Visitors walking into Cam-Tech Manufacturing’s Mansfield, Texas, plant can’t miss the massive Makino T1 5-axis horizontal machining center. Management put it beneath a mezzanine that overlooks the plant floor, guaranteeing visitors will see titanium parts for commercial and military aircraft being cut at 12,000rpm at 32ipm. Precision machining of large structural airframe components is central to Cam-Tech’s global strategy, and the T1 sitting within the 80,000ft2, state-of-the-art assembly area shows the supplier is ready to support industry growth as a fabricator of wing and fuselage components.
A supplier to major OEMs and Tier 1 integrators, Cam-Tech caught the eye of Newington, Connecticut-based PCX Aerostructures LLC, a company that precision machines complex parts from aluminum and hard alloys. PCX acquired Cam-Tech in December 2014 to increase its breadth of aerospace manufacturing services.
“Our customers are not going to wait for us to develop the capabilities. We’ve got to be ready when they have opportunities to make a part and parlay that into an entire subassembly,” says Trevor Hartman, vice president of sales and marketing for PCX. “The T1 certainly is a great capability. When they see that, our customers in the detail part procurement business understand PCX and Cam-Tech are committed to investing in technology to manufacture parts more cost-effectively and with higher quality.”
PCX funded the T1 following its purchase of Cam-Tech, signaling industry original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 suppliers that the combined company is investing to grow with them. The return on the T1 investment makes Cam-Tech more competitive. For a Boeing application, technicians initially produced ribs 40% faster than they could in the company’s existing machines. Cam-Tech worked with engineers from Makino and Single Source Technologies (SST) to improve tooling, workholding, and programming. Ultimately, Cam-Tech was able to reduce cycle times by 50%.
“PCX looks for a return on our investment in 24 to 36 months. With the programs we’re running on the T1 and how well they’re running, we’re certainly going to realize a payback on the short side of that period,” Hartman says.
The company purchased the T1 to produce 28 part varieties, supporting production of three aircraft per month. The OEM has since raised its manufacturing rate to four aircraft per month.
“We were already exceeding our original expectations based on the time studies provided by SST, and now we have the capacity for an additional 25%. With the assistance of the Makino applications engineers, we’re able to go unattended to keep the machine continuously running,” says Cam-Tech General Manager Roger Hagger.
About two years ago, Cam-Tech’s leaders decided that remaining competitive as a critical structural parts supplier for large commercial aircraft and military contracts meant becoming a subassembly provider. Parts such as center wing-box frames, blocker doors, leading-edge ribs, bulkheads, and fittings would be produced and assembled at Cam-Tech and ultimately shipped to OEM and Tier 1 integration centers.
Cam-Tech built a 65,000ft2 building in 2011 and added another 15,000ft2 in 2015 to make room for additional machines and structural assemblies. The employee base grew by 30%.
Now operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of PCX Aerostructures, the company invested in Makino’s T1, the most advanced equipment they owned capable of machining titanium – used in approximately 40% of the company’s parts.
“PCX brings financial and technological resources for Cam-Tech to become a go-to shop for the aerospace industry for their complex assemblies. A lot of the parts we have bounced around the world and ended up landing here. They stay here because we’ve got the know-how to get it done. With the right vendor base and the right machine capabilities now, that will continue to happen,” Hagger adds.
Cam-Tech’s leaders teamed up with SST and Makino to leverage the features of the T1 to win a Boeing contract for a military jet door stiffener rib. Hagger visited engineers at Makino’s North American headquarters in Mason, Ohio, and traveled to Makino’s factory in Japan with Steve Neidigk, the company’s local SST representative. SST prepared time studies that demonstrated Cam-Tech could produce parts faster and with better quality on one T1 machine versus two of its existing machines. SST and Makino offered engineering application support and on-site training for Cam-Tech’s team.
“We didn’t want to just buy a machine. We wanted to change processes. We were really looking for a partner to help open our eyes to new technologies and new ways of approaching problems,” Hagger says. “SST and Makino really got down to brass tacks with our programmers, explaining this is when to speed up the machine and when to slow it down. The application engineers shared what they’ve learned about where you can really hog and when you just need to lighten the cuts.”
Following a week of on-site training included as part of the T1 investment, Cam-Tech opted for an additional two weeks of support, enlisting the expertise of SST and Makino engineers. Together they assisted shop employees with initial setup, fixturing, and programming adjustments.
“Their big concern was, ‘OK, we’re buying this great machine, but our [group is] used to doing it this way. We needed a new way.’ We brought in Makino’s aerospace group to work alongside Cam-Tech’s operators and share knowledge about everything from fixturing to programming techniques,” Neidigk says. “Cam-Tech had a successful implementation and good success with the T1 because of that engineering support.”
High performance; tight tolerances
The T1 mills large aircraft structural components, including some that start out as titanium billet weighing up to 2,500 lb. The T1 hogs out as much as 1,600in3/min on structural parts for military jets, including one that Cam-Tech had originally produced on one of its other machines.
“It took 12 hours to cut the part on existing equipment. On the T1, it takes 6 hours,” Hagger says.
Based on the speed and efficiency of the T1, Cam-Tech began transferring numerous jobs from other machines. Operators didn’t change existing programming, but simply moved them from an existing machine onto the T1. As a result, Cam-Tech reduced the cycle time for a complex, thin titanium fuselage component by half, while holding tolerances of ±0.00014" and positional hole tolerances of ±0.00100".
The accuracies of the T1 also helped Cam-Tech save on inspection costs by requiring only sample testing. Historically, parts produced on the company’s existing machines required inspection because the mills could not hold tolerances with consistency. The T1’s laser-equipped tool setter checks tool length and automatically replaces worn cutters and end mills before affecting tolerances and surface finishes. Currently 35 tools are stocked in a 120-tool magazine, with multiple backups for high-usage cutters and finishing tools.
“We have other machines that cut titanium, but the T1 is becoming our go-to machine because it’s reliable and accurate, and it’s so much faster than anything in our shop now,” Hagger says.
Cam-Tech Manufacturing LP A Division of PCX Aerostructures
Single Source Technologies