL 500A 5X.
The shop’s QTN 250-II MSY's 35-hp, 4,000-rpm integrated spindle motor headstock provides heavy-duty metal removal. The spindle also serves as a CNC-controlled C-axis that accurately positions parts for square facing and slotting cuts and precisely drilled holes. The second spindle has a 15-hp motor output and 6,000 rpms for high-speed, high- accuracy machining. The machine’s 12-position drum turret packs a 7.5- hp, 4,500-rpm rotary tool spindle that performs milling, drilling and tapping operations.
Both the INTEGREX i-100S and i-200S machines at Black Diamond Xtreme deliver full 5-axis machining and feature twin turning spindles with equal spindle speeds and horsepower, as well as C-axis turning control. Vertically mounted milling spindles on the machines rotate in the B-axis at range of -30 degrees to +240 degrees for contouring of complex part features.
Black Diamond Xtreme’s versatile, full simultaneous 5-axis VARIAXIS machines perform multiple and complex curved surface machining and allow the shop to easily access all part surfaces. The machines have spacious Y-axis and X-axis travels and roller gear cam-driven rotary/tilt tables that deliver 360 degrees of rotation in the C-axis and +30 degrees through -120 degrees of tilt in the A-axis. Both machines come equipped with 40-taper, 30-hp, 12,000-rpm spindles as well as standard 30-tool automatic tool changers.
As a small-footprint, modular design vertical machining center, the VCU 500A 5X gives Black Diamond Xtreme cost-effective productivity. The machine delivers high-end capabilities through its 5-axis rotary/tilt trunion table, 12,000-rpm, 15-hp, 40-taper spindle, automatic tool changer and 30-tool magazine.
Black Diamond Xtreme machines most of its parts from 6061 or 7075 aluminums and various steels, one of which is 4140 tool steel. Part sizes range from those that fit within a 2” x 2” cube to bigger ones within a 24” x 24” cube, all typically requiring tolerances of +/-0.0005” for feature locations in relation to one another and for bored holes.
The shop machines almost all of its parts from billets of raw material and some castings, and the Mazak machines allow them to run either of these. Some parts require full 5-axis machining, however, Schoenfelder said the shop relies on the capability more for positioning to access all necessary part sides without having to refixture. On its twin-turning-spindle configuration Mazak Multi-Tasking machines, the shop uses the first spindle for front working, then the machine automatically transfers the part over to the second spindle for backworking.
“Over 95 percent of the parts we run on our Mazak Multi-Tasking machines come off complete,” said Schoenfelder. “We load a part and don’t touch them until they are done. To run our parts on separate pieces of equipment would involve more cost, more tooling and more time. Plus, the Mazak’s address and solve all our manufacturing issues.”
Schoenfelder cites a cylinder head dome for a snowmobile engine as a perfect example of where the Mazaks solved a manufacturing issue. For this part, the shop previously used two separate machines, which meant multiple setups and the part having to travel from one machine to the next. The Mazak INTEGREX i-200S not only eliminates the need for multiple machines, it completes the part in one setup and in half the time.
On its other INTEGREX i-200S, Black Diamond Xtreme is able to machine cooling-line fittings for engine head assemblies from solid billets for a 10 percent cost savings on each. The parts used to be made from castings and farmed out for machining.
Carburetor throttle body butterflies are one of the components that require full 5-axis machining at Black Diamond Xtreme. The shop processes this challenging part on one of the INTEGREX i-200S machines.
The butterflies are thin, made from brass and slightly egg-shaped – approximately 3” from top to bottom. What makes them a challenge is that they require two opposing angles machined on their edge surfaces, some of which are only 0.062” wide. However, these angles are just on the top and bottom part edges, while the right and left-side edges remain straight. Adding to this, there are two holes that must be precisely located on the centerlines of these odd shaped parts.
With the VARIAXIS i-600, Schoenfelder said the shop can not only access all part surfaces when machining its engine heads, but it is also able to use what he refers to as a “poor man’s tombstone” technique that produces a finished part with each cycle run. The technique entails using two vises on the machine’s table to process the 6061 aluminum parts made from solid billets.
As opposed to machining all part top sides then all bottom sides, one vise is dedicated for top sides, while the other is used for doing the bottoms. During processing, the machine moves from working at the first vise then goes over to the second one – a complete part comes off the machine each time the cycle runs. In addition to providing ample room for both vises, the machine’s tilt/rotary table allows the shop to easily mill and drill the complex angled features of the parts.
For its most recently acquired VCU 500A 5X, the shop has slated it to run a family of parts called helixes. And since it will basically be dedicated, the machine’s high value/performance ratio proved a key benefit.
“We wanted to be as cost-effective as possible with the machine we would use for the helixes,” said Schoenfelder, “and the VCU gave us the most performance for our money. And while it may be a smaller footprint machine, it still provides us full 5-axis capability, large table capacity and the ability to hold tight part tolerances. Plus, the big table size, for us, makes the machine more universal. It will allow us to process other bigger 5-axis parts if the need arises.”
On the sled side of the business, the Black Diamond Xtreme produces about 40 different part numbers. And overall, it makes about 100 different parts for different vehicle applications. Lot sizes vary according to demand, and the shop must often interrupt scheduled production to run 20 or so emergency parts for a customer.
“A lot of our production is order driven, and we have a retail side of our own product line to keep stocked that we design, produce and test in- house. And as our product line continues to expand, we are setting our sights on possibly incorporating some robotics. This would allow us to run our Mazaks lights out and further boost our output. We are always pushing the limits so that our snowmobiling customers can as well, and machining technology such as that from Mazak allows us to fulfill their needs,” said Schoenfelder.