According to Manager Scott Vyhlidal, Tri-V Tool and Manufacturing Co. in Omaha, Nebraska, never turns down work or shies away from a challenging part and will give any reasonable venture a try even as those jobs become increasingly more complex. It is for these complex jobs as well as to efficiently meet customer demands in terms of turnaround times that Tri-V has shifted from simple machining technology to more sophisticated and advanced horizontal machining centers, an automated pallet system and multi-tasking part processing. All of which keeps the shop competitive and profitable. As more of its customers have embraced the use of advanced CAD systems as well as data-driven manufacturing, the resulting part designs Tri-V faced, in turn, became more complex with contours and rounded shapes and less straight lines and angles. In the words of Scott Wachholtz, Vice-President of Tooling and Manufacturing at Tri-V, “no one draws a straight line any more, and to remain competitive and succeed, a shop has to have the machine technology that can handle such parts and do so quickly and cost effectively.”
Currently the shop runs two shifts, does general production manufacturing and produces tooling for molds and stamping dies. Most jobs are low volume, with lot sizes ranging from one to 1,000 pieces for a lot of repeat jobs/customers. The majority of the shop’s customers are in the medical, agriculture, food processing, telecom and defense industries.
Customer part sizes range from those that are barely visible to some that are up to 28” in diameter and made from steel, stainless steel, cast iron and aluminum.
Tolerances range anywhere from 0.0002” to +/- 0.015”. To process its wide range of complex parts, Tri-V progressed from mainly manual knee mills to simple single process VMCs in the late 1990s, then to most recently a fully automated two-machine manufacturing cell and a multi-tasking machine. The cell incorporates two Mazak HCN 6000 Horizontal Machining Centers within a 24-pallet Hi-Rise PALLETECH System, while the multi-tasking machine is a Mazak INTEGREX i-500.The HCN 6000s have 10,000-rpm, 50-hp, CAT 50-taper spindles that use advanced compact integral spindle/motor designs for low vibration and low heat generation. For fast and precise axis positioning, the machines rapid traverse at 2,362 ipm per axis and accelerate/decelerate at 0.7 G, while smooth high-gain servo and high power AC servomotors provide vibration-free, accurate axis movement. With 43-position tool storage magazines, the machines allow Tri-V to handle a wide variety of parts and perform continuous unattended machining over long periods of time. Tri-V further boosts the productivity of its HCN 6000s with Mazak’s PALLETECH modular palletized manufacturing system. Such a design makes it easy for the shop to add pallets, loading stations and part wash stations at any time as production needs change.
The INTEGREX i-500 at Tri-V combines extreme versatility, speed, accuracy and ease of operation. Featuring a 12,000-rpm 30-hp milling spindle with B-axis and 1,000-rpm 30-hp turning speed, the machine is a fusion of CNC turning center and machining center for full 5-axis machining and DONE IN ONE® processing. As a result, Tri-V eliminates multiple setups, fixtures, tools and handling and reduces non-cut times.
The shop’s relationship with Mazak started when Tri-V acquired a used machine, then eventually progressed to the HMCs and the PALLETECH. “We looked at other builders,” said Wachholtz, “but what convinced us to go with Mazak was its MAZATROL SmoothG CNC technology. It allows us to put a solid model into the part and basically program that part at the machine. Any time we don’t have to resort to an offline system, the faster we can turn around a part.”
He added that some parts definitely require a CAD/CAM system, but for others, the SmoothG control handles programming, and the shop anticipates more of its parts will end up programmed at the INTEGREX i-500 as opposed to in the front office.
What drove the acquisition of the initial HCN 6000 was an automotive job at Tri-V. “By switching that job to an HMC, we gained about 30 percent efficiency,” said Walchholtz. “Plus we could load enough parts on its two pallets to run virtually lights out. This also eliminated the need to have an operator at the machine changing out one part at a time.
Within a year of its first HCN 6000, Tri-V added the second HCN 6000 and the PALLETECH System that now runs the shop’s low volume/high mix production. Dedicated tombstones on the pallets that the PALLETECH’s robot loads and unloads allow Tri-V to automate its job shop, onesy-twosy type work. Without the system, it would have to run these jobs on several separate machines and with a lot more time-consuming setups involved. “Once we get into a job that will repeat, we will dedicate either a tombstone or some other type of workholding that drastically reduces setup times,” Walchholtz said.
For its INTEGREX i-500, the potential for a specific defense sector job spurred the acquisition of that machine. If the shop didn’t have the INTEGREX i-500, that particular part would require at least five individual machines and much more overall processing time. Plus data retention from one individual machine to the next, according to Wachholtz, would have been a nightmare.
The defense part involves different inside milled features that are all the same but located at different sections of the part. “Our initial intention was to not process the whole part in the INTEGREX i-500, but we tried it and were able to do so,” said Wachholtz.
Some parts the shop used to run on its VMCs have also transitioned over to the INTEGREX i-500. One such part was for the agriculture industry sector that previously required three separate machines that Tri V now completes on the multi-tasking machine in one operation. Once the job was up and running, the machining time dropped to only an hour as opposed to the over three hours it took on the three separate machines, and labor and setup time involved was reduced significantly. And as more of its customers realize the shop has multi-tasking, Tri V anticipates winning more work because of such capability.
For Tri V, the majority of what runs on the INTEGREX i-500 involves more milling than turning operations – parts most shops would run on vertical machining centers. A part for the defense industry that involved very little turning, for example, recently ran on the INTEGREX i-500 at Tri-V required a series of angled pockets, some round/contoured profiles and a tapered bore through the center. The machine completes it in one setup.
When doing such milling parts on its INTEGREXi-500, the shop will incorporate workholding features, or “service pieces” – a feature or section of a part used only for workholding or manufacturing purposes – on the part that are then removed/“tabbed off” after machining. For instance, the raw material for the defense part starts at 36” long, but the actual length ends up at 24” long. The processing time savings far outweighs the cost of the extra material.
“From a workholding standpoint, we do have to be a bit creative, but it isn’t impossible. For instance we’ve machined square jaws on the INTEGREX i-500 for workholding use on the machine itself,” said Walchholtz. “Or we can setup the machine with a tombstone between its two turning spindles and run multiple parts in one setup.”
According to Mike Brown, machinist/toolmaker at Tri-V, running the INTEGREX i-500 has been quite an experience. “There is a lot of action in the machine, with its two turning spindles, milling spindle and lower turret all moving simultaneously,” he explained. “But, the MAZATROL SmoothG control and easy programming has lessened the intimidation factor experienced when first stepping up to the machine. The controls are amazingly easy to learn and operate.”
In its early days, Tri-V was a tool and die and moldmaking job shop started in 1984 by three Vyhlidal brothers, hence the Tri-V name. One of the three – the other two retired – is still at the shop and is president, while Manager Scott Vyhlidal will soon take over that role.
“Years ago, my mother came up with a slogan/tag line for the shop,” explained Vyhlidal. “It was ‘because V (we) try harder’. And while we did use it for a while, it’s message does convey what differentiates us from our competition. We take on the tough jobs and go above and beyond customer expectations. We need to continuously drive down our processing costs to remain competitive. With that said, we will continue to replace some of our older technology, single process machines, and we foresee more multi-tasking and full 5-axis machines down the road from Mazak that will allow us to tackle even more jobs other shops would avoid.”