Company Creates Cost Effective Components with Smart Combination of Manufacturing Processes
Die casting, machining, and assembly are specialties of a Canadian contract manufacturer that produces sacrificial anodes, drive systems, and fuel/water separators for the marine industry.
Canada Metal (Pacific) Ltd. has formulated a distinctive mix of pressure die casting, machining, coating, and assembly services to create a one-stop engineering and manufacturing environment for its customers. Among the company's offerings are galvanic anodes, manufactured for the marine industry to provide cathodic protection of parts submersed in water. The company, a global supplier of non-ferrous metal products, engineered and machined die castings, and subassemblies for various industries, is reported to be the world's largest producer of pleasure craft anodes for the marine industry, often die casting them with an extremely difficult Mil-spec aluminum alloy.
Canada Metal (Pacific) often works with Mil-spec alloys to manufacture galvanic anodes that were originally designed by the U.S. Navy many years ago. The galvanic anodes, also known as sacrificial anodes, are metal objects that are attached to boats to protect submersed metal parts from corrosion.
"A lot of boats have many different metals under the water," said Bill Jaklin Jr., sales manager for the company's casting and machining division. "So rather than having a propeller corrode, people will put these pieces of aluminum, zinc, or magnesium on the hull or the engine so that they accept corrosion and everything else stays intact. These alloys have to be very specific in their composition. We use the Mil-spec with a slightly tighter specification to reduce impurities. This alloy is very difficult to use for pressure die casting."
The casting and machining company (www.canmet.com) works with most of the OEMs in the marine industry, including Mercury, Yamaha, and Volvo. Some of the OEMs have their own die casting facility, but they will not cast these alloys because of how difficult they can be to work with. These alloys have virtually no iron in them, so they can become very iron thirsty. Since the pressure die cast molds are made of H-13, or similar steels, the alloy "wants" to bond and solder to the mold. So the molds "don't last as long as the traditional die cast molds," according to Jaklin.
"You end up with casting problems because parts stick and you don't have the same consistency as on a traditional aluminum product," he explained. "So until you've got a lot of experience with it, a lot of people throw up their arms in frustration. We've been doing this now for well over 30 years and, I think, we've become experts on this. We're supplying pretty much all of the marine OEMs with their pressure die-cast anode requirements. This is kind of our initial claim to fame."
Canada Metal (Pacific), headquartered in Delta, British Columbia, near Vancouver, seeks to be environmentally conscious whenever possible. One example is the company's cadmium-free anodes, which have surfaced during the past several years. In the past, anodes were often made out of zinc. But in order for zinc to corrode, they had to remove or exfoliate each layer of metal as it corrodes, so the anodes remained active.
"There was a small percentage of cadmium in the zinc alloy, but cadmium is actually bad for the environment and the water," Jaklin commented. "So now, our aluminum and magnesium anodes are cadmium-free; they are environmentally friendly and safe. We try to move people away from the zinc alloys. There are very few zinc anodes provided by the OEMs anymore.
"We're very active with our customers, we go to a lot of trade shows in the marine industry, and we actively promote environmentally-friendly alternatives," he continued. "Our sales people regularly go out to boat marinas to put on seminars. Last year, we were recognized in BC Business magazine as one of the top 20 companies for innovation because of our promotion of cadmium-free anodes."
The company employs approximately 75 people in 40,000 square feet at its headquarters plant in Delta, British Columbia, Canada, and approximately 150 people in 50,000 square feet at its wholly-owned facility in Ningbo, China. The company's engineering and manufacturing efforts center primarily on several industries, namely, marine, transportation, telecommunications, solar, and agriculture.
"With most of our casting and machining, the customer gives us their specs and we give them whatever level of service they need, and we do some subassembly and packaging," said Jaklin. "We make stock parts and custom parts. We have an engineer whose sole position is to look after our OEM customers and for designing our own products. We've had situations where our OEM customers have come to us and said, 'Here's what we want to do: We need to cut the cost on this, improve performance, reduce noise,' whatever their thing is. Our engineer will work with them to get something to work for everyone. Sometimes he'll do the initial design work, but our OEMs usually do most of the engineering work and we give them support, assistance, and advice on how to make the design more robust for manufacturing and more cost effective."
Manufacturer Gets Involved with OEMs Early in the Design Process
Generally speaking, Canada Metal (Pacific) has a very good quality record with its customers, Jaklin said. When the company starts working with its customers, it prefers to get involved as early as possible in the design stage of the product. "If we work together as a design team, we can identify something from our process that will eliminate a potential for a problem down the road," said Jaklin. "I find it very important not only to work closely with the purchasing group, but also with our customers' engineers. We try to teach them a little bit about our limitations and capabilities. So when they're designing something that's being cast and machined, they won't have to go back and redesign things."
Aside from marine anodes, the company also provides its own product line of auto pilot drive systems, both hydraulic and mechanical, for the marine industry. One company brand is called Octopus drives. "We make our own castings, we machine parts for them, we purchase cables, gages, gaskets, and hardware, and we have assembly cells within our workspace," said Jaklin. "We manufacture these 100 percent to our own designs and specifications, and we sell them to some of our marine customers. Other companies make the auto pilot system, or the brain of the unit. We supply the drive, or the muscle. Our Octopus brand is aftermarket, so if a customer with a boat wants to put an auto pilot system in, and they want to piece it together with computer control equipment, they can come to us and purchase the drive unit. Or if they've got something that's failed over a number of years, they'll come to us for a replacement drive system."
Water/Fuel Separators and Engine Anodes Designed for Engine Efficiency
The manufacturing company is actively involved currently in a project to make engine parts—water/fuel separators and anodes for marine engines—for an OEM in the marine industry. "The separator takes out some of the recycled water that might have fuel mixed in with it," Jaklin explained. "As it goes through the engine, it will take it out before it goes back into the ocean or lake. It runs it through a head with a filter attached to it, and removes about 98 percent of the fuel that might be in there. Also on the anode side, there are anodes that go into engine locations. A marine engine will have cooling from the salt water that they're running in. This salt water can corrode the engine area, so we have anodes for the engine area. We have other things that bolt on to engine compartments for the trucking industry. They are used for a variety of things, like pneumatic controls. If it's a metal part, we can probably die cast it and machine it."
The company is a major player in the transportation industry, for which it casts and machines fuel caps, battery posts, fuel line relief systems, and other parts. Cost effectiveness is always a concern with these parts. "With the fuel caps, we basically do the whole process from the raw ingot metal; we melt it down and then die cast it," Jaklin commented. "Then we machine it and ship it off to our customer. They will send it to their distribution center or their OEM customers. The only thing they do is decide whether to chrome plate it or not. The way we do this cost effectively is to have enough volume so we can build a pressure die cast mold for them. We'll then run anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 parts at a time. After die casting, it might have a little trimming or deburring, then it goes to our CNC machining location, where we will load up the machining center and do the threading or whatever else is necessary, and then for inspections and packaging."
Pressure Die Castings with Minimal Machining Bring Added Savings
Using die castings instead of solid blocks of metal is another way the company has initiated cost effective measures. If the company machines something out of a solid piece of metal, it might cost $30 per part. But because the die casting eliminates a lot of the machining processes, the company can make the same part for $2 or $3. "It's the same for a lot of things we do, like the battery posts," according to Jaklin. "We have small, hot-chamber die cast machines where we run the posts in the 1,000 per hour range. The machines have very small tonnage and cycle very quickly, and we have multi-cavity tooling. We have some other small parts that we do in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 pieces per hour. With our average aluminum casting, we're probably cycling in the range of 50 to 100 pieces per hour. Aluminum and zinc are our two most prominent metals used. We also use lead for some of the hot-chamber work. We don't do any work with steels or brasses; it's not our in-house capability."
Pressure die casting is said to expedite the casting process and thus cut turnaround times greatly. With a regular low-pressure casting process, the molten metal is poured into the mold by gravity. With a high-pressure piece of equipment, the molten metal is injected into the mold under pressure. "We require machines that have various tonnages—ours range from 125 tons to 700 tons in pressure," said Jaklin. "So the machine has that much tonnage per square inch as closing force. The pressure lets us put the molten metal into the mold in micro seconds, so we can cast 50 to 100 shots per hour. With hand gravity pouring, you might only be able to do about three or four, or ten shots per hour. Some of our machines will cycle as fast as 15 to 20 seconds per cycle. So this is another thing that makes us cost effective."
When partnering with OEMs, customer service is a key element that keeps engineers, managers, and purchasing agents coming back to a particular contract manufacturer. Canada Metal (Pacific) prides itself on its ability to offer customer service that always meets or exceeds a customer's needs. "Over the last few months, I've actually had a lot of feedback on this," said Jaklin. "I think something that we do well, and maybe the best in the industry, is our customer service. I've had a little bit of experience dealing with the supplier side when we have to get things in to make a part or product. We always want to be fair with our customers. Our vision is to be world class at what we do. I think we're doing a good job of it so far, but we're always looking to improve."
Quick Reaction Times Offer Customers Fast Fixes if Necessary
Anytime there's an issue with a part or component, Jaklin states that the company usually gets positive feedback that it's one of the few companies that reacts quickly. "If it's something we've made a mistake on, we react accordingly, whether it's replacing a product and expediting things to make sure we don't have a customer's line down, or doing an investigation," Jaklin maintains. "Maybe a problem with our product was not something we caused. We definitely work with our customers to make sure that first of all, they get what they need, and that we don't repeat any of the mistakes we've made. We always try to come up with fair and reasonable solutions. And our response times are quite quick. I've had a lot of positive feedback from our customers on this. We strive for zero defects, but that's not a reality in any process. There is always something that can happen."
Special measures are also in place at Canada Metal (Pacific) to bring added efficiency to customer service and quality control. "We have management review meetings monthly," said Jaklin, "and we do customer surveys for feedback. Some of our customers automatically provide monthly or quarterly feedback. Our goal is 100% customer satisfaction and zero defects. Right now, I would say we're probably tracking in the high 90s in both areas. As far as quality control, we are ISO 9001: 2008 certified. So we go through an 8D (Eight Disciplines) problem solving method, which we call a quality report system. We also have processes and controls in place, and then we feed all of it back to our customers. We are also Controlled Goods certified, which is the Canadian government version of ITAR in the U.S. This has helped us secure some military projects."
One particular engineering and manufacturing challenge occurred when Canada Metal (Pacific) designed and built a leak test fixture for a die cast and machined part that is cored from all six sides. "We had to make a fixture that would test the two different chambers, and it also had to test two different versions of the part," Jaklin said in an online response. "We had to make one fixture that could be changed over. This fixture must be used to validate 100 percent of the parts. We had to determine the best way to seal each chamber with minimal time, but get a reliable result. We had to make the fixture modular, so we could change it to test the two different part variations, and for the ease of replacing any parts that wear or potential design changes to the part."
The part that needs to be leak tested is an exhaust manifold for the truck engine industry. The manifold redistributes air to different control units, so the leak test is very critical to the part's operation. "We have to be able to verify that the casting will not leak once they assemble it," states Jaklin. "If it leaks, the part will fail at the end of the day. All of the design was done in-house for the fixture, and we subbed out some of the things that we couldn't fabricate or build. We went through a couple of minor changes once we had our first build, and the customer changed a couple of specifications after the fact that we were able to deal with because we made it fairly modular. This project was piloted here. We did all of the engineering, building, testing, and approval here. Then we sent it over to our plant in China for production."
The manifold parts were also very challenging for the company because of being cored from all six sides, and having about 20 different areas that are machined and cored. The areas are very close to each other and some of them cross each other, and at certain points, they intersect. There are other parts where there's very little material between them, maybe about 0.0050 inch. "If you have a leak between that wall, it could cause the part to fail in final assembly," said Jaklin. "The only other way for our customer to check it is after they've done a partial or full assembly, which becomes very costly to find a reject at that point."
The casting and machining company worked with the head engineer from the customer that designed the manifold part to determine what was needed. The customer wasn't sure what the requirements would be when the project started, so it evolved over time. "We found different ways to seal off the different areas at the casting point, without having to do any partial subassembly," said Jaklin. "We reduced the failure rate on the part by about 98 percent. If we weren't doing the leak test fixture at all, they'd have many more issues than they do right now. We designed, manufactured, and proved out the fixture. It has now been used in daily production for more than two years. And we have a fixture that will perform the two-stage test in less than 40 seconds per part."
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