Maker of Custom Springs, Wire Forms Handles Jobs Sidestepped by Most Shops
By taking full responsibility for projects requiring multiple processes, difficult tolerances, and complex parts, Titan Spring & Wire Products, Inc., has built a reputation among OEMs for its value-added service. Since its founding in 1957 by Joseph W. Park, a master spring maker, Titan Spring has established itself as a reliable manufacturer of custom springs, stampings, wire forms, and value-added assemblies for industries such as aerospace, medical, telecommunications, and electronics. The company is known for making fine wire springs and thin metal parts formed by stamping, EDM, or laser cutting. According to Jim Glenn, president of Titan Spring & Wire Products, such thin metal parts include flat springs and various clips that are used to hold items in place; some items are used as spacers or partitions. A full range of compression, extension, torsion, double-torsion, and clock springs—as well as wave and Belleville washers—are also manufactured. Titan provides design assistance, has the ability to make prototypes quickly, and can hold tolerances of +/- 0.003-inch on metal parts.
"The advantage of using Titan is our ability to make parts with either low-cost tooling or no tooling at all," says Glenn. "The only limiting factor is high quantities."
Titan, which expects to receive its AS9100 certification by the end of the summer, is in the process of relocating its manufacturing operations from North Hollywood, Calif., to a new facility in Hayden, Idaho. Design-2-Part Magazine's intrepid reporter, technical editor Rich Novicky, caught up with Jim Glenn recently and asked him to share his insights on the custom manufacturing capabilities that Titan offers to OEMs. Following is a transcript of their conversation:
D2P: The spring and wire forming industries are known as being very competitive. What gives Titan its edge?
JG: Basically, it's a combination of service and the fact that we do work that other people don't do; for instance, value-added type stuff. We do stampings also, and we have an EDM machine. So, say a guy comes in, and he's got a part that would normally be made by a big stamping house with progressive die [tooling], where you form the part over a series of dies—it's very intricate. But he makes a blood analyzer machine that he sells worldwide and he only sells maybe 2,000 units a year. So he's not going to invest the money in the progressive die tooling. So we'll take a part like that and either come up with a series of dies and/or we'll use the EDM process or an etching process to create a blank, and then do the forming on it. So we tailor it to meet his needs.
D2P: So does Titan specialize in custom orders?
JG: Yes, everything's custom. We don't have any parts that we make in stock to sell to customers; everything we make is to their blueprint.
Situations similar to the blood analyzer part example that I just gave, happen over and over again in aerospace. Take the F4 Phantom fighter-bomber. The United States military no longer uses that airplane. They've sold them to Malaysia and various other countries all over the world. Yet Boeing is still making replacement parts, but now only has to build maybe 350 of a part in a year. Now the big stamping company that originally made the part is no longer interested in the job, due to the low volumes. So Boeing has to find somebody to make a part that was a very complex stamping, so they can fulfill their spares requirements. They're in a quandary: They don't want to go out and build a $35,000 tool to get the 350 parts needed. That's where we come in. We blank out a part and will rig up some temporary tooling in order to form this part they used to get off a stamping die, with the same part integrity. The price per part is higher than the original, but much less than their current alternative—a high-priced tool plus setup charge.
D2P: The Titan Spring website (www.titanspring.com) shows a picture of a sub-assembly for a non-skid aircraft braking system. What type of aerospace applications has Titan been involved with?
JG: One example is a literature pocket. Every time you fly on a commercial airliner, there's a good possibility that you're using our spring when you pull pack on that frame to get the magazines from the back of the seat in front of you. We've been producing those springs for over 40 years now. The spring has a number of different bends on it, and we produce it in a horde of sizes. This is a situation similar to the previous example of the F4 replacement part. At one time, the aircraft manufacturer manufactured the entire literature pocket assembly internally. Then the ordering volumes decreased, the manufacturer determined it was no longer cost-effective to produce the entire assembly themselves, and they started farming it out to us. It's worked out very well for them.
In the medical field, we do a plastic belt clip that holds an insulin pump for diabetics. The pump OEM originally made the belt clip themselves and took care of the purchasing for it. But they had a heck of a time taking the upper half and the lower half and putting them together with the spring between them, ruining a lot in the assembly process. We were making the spring for them, and finally they asked us if we could come up with a better way of doing the assembly.
So we gave them a price for installing the spring and pin into the two plastic pieces, and they liked it. They asked us to do the entire assembly for them—and, while we're at it, also buy the plastic bags to put them in, the labels to put on the plastic bags, and the folded instructions that go in the jaws of the clip, and just ship it to them as a complete unit. And we've been doing that now for 10-15 years, to the tune of maybe 100,000 units a year. This customer is our second largest medical client. At the peak of that job, we did almost a half-million dollars worth of business with them, which is significant for a $3 million company.
D2P: The Titan Spring website also mentions one of your products, a miniature spring clip that was used in the computer industry. Could you provide some background on that?
JG: This is another case where the customer doesn't have the volume to go to a high production house, or offshore. So he comes to us with a drawing, asking if we can make it. We'll take a look at it; his quantities are low: in the beginning, maybe 50 pieces. But there's a possibility that once he gets his 50 units and starts testing them, he might discover something and want to make a change, which is expensive if you've got to cut a die. So we handled the situation by blanking the part by etching.
D2P: Could you describe the antenna wire part Titan Spring made that looks like a spring but functions as a housing for an RF pin?
JG: That antenna was for either the aerospace or communications industry. We produced it on a CNC coiler.
D2P: Could you describe a CNC Coiler, explaining its advantages?
JG: Before CNC spring coilers were available spring makers used mechanical spring coilers. These machines had various cam mechanisms which controlled pitch, length, body configurations, et cetera. These machines also were equipped with a segment arm, which controls the amount of wire that creates a particular spring. During a spring set-up, all of these mechanical parts had to be independently adjusted to create the final product. With the introduction of the CNC controlled spring coiler, the integration of computerization and hydraulics motors made spring adjustments much more efficient.
D2P: What types of burr-free parts do you make using EDM (electrical discharge machining)?
JG: For the aerospace industry, we produce a small, specialized tool with a jaw on it, similar to vise grips. For an ordnance company device, we make a flat ring or collar with several small tips or fingers that emanate from it. One area where burr-free parts are required is where contamination is a concern. For example, you don't want any burrs on a medical surgical instrument that could break off and remain in a patient's body. Or in aerospace, a burr that breaks loose in a missile could short out the circuitry.
D2P: For the parts that Titan produces (wire forms and different spring types), what are some examples of applications for which they are used?
JG: Compression springs are very common, like the spring in a ballpoint pen. They store and release energy. We produce compression springs for hydraulic actuators for the control surfaces on airplanes. If you watch the wings on a Boeing airplane as it lands and the pilot reverses the engine thrust, you'll see spoilers come up, revealing lengths of tubing and aluminum blocks—those are manifolds and hydraulic pumps. Inside them are compression springs used to control the valves that pump the hydraulic fluid. And moving parts with a rod and piston, many times, will use compression springs. We produce many of them in different sizes for valves and electrical switches. We also produce taper springs, with the same function as compression springs, but with varying resistance as it's pushed, instead of the constant resistance of the compression springs. We make taper springs for a parachute, to help deploy it when the ripcord is pulled.
Extension springs are typically used in doors, or applications where you want to pull back panels controlling access, garage doors probably being the most common example. We made one a couple years ago for a customer who makes a machine that labels fruit. When the fruit rolls down the conveyer, this machine attaches the label with the grower's name. The manufacturer had a requirement that the fruit be automatically labeled, but with a minimal amount of pressure to avoid bruising the fruit. The existing springs on the machine also kept breaking. We helped him design a new extension spring, also redesigning his machine in the process to be more efficient. Unfortunately, since the new setup we designed eliminated spring breakage, now we only hear from him every two years or so for reorders (laughs). But we earned his confidence: he keeps coming back to us, as well as sending referrals our way.
For that customer, we also make torsion springs for the same fruit labeling machine, on a part with plastic control "fingers" that smooth the labels after they're been applied. We also manufacture torsion springs for airplane galley door hinges and serving cart door hinges. We make several varieties of torsion springs used on door and drawer hinges in airplanes, both in the cockpit as well as the galley. We also produce a gold-plated torsion spring used on the space shuttle, used to keep a battery braced against its contact.
We manufacture flat springs for electronic applications, as well as communications. We produce a copper clip that goes into a circuit board to allow custom components to snap in and out of the board.
The airliner literature pockets I mentioned earlier also use our wire forms in straight lengths, right angles, and coils. We also make the triangular-shaped wire form spring clips for computer printer, parallel-port plugs, to clip the cable to the printer. And we do wire forms for the medical industry. In operating rooms and emergency rooms, there's a rod that has a wire loop we make, bent on either end of it to hold plasma and intravenous solutions. We also have made a wire form catheter lead used to lead the catheter through the vein into the human heart. The company wanted the end of the lead to be heart-shaped, so we had to design a process so we could take a straight wire and form the end of it into the heart shape.
D2P: Your company's website says, "Titan takes on challenges that others shy away from." Could you give us some examples to illustrate this?
JG: We had a job a few years ago for a company that manufactures a satellite phone providing reception anywhere, from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the bottom of a volcano in Hawaii. They required a beryllium copper tube, about ½-inch diameter and 4 inches long, with a small square notch cut out of both ends and a brass flat washer brazed to the end, with a tab to coincide with the notch. Then there was a beryllium copper wire cage that went over the top of it. The wire cage was basically four loops about ½-inch wide and 3 inches tall, connected by several rings to slide over the tube and intersect with the washer welded on the end of the tube. That job required wire forming, welding, stamping, a notching operation that required us to create a tool, and brazing. Then we sent the unit out to a subcontractor for chrome plating.
Because so many different processes were required, no one job shop wanted to take it on, so without us, the OEM would have had to deal with four or five different companies, each performing different operations, to get the part made. We were the only firm to offer to take on the entire job, and the OEM was very pleased with both the cost and time savings in dealing with only one vendor.
Another example, for the medical industry, is a device we make that is part of a surgically implanted pacemaker. We take a small piece of stainless steel, about the size of a mechanical pencil eraser, machined with an external chamfer on one end and three borings on the opposite end with differing diameters and chamfers, all with tight tolerances. Then we take a flat piece of stainless, 0.004-inch thick, formed into a comb shape, with five vertical tabs. We have that chemically etched, because the thin stainless foil is very brittle, then we form five leaf springs, one on the end of each tab.
Then this small stainless part is formed into a ring configuration and inserted into one of the counter bores on the machined part. We spot-weld it in five places, then do a pull-test on it. We have the machining and etching done outside, but we control the part, including doing the forming, welding, and testing. Again, because of the brittleness, tight tolerances, and multiple processes, we were the only shop that would agree to take responsibility for the assembly.
D2P: Jim, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JG: Titan Spring is in the process of moving our manufacturing facility to Idaho, scheduled to be completed by the end of September. We will keep a sales office here in North Hollywood, California. The move is to keep our costs competitive: The state of Idaho offered us numerous advantages, which—added with savings in rents, insurance, utilities, labor, land, and housing prices—combine to enable us to continue to thrive against offshore competition. And there is a capable workforce there, many of whom now must reluctantly leave Idaho because of a shortage of skilled jobs. We're building a custom, state-of-the-art spring manufacturing facility, which will also offer efficiency benefits over the retrofitted shop we now have. It's being built so that the operations on our parts will flow from one station to another, streamlining our manufacturing while maximizing factory space utilization. There's a high-tech infrastructure available, including fiber-optic telecommunications, which will enable us to utilize tools like videoconferencing to overcome challenges involved in operating from a new location. Also, most of our customers are already out of state, which will minimize the impact of moving.
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