Job Shops Boost Quality of OEM Machinery with American-Made Parts

American-Made Parts

Sourcing closer to home makes sense for OEMs seeking higher quality through leading-edge technology and single-source responsibility for engineered machine parts.

By Mark Shortt
Editorial Director, Design-2-Part Magazine

Entrust Tool & Design, headed by president and CEO, Adrian Korosec, is a U.S. machine builder that's doing well these days. The Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin company engineers, manufactures, programs, and tests its own machines in the United States. Many of the parts for its machines are made within close proximity of Milwaukee, an area with a rich history of machine tool building. "We're totally U.S.-made," says Jeff Price, sales manager. "Our machines are built within three hours of our building, with the exception of CNC controls, in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois."

Like Entrust Tool & Design, most North American makers of industrial machinery and equipment don't have to look far to find reliable sources for the parts and services that are essential to their manufacturing projects. Whether they're sourcing large components for oil-field equipment or smaller valves for injection molding machinery, chances are good that they demand a high level of knowledge from suppliers that understand the often rugged and demanding environments in which machine parts operate. That knowledge and understanding is crucial to the design and manufacturing of parts that can stand up to conditions ranging from extreme loads, vibration, and temperatures, to heavy wear and corrosion. It's also typical of the technical and professional expertise that machine tool builders and other OEMs have come to expect from American contract manufacturers, and a big reason why the words "American-made machinery" carry with them the unspoken assumption of high quality.

A prime example of leading-edge machinery that was built using parts and services delivered by North American job shops is the Unisig USC50 7-axis Mold, Deep Hole Drilling and Machining Center from Entrust Tool & Design. Billed as "the most advanced multi-purpose machine available to the die-mold industry," the Unisig USC50 provides a number of advanced technical features, such as compound-angle machining with drilling and milling spindles; a dual-spindle, high-performance headstock; and a CAT50 machining spindle. North American-made parts on the machine include 40,000-psi gray-iron castings from an unnamed foundry in the U.S; structural steel components from the U.S. and Canada; and precision mechanical components (spindles) from the United States. The Unisig USC50 also makes use of electronic and fluid power components from the U.S. and Germany.

"We get the castings from Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin," said Price. "We're extremely happy with the quality and delivery—we get them in three weeks. We get some of the structural and steel components from the immediate Milwaukee area and some from Illinois and Michigan. They're primarily smaller machine bases; we also do columns and fairly complex weldments. Spindles are domestic also. They're pretty precision and require a lot of grinding and jig boring. They're assembled in a clean room that's local."

All of the company's design is done with the aid of 3D modeling software, which makes documentation much easier. "This aids us in programming our own machines, and we can send them to our suppliers, who use them to program their own machines, whether they're doing castings, weldments, or machining," says Price. "We've got really good documentation control; we've done a lot of work in the automotive industry, and that's given us the discipline to carry that through."

Even in applications where the bulk of equipment manufacturing takes place overseas, job shops often play a key role in manufacturing components of the larger system in which the equipment operates. An example is the Fanuc ARC Mate 100iC intelligent welding robot, equipped with iRVision and said to be the highest-performing arc welding robot in its class.

Developed by Fanuc Robotics America, Inc. (Rochester Hills, Michigan) as a successor to its ARC Mate 100iB arc welding robot, the ARC Mate 100iC is designed as a compact unit that offers high operating efficiency, speed, and load capacity. It also provides enhanced performance for welding parts of all shapes and sizes. By integrating all cabling—including the cable to the arc torch, welding wire, and welding hose—in the center of the upper arm, the ARC Mate 100iC reduces the interference of cables and hoses during arc welding. Unlike traditional dress packages, which are mounted externally on the robot's arm, the ARC Mate 100iC's internal routing allows the dress package to follow the motion range of the robot. This simplifies programming and eliminates the risks of bending, snagging, or breaking cables, the company says.

Design enhancements to the ARC Mate 100iC include an inherently rigid cantilevered forearm that simplifies cable management and maintenance; an integrated wire feed control cable, with shielding gas hose and welding power cables; and a 15% increase in acceleration for higher motion performance. Its 10 kg payload is 67% higher than the previous model.

"The ARC Mate 100iC is the highest-performance arc welding robot in its class," said Mike Sharpe, Fanuc Robotics' director of engineering for materials joining, in a statement. "The internal dress package also makes it extremely easy to operate and maintain, and ensures a longer cable life."

Many North American job shops use Fanuc robots for applications in arc and spot welding, machine tending, assembly, material removal, and paint finishing. But job shops aren't just using the robots. A significant amount of contract manufacturing takes place in North America, particularly in the Detroit area, where job shops are involved in small-volume, custom manufacturing of components such as cabling, rails, and enclosures, as well as special tooling for the robotic systems.

Company Simplifies Machining of Complex Features

Through contract and partnering relationships with job shops, OEMs benefit from their unique skills and cutting-edge technologies for design and engineering, sheet metal forming and fabrication, casting, forging, machining, welding, extrusion, plating, fastening, and assembly. One Wood Dale, Illinois company has earned the respect of customers by consistently providing high-quality services in the areas of design assistance, engineering, and machining. K&C Machining, an ISO 9001-certified and AS 9100-qualified job shop, produces build-to-order CNC components and assemblies for numerous industries. Its main concentration is in the industrial, commercial, and aerospace segments. "Most of our customers are long-term, who came to us for innovative solutions and stayed with us because of our service and quality," says David Anderson, president.

K&C has produced parts ranging from electronic component housings and covers, to titanium pistons, helical parts, and complex geometries requiring 5D milling. For all the parts that it machines, K&C Machining analyzes manufacturability and process suitability, and reviews CAD geometry for consistency and usability. The company provides mechanical engineering services and has been involved in the design of components. Often, the firm designs its own fixtures to hold the parts in place while machining.

Clients generally require K&C to meet a variety of dimensional criteria on their machining projects, according to Anderson. The company holds untoleranced dimensions to +/- 0.010-inch, and typical tolerances to +/- 0.005- to +/- 0.001-inch. "In special cases, we hold +/- 0.0002," he says. "Some parts also must meet surface finish and/or hardness requirements, and parts are typically cost-sensitive."

For one customer, K&C prototyped an aluminum housing that was designed for die casting. The job called for 40 pieces of a faceplate, which had a pattern of hexagon-shaped holes with sharp corners, as well as several internal features that couldn't be easily machined. After reviewing the part and discussing possible solutions, it was decided that the hex holes would be produced using a broaching tool rather than EDM. Further discussions with the customer followed, leading to modification of the part in CAD in order to simplify the machining of certain features. K & C eliminated unmachinable features by machining some internal tabs as separate pieces and screwing them in place, a tactic that resulted in faster delivery by allowing the company to divide the machining among multiple machines. After the parts were assembled, sand blasting was used to achieve a die-cast appearance.

Anderson acknowledges that the company's use of software plays a critical role in enhancing the company's offerings in areas like design for manufacturability, quality, productivity, and cost.

"By far the biggest impact is in the area of CAD/CAM, which makes us more productive, reduces misinterpretation of the product requirements, and provides for easier communication of desired design changes," Anderson says. "Second is our ERP system [which], allows us to track customer orders and our production status, providing timely and accurate information regarding order status. A variety of programs, including spreadsheets, are used to manage and analyze quality and production data. All of these allow us to compete in a cost-competitive environment and to deliver parts that meet or exceed our customer's expectations."

Friction Welding Gives Designers More Flexibility

Another technology being used to great advantage is friction welding, a solid-state process that uses frictional heat to join dissimilar materials that are normally incompatible for welding by other means. Prized for its ability to produce a strong weld throughout the entire weld interface, friction welding creates a narrow heat-affected zone as it fashions a near net-shape blank that requires little or no machining. And because it can join dissimilar materials, it can help users save money by giving them the design flexibility to use expensive materials more selectively in different areas of a blank.

The process generates frictional heat by rubbing two components in a controlled manner until the material reaches its plastic state. Rubbing is controlled by a friction welding machine through a series of specific parameters for rotational speed, axial force, and time. As the material becomes plasticized, it begins to form layers that intertwine with one another.

Friction welding can provide a blank with minimum machining stock, but without the minimum quantity requirements and expensive tooling costs, says Joel J. Donohue, general manager at American Friction Welding, Inc. (AFW), Brookfield, Wisconsin. The process increases design flexibility by giving users the luxury of choosing the appropriate materials for each area of a blank. As a solid state process, it also eliminates porosity and slag inclusions.

"The key is to fully understand the process and its advantages," says Donohue. "We have complete process development and prototype assistance to help implement friction welding advantages."

American Friction Welding uses the process to provide parts for makers of chemical pumps, construction and agricultural equipment, and automation equipment, as well as OEMs in the rail and hydraulics industries. The company also produces components for the automotive, oil and gas, food processing, drilling equipment, and printing equipment industries. A wide variety of components are friction welded, including bimetal motor shafts, cluster gears, conveyor rollers, and drive axle shafts, as well as gear hubs, lathe spindle blanks, and multiple weld cylinders.

To start the process, two parts are loaded into the welder, one going into a rotating spindle and the other into a stationary clamp. After the part in the spindle begins rotating, it's brought up to a predetermined rotational speed and a specific axial force is applied to bring it into contact with the stationary part. This contact between the two parts is maintained for a predetermined period of time, as heat from the resulting friction and pressure produces the desired temperatures and material conditions. After the predetermined period of time, the rotating part is stopped and increased axial force is applied to obtain the desired "upset." The parts are then unloaded and the cycle is repeated.

Donohue says that the firm's expertise with materials is its forte. "We work with Stainless Steel, Monel, and many other costly metals to save waste by welding," he says.

Custom Thermoformed Heavy-gauge Plastic Components

Although metals get the lion's share of applications, they're not the only material sought by OEMs requiring parts for their machines. Maryland Thermoform Corporation, an ISO 9001:2000-registered manufacturer of custom thermoformed plastic products and packaging, produces heavy-gauge plastic components—including housings, enclosures, bezels, chutes and brackets—for makers of industrial machinery and equipment. Parts manufactured by the company are often required to be UV-stable and resistant to cold, heat, and chemicals. One of Maryland Thermoform's biggest strengths, according to Scott MacDonald, sales manager, is its ability to process a wide variety of materials, ranging from ABS, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), to polypropylene, polystyrene, and PVC, among others. Using in-line, rotary and single-station forming machines, the company manufactures thermoformed parts in gauges from 0.0075-inch to 0.375-inch.

The Baltimore, Md.-based company, whose ISO 9001:2000 registration includes design, uses late-model CNC milling machines to produce close-tolerance tooling in house. Additional capabilities include fabricating and trimming, heat bending, sonic sealing, bonding and cementing, and heat sealing.

Machined Forgings and Weldments for Heavy Equipment

Manufacturers of truck and off-highway equipment require sources that can provide the levers, pedals, and other rugged components essential for the start, stop, and control mechanisms of their vehicles and machines. These custom-fabricated parts are a specialty of Strong Forge & Fabrication, a Batavia, N.Y., contract manufacturer that produces machined forgings, weldments, and other fabricated components for the heavy equipment industry. The five-year-old company makes a variety of pedals and levers used in the gearshifts, clutches, and brakes found on trucks, earthmoving machinery, oil field rigs, cranes, and forklifts.

An integrated metalworker that took over the operations of the former Batavia Metal Products Corporation in 2002, Strong Forge & Fabrication specializes in heavy-duty drop-forged parts and fabricated components for industrial lift trucks, off-road vehicles, and construction equipment. The company announced in June that it won a 2006 Supplier of the Year Award from the Nissan Forklift Corporation North America (Marengo, Illinois) for its performance in the areas of quality, cost reduction, and on-time delivery. Strong Forge produces LP tank brackets, forged mast caps, and weldments for Nissan Forklift, a manufacturer of engine-powered and electric material-handling equipment that includes forklifts, pallet trucks, stackers, and tow tractors. The OEM chose Strong Forge & Fabrication from a field of more than 60 suppliers.

The company attributes much of its success in controlling quality, cost, and on-time delivery to its single-source responsibility for all parts that it manufactures. It recognizes the importance of working cooperatively with customers to develop, prototype, and produce parts with unique and demanding requirements. A full complement of in-house capabilities are offered, beginning with a tool room where the company produces its own forge, press, and trim dies, as well as welding fixtures. All operations—ranging from die making and forging, to precision machining, fabrication, robotic welding, heat treating, finishing, and quality control—are performed within its own plant, according to Strong Forge.

Design, Engineering, and Machining—and Machine Building, too

Some machine tool builders also offer design and contract manufacturing services, such as machining. For these companies, the skills and efficiencies that they've developed in the engineering and building of complex machinery often translates into value for customers that utilize their design and contract manufacturing services. But for some of these OEMs, like Entrust Tool & Design, success in their primary business means a corresponding slowdown in the amount of contract manufacturing that they do.

Entrust Tool & Design does contract machining, ranging from small toolroom parts to 15-ton castings, as capacity allows. "If we have excess [machine] capacity, we'll do contract manufacturing," says Jeff Price. "We haven't had that recently. Right now, we're machining parts—such as large weldments and large castings—for our own machines. We're doing about half of it [the machining work] and outsourcing the rest to American shops."

"We've got the capability to build the machines ourselves," continues Price. "We build the first of any model ourselves; for subsequent models, we utilize the production services of North American job shops, and we're able to get great results."

Another company with substantial experience in designing and building special machines for various industries is Advanced Machine & Engineering Co. (AME), an ISO 9001:2000-registered company in Rockford, Illinois, that also provides machine rebuilding and retrofitting. The design, engineering, and machining capabilities that AME has developed as a maker of precision machine tools become an advantage for the company on its contract manufacturing projects, which lean toward "cost-effective, complex machining for low-volume and single-item production." Besides designing tools and fixturing that can increase manufacturing efficiency, AME develops manufacturing processes that are said to reduce costs and improve reliability and scheduling for build-to-print applications and design projects. By using in-line processing that integrates quality control processes with machining, the company is able to efficiently produce complex, short-run and single parts.

Advanced Machine & Engineering was recently able to solve an engineering problem for Aeromet Industries, Inc., a company that repairs equipment for heavy industry and manufactures mandrels used in metal processing. Aeromet needed an outboard support for a recoil mandrel that was sagging and not matching up with the outboard support. As a result, the mandrel couldn't lock in place, and the arbor that held the mandrel became overstressed.

After reviewing the problem, AME designed a compact OTT/Jakob Drawbar with 3370 pounds of pulling force for the mandrel arbor. Because of its pulling force, the drawbar was able to pull the mandrel in tightly against the drum to prevent sagging. Also, because the drawbar was able to completely pull in the mandrel, the taper in the support arm located it properly. As a result, the mandrel ended up concentric to the drawbar, providing a match-up with the outboard support.

Using precision machining and turning, high-precision grinding, and wire EDM, Allis Tool & Machine (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) produces components for machinery and equipment ranging from MRI scanners to engine assembly machines. According to Kyle Klamar, technical sales engineer, the parts made by Allis Tool are required to function in machines where they are exposed to extreme loads and thermal conditions. "Parts that are exposed to such demanding conditions require manufacturing and design to exact tolerances," says Klamar. "This is imperative to ensure the longevity and safety of the machine."

Engineering and manufacturing services provided by Allis Tool include prototype machining, low-volume production machining, and the designing and building of specialty machines. The ability to support its customers from the initial part design, and continuing through the final part manufacturing, is the company's biggest strength, Klamar says. "Our customers choose Allis Tool because of our ongoing commitment to customer service and support," he adds. "From the inception of the customer's project, through its various manufacturing phases and after delivery, Allis Tool & Machine stays in touch to ensure success."

For some job shops, their manufacturing process capabilities and their success in applying them to OEM projects have encouraged them to build their own machine tools. Morris Welding & Machine, Inc., a CNC machine shop in Wildwood, Florida, has designed and developed a machining unit that fits onto manual and CNC mills to cut internal and external keys, splines, tapered keys, internal grooves, blind keys, and helicals. The MorrisKeyseater™, an idea conceived and patented by Kim Morris, the company's president, can be programmed to follow a CNC path by way of linear bearings. Its speed in cutting keyways and splines, coupled with significantly lower tooling cost, are the two biggest advantages of using the MorrisKeyseater, says Jason Morris, general manager and Kim's son.

"The cost of tooling is dramatically less than your traditional broach or keyseater," says Jason Morris. "It's about three-quarters less on average than a broach cutter."

To give an example of its cutting speed, Morris said that the company was able to quickly cut—in 15 to 20 seconds—a coupling that needed 4 to 5 minutes to cut using a traditional keyseater. The machine is driven by the mill spindle, and the base is clamped directly to the mill table. As it moves, the machine follows a pattern using X and Z movements only.

Unlike many other broaching or keyseating machines, the MorrisKeyseater cuts material using live, water-cooled tooling that doesn't harden the material, Morris says. Larger end mills can be sharpened and reused, and the tooling can be changed in less than 30 seconds with a quick turn of an Allen wrench. The MorrisKeyseater doesn't require different sizes of spindles for each internal diameter, and keys can be cut without cutting the full length of the part.

Larger and smaller versions of the machine are available, depending on the application. Another option is an adjustable roller bed stand. The machine can be easily loaded and unloaded by sliding the machine base onto or off the mill bed. Although the tool is called a Keyseater, the name doesn't tell the whole story.

"It actually does more than that," says Morris. "You can set it up for a 4th axis. It does blind holes, O-ring grooves, slip keys. It can do an OD or ID spline, or an OD or ID keyway."

Morris Welding & Machine, a business begun by Kim Morris in 1974, originally focused on heavy fabrication work for the automotive industry, as well as for manufacturers of stainless steel pipe and equipment used in bakeries and citrus fruit handling. Today, the company focuses solely on CNC machining of prototypes and high-volume parts, dies, and large shafts.

Founded in 1947, ENSER Corporation started as a tool design company that designed jigs, fixtures, gauges, dies, and special machines. Over time, the company progressed into product design and turnkey services. Today, the Cinnaminson, N.J. company provides machine upgrades and rebuilds, as well as components and replacement parts.

"We've helped a wide variety of companies increase their productivity and reduce set-up times using modular designs, quick change tooling, and ergonomic workstations," says Marco Arnone, executive vice president and general manager.

In 2003, Enser formed a parternship with Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) to provide clients with a complete engineering solution. Acting as a single point of contact, Enser offers services ranging from design to engineering, manufacturing, and installation, according to Arnone. The process begins with CAD/CAM and continues to gather momentum through engineering, product design, manufacturing, and tooling.

Concurrent engineering is a high priority at Enser, which uses PTC's Pro/ENGINEER® to ensure that the steps required to bring a product to completion occur simultaneously. While the firm's engineering department performs concept studies, detailed parts are created, design optimizations are run, and drawings are completed. Overlapping these functions, Arnone says, dramatically reduces time-to-market.

"This process is accomplished with fully associative models, which enables multiple disciplines to contribute simultaneously to a single product model," he explains. "Concurrent engineering allows a change made anywhere in the development process to be distributed throughout the entire design, automatically updating all engineering deliverables, including assemblies, details, and bill of materials."

Enser provides design assistance along a variety of different paths, from product design to machine, tool, fixture, and die design. Its use of parametric development enables the company to easily evaluate and modify multiple iterations throughout the design process, facilitating shorter manufacturing cycles and a library of standard, proven designs that can serve as a basis for new products. This can dramatically accelerate a company's time-to-market, Arnone says.

Customers have, in recent years, expressed increased interest in having Enser provide a total turnkey service in which it assumes responsibility for the complete project—from engineering and design to the manufacturing and testing of the product. The concept of tying the design and build function together under one roof reduces lead times, expedites the solving of unforeseen problems, and, ultimately, enables the project to be completed expeditiously and cost-effectively.

For more information on Entrust Tool & Design, Inc., visit

For more on Fanuc Robotics America, Inc., visit

For more information on American Friction Welding, Inc., visit

For more information on Maryland Thermoform Corporation, visit

For more information on Strong Forge & Fabrication, LLC, visit

For more information on Advanced Machine & Engineering Co., visit

For more information on Allis Tool & Machine, visit

For more information on ENSER Corporation, visit

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