Dynamic Machining of the Smallest of Parts
Dynamic Machining x Manufacturing, LLC (DM2) handles the smallest of parts, regularly producing parts that are comparable in size to a 1/4-inch tip of a toothpick, often with 20 micro features attached. Some parts trend even smaller, and DM2 uses the latest in technology to produce components for micro horsepower electric motors, disposable and reusable surgical instruments, and small components for the aerospace industry. Being able to handle such precision machining is what sets them apart, according to company president Joseph Landry, who says that DM2 is capable of holding closer tolerances than most of its competitors.
Completing most of its work on Swiss style turning centers, the company specializes in very small items, regularly producing parts 0.060 inch (1.5 mm) in diameter and 0.250 inch (6.25 mm) long that have multiple features and complex geometries. Using laser micrometers, air gauging, microscopes, vision systems and optical gauging, DM2 (www.DMXM.com) is capable of holding the most exact tolerances. Measuring down to the millionths to hold tolerances in the ten thousandths of an inch is regular practice at DM2.
In a recent interview with Design-2-Part Magazine, Landry discussed the nuances of manufacturing such small components and what sets DM2 apart as a company.
D2P: What allows you to achieve such precision on small parts?
Joseph Landry: That has been my focus for 40 years. With high precision machining, I have made big parts and small parts with very precise tolerances and features. The ability to manufacture extremely precise machined parts has allowed us to go in the direction of micro machined parts. I don't think you can just say 'I'm going to go make some tiny machined parts.' I've got 40 years of experience making precision machined parts, which has allowed us to go into the micro niche.
D2P: What is it about the Swiss style turning centers that enables you to achieve such precision?
JL: If you can imagine making a part about the size of the tip of a toothpick, the part has to be completely finished coming off the machine because it's so tiny that you can't work with it, you can't hold on to it and deburr it or move it to a secondary operation. And the Swiss style machines are very good at allowing us to finish the part completely off the machine. We are just purchasing our 10th Swiss machine and have room to add about three more machines to our main machining area in the next year or two.
D2P: How are you able to hold such close tolerances?
JL: Having the correct measuring equipment is critical. The methods that we use to set the tools in the right position in the machine are critical to the precision. For instance, if you're turning a half-inch diameter and your turning tool is a thousandth above or below the center line of the part, it doesn't affect much. But if you're turning a 15 thousandths (0.015-inch) diameter and your tool is a thousandth above or below center, that makes a huge difference.
The methods we use to set those tools are much more precise than the average machine shop would do. We focus around the tools being set more accurately. We do R&D work here every day in how we can produce these small parts faster, more precisely, and get them off the machine cleaned and packaged for the customer. We're always developing new methods for that because pretty much every part is different. We might be able to use some technique we developed, but we're going to have to modify it in some way for all of these tiny parts we make.
D2P: What challenges are posed when producing such small parts?
JL: The thing we've learned most about producing these tiny parts is that producing them on the machine is fairly easy for us because we understand the precision requirements. The trick to making these small parts is actually getting them off the machine. The part is machined under computer control into the bar of material, and then the machine comes and grabs the parts, separates it from the bar, and finishes the backside of the part. But then what do you do next? The part is sitting on the machine finished, but how are you going to get it [off the machine] and clean it and package it and ship it to the customer? That's the actual challenge to making these tiny parts.
D2P: DM2 serves a “small-to-micro machined part” niche in the growing sectors of medical, micro-electronics, and aerospace manufacturing. In these applications, why is machining the process of choice, as opposed to another small-part manufacturing process, such as micro molding?
JL: I'm not a design engineer and I don't always try to completely understand my customer's design because it's not my responsibility. My responsibility is to make the parts that they need for their design. So what happens, often times, is I don't know why they (designers) chose machining, but I do know that, say, metal injected molded parts are generally not as strong as machined parts. So these tiny instruments that these folks are trying to manufacture, I suspect, require some pretty strong materials in order to function properly. So I think machining is the manufacturing mode of preference when strength and integrity of the part is critical.
D2P: Can you talk about the benefits that your equipment—including the optical gage products contour projector, laser micrometer, and stereo optical and digital microscopes—allows you to provide in the area of quality?
JL: To hold these tolerances, you can't really depend on human feel. A standard micrometer, if you give it to five different people, you'll get roughly the same measurements, but there will be some variations between how those five people feel that instrument and how they measure with it. The instruments like the optical comparator and, particularly, the laser micrometer, take all the human intervention out. You just set the part into the machine and the machine measures it and tells you what it is, so no matter who does that, it will come out the same. So we reduce variability by using instruments that are not operator dependent.
D2P: What advantages does the Fanuc 5-Axis Robocell provide?
JL: Oh man, that thing is sweet. Most of the machines that we use run fairly unattended as they come from the factory. But this robo-drill that we bought had very little automation with it, so we bought the robot and put it together into what's called the Robocell, and now the robot loads and unloads the machine so we don't need to have an operator standing in front of it all the time. So it reduces our labor content, which is very big at DM2. We can compete with any place in the world if our labor content is a small enough portion of the sale price. So if the Chinese are paying a guy 50 cents to a dollar an hour, and he puts one hour into that part and I'm paying my guys ten dollars an hour, but they put two minutes into the part, I can be very competitive. So the equipment is well automated and functions on its own much of the day. We can reduce our labor content to the point where we can be competitive with low-cost regions of the world.
D2P: You also have a 5-axis machining center?
JL: We bought that specifically for doing secondary operations on our Swiss style parts. On some of the larger parts we do, those parts have features that are difficult or sometimes impossible to set up on the Swiss machine. So when we have something like that, we take it to the machining center to do that work.
D2P: Why do you think parts are trending smaller?
JL: In the medical industry, they want to deliver stents or get biopsies by going up through your veins, and the smaller the tool they can manufacture, the smaller the vein they can get up into to do whatever work they do. Aircraft is self-explanatory; they want everything smaller and lighter, and the electronics industry is the same way. Somebody comes out with a cell phone that can do everything a bigger one can do, only it's smaller. That's what everybody wants. There's just this drive to make everything smaller.
D2P: Can you discuss parts you make for aerospace?
JL: We make rather complex parts, and the thing that we're able to do for the aerospace industry that others struggle with is manufacturing the parts absolutely burr free under high power magnification. So we look at the aircraft parts under 40 power and they have to be completely burr free. We specialize in that and are quite good at it; it comes down to precision. If you can machine these parts to close tolerances, you can understand what challenges there are in choosing cutting tools and processes that will minimize the burrs on the parts. We have some ingenious and confidential methods of getting those burrs off. Again, the parts have to be burr free when they come off the machine because there's just really no way to do further processing.
D2P: How do you go about ensuring quality?
JL: We are ISO 9001:2008 certified, which includes gauge calibration. It is important to have the proper gauges. A laser micrometer probably costs $10,000 to $12,000 and a lot of general machine shops aren't going to spend that kind of money and can't measure closely enough. So they're trying to measure these tiny parts with hand tools. Maybe they can do it and maybe they can't, but the $12,000 laser micrometer can do it.
D2P: Your brochure mentions that “a small group of manufacturing professionals founded DM2 with a commitment to quality and service.” What can customers expect in the way of quality and service when doing business with DM2?
JL: On the quality side, the first thing is they get what they want when they need it. We're very good at making sure we meet the customers' requirements and, due to the experience at my previous company, we do everything we can to deliver on time by making sure we don't overbook our resources. DM2 has made the commitment to get it right and get it on time, so that's the first service piece.
The second thing is, if we do something wrong, we do whatever it takes to make it right as quickly as possible. Most of my customers are within fairly close driving distance, but I have some all over the country. And it doesn't matter which customer—if someone calls and they have a problem, we don't try to work it out over the telephone. We try to understand what their complaint is, we put somebody in a car or on an airplane and we go there immediately. The last time something like that happened, when I got to my customer's facility, it was probably two hours after they called with an issue and the folks there said, “Gosh, we can't even get somebody from China on the phone in two hours and you've got somebody here helping us.” So we offer that level of service that overseas competitors can't offer, and most local competitors just don't offer.
D2P: Can you talk about your background in manufacturing—specifically, your expertise in precision parts machining and what led you to start DM2?
JL: I got a job at a machine shop when I was 16 years old and I fell in love with it, and that's all I've ever done. I spent 27 years with the same company in Greensboro, North Carolina. We developed the company into a very high-precision manufacturing company and we did all kinds of manufacturing. We did small parts, big parts, steel parts, aluminum parts, but all with the high-precision direction. And that experience with producing all kinds of high-precision machined parts is what has helped me and my partner move into the micromachining industry because the small parts have extremely high precision because the features are so small. That experience in the overall high precision market is what helped us move into the micromachining. I left the previous company and took two years off. And some of my old employees at MSI (Machine Specialties, Inc.) contacted me and wanted to start something different, and that's when we came up with DM2 in 2004 producing small, very high precision parts.
D2P: You have recently moved into a new facility in King, North Carolina. How has that been going, and what precipitated the move from Rural Hill, North Carolina?
JL: The move went exactly how we planned. We moved during the week of Christmas and New Year's, and we were fully operational as of January 2nd. It was a five mile move. We moved out of a rented 5,000 square-foot facility and purchased a 13,500 square-foot facility. It's because we're busy, we're slammed, and we couldn't fit any more equipment into the old facility.
Our niche is manufacturing small to micro machined parts, and the very small parts business is what's really growing for us. We regularly make one very small part for the medical industry that has 20 features on it. The small parts business is very strong for us. Everyone wants things smaller now: The medical industry wants things smaller, the aircraft industry wants things smaller and lighter, and with microelectronics, everyone's cell phones are too big.
D2P: Have any customers reshored work to you after having gone overseas?
JL: My smarter customers understand all the costs with dealing with China. They understand the costs of trying to get someone there at midnight to make a phone call, the shipping, the extra inventory they have to carry because it could be several months if there's a problem in getting something resolved. They understand all of those costs and they add them up. And when they add up the true costs, the margins aren't that great. Every time the cost of fuel blips up or the value of the dollar blips down, that margin shrinks. We quote against China and low cost regions every day, and we often win, mostly with our smarter, more sophisticated customers.
D2P: How is DM2 able to meet your customers' needs better than overseas suppliers?
JL: The service is one thing. Most of our customers that buy overseas—and most of them do—have some products that they buy from low-cost regions. The products that I make, they don't buy overseas because they're critical to their operation and the correct function of their product. If something comes from overseas that's not right, they just can't get the response that they need. In some cases, if the screw is doing some mundane job and the screw comes in and it's not exactly to spec, it'll be okay. But the parts that I make, they don't want to use parts that are not to spec. It will greatly decrease the serviceability of their product and, therefore, they don't want the risk of dealing with overseas suppliers on these very super critical parts.
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