Manufacturing more efficiently south of the border

Laser, punch/laser technology help Industrias John Deere cultivate just-in-time

THE FABRICATOR® FEBRUARY 2005

February 8, 2005

Manufacturing requires reliability and service, as John Deere Mexico found out when it researched an upgrade for manufacturing equipment. The company invested in a punch-laser combination machine and a press brake to help become a just-in-time manufacturer.

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World-class manufacturing requires more than efficient, flexible, and productive machinery, according to Industrias John Deere (IJD), a subsidiary of John Deere in Mxico. It also takes reliability and service.

In the 1990s IJD wanted to modernize the way it manufactured components for agricultural and construction equipment in its Monterrey and Saltillo, Mexico, facilities.

The company knew change was necessary. Establishing a more just-in-time (JIT) environment would require new technology and a cultural change, and this meant rethinking production-as well as production equipment. Reliability and service of the equipment and its provider would be crucial to bringing about cultural change and successfully implementing new technology.

To determine which technology provider and equipment to use to establish a more JIT-type plant, the company researched four areas:

  1. Cost of running a machine, including consumables and maintenance
  2. Initial investment required
  3. The support package, including technical support, spare parts, and training
  4. References from customers—in this case, divisions within John Deere

This research was the beginning of an in-depth process the company undertook to find the right equipment provider and technology to help reach its goals.

Turning Conventional Processes Into Cost Reduction

"It is not easy to find new ways and methods to make the same things," said Ignacio Mondragn, strategic manufacturing engineer at IJD.

The company used shearing, oxyfuel, conventional and precision/fine plasma, and several finishing operations, such as deburring, straightening, and sandblasting, to manufacture its parts.

In addition, given the material thickness used, some of the part's holes were too small for conventional tools, which meant workers had to heat the material before punching. The result was a time-consuming process that required even more finishing.

"We had hoped the precision/fine plasma would serve between oxyfuel and laser cutting, but the consumables and operating costs proved to be quite expensive," Mondragn said.

So in 1996 the company began a benchmark study of how other John Deere units were creating their parts. The company also looked at all of the products available on the market-including laser, oxyfuel, shearing, plasma, and waterjet systems-and analyzed the different benefits of each technology to make a fair comparison.

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The company studied the energy, consumables, flexibility, design change, operating costs, and maintenance contracts associated with each technology and then performed a financial analysis on the initial investment and return on investment.
Ultimately, the company justified a laser as a means to reduce cost because it would help reduce labor needs and increase material usage.

Once the company decided to purchase a laser, it took time to choose the best machine for its needs.
"Just the selection of the laser took us nearly six months," Mondragn said.

When evaluating different equipment models, the company found that the thickness and size of the standard sheets it uses limited the number of options available to meet their requirements. Eventually, however, the company bought a TC L 4030 laser cutting machine in 1998.

The company spent almost three months evaluating different suppliers before deciding to work with TRUMPF Inc. The two companies worked together on an implementation plan, after which four IJD engineers spent two months at TRUMPF's headquarters in Farmington, Conn., for intensive training in operation, maintenance, and production.

"When we first began looking at laser technology, TRUMPF was the only company that could meet our needs in terms of laser cutting our material size and thicknesses. The TC L 4030 was also more advanced than some other machines we looked at," Mondragn said.

The TLF CO2 laser resonator allowed IJD to cut thick materials (0.75 inch) as well as parts as thin as 0.125 in. Mondragn said it gave the company the uptime, quality, and high reliability their new production requirements demanded. In addition, the TC L 4030 had a working range of 162 by 83 by 5 in., which was large enough for the standard sheet size used in Mexico to fit without modification.

Reliability Helps Harvest Fresh Approach

Introducing the first laser was a long process that required more than two years of research and analysis (and justification) to installation; but in the end, the technology offered the company the opportunity to change its production management processes.

"It allowed our engineers to adjust how they looked at different processes and assisted them in designing parts that are easier to produce," Mondragn said. "Machinery that is consistently reliable makes it easier for us to sell the ideas of change and new efficiency."

IJD has adopted changes and technology that have helped the company improve production processes, achieve a higher level of quality, and meet customer requirements.

For example, TRUMPF laser technology has been used to create new processes that formerly required three to four operations.
"Before laser cutting, we had to shear, punch, and drill using mechanical presses and conventional tools, which required traditional fixtures, dies, and punches," Mondragn said. "These processes required a lot of time and consumables, and were expensive."

Now the company laser-cuts parts in one operation. Replacing separate cutting, shearing, plasma, oxyfuel, punching, and drilling operations with laser cutting fewer finishing processes to achieve a higher quality. In fact, IJD says laser technology has helped it reduce labor and increase material usage, which is now between 80 percent and 85 percent.

"The final quality of the part is the same, but it is a lot easier to achieve that quality with the laser," Mondragn said. "Before, to get the same finished part required a lot more operations and created a lot more scrap."

Additional Machinery Investments

Today IJD has at least one TC L 4030 laser cutting machine in each of its facilities and eight machines total. By using laser technology, the company has witnessed an increase in cut quality and productivity, as well as a reduction in production costs.
In a facility that makes agricultural equipment such as plows and cultivators, IJD estimates it's reduced production time by up to 80 percent as a result of the laser technology. The company also has improved production flow.

IJD's experiences with laser technology then led the company to address its problems with machine uptime and service of the CNC press brakes it had been using.

"Bending used to take a lot of time," Mondragn said. "Using our conventional press brakes, it took 30 to 40 minutes to set up a job."
A part required four to eight bends, each of which needed not only the setup time, but also a large amount of tonnage-135 to 140 tons. The parts also had to be coined.

Long setup times forced the company to manufacture more parts than it needed, maintain unnecessary inventory, and produce more scrap.

"There was no flexibility," Mondragn said.

The company also had to design and build its own tooling.

"We had our own tooling department," Mondragn said. "To create a new tool, we needed an engineer, an expert tooling designer, and an operator. We'd have to meet with the tooling department, design a new tool, test and release the tool-the whole process could take up to two weeks."

To reduce the time, cost, and scrap associated with the press brakes, IJD invested in TRUMPF's V series press brakes.

"The press brakes have allowed us to create a much more flexible and just-in-time manufacturing environment," Mondragn said. "We have reduced our labor, setup time, material inventory, and supply."

Setup time in particular was reduced dramatically: Mondragn estimates a 90 percent reduction, to one minute or less.

The V 85 press brakes use air bending to produce the exact angles customers require. This has helped the company reduce scrap and work-in-process (WIP) inventory and increase material usage.

The press brakes' manufacturer-supplied tooling has reduced IJD's labor needs, as workers now can bend a new part in a few hours. Quick-change tooling also has improved safety; in the past a crane had to carry the tooling.

"The tools were heavy and tough to handle," Mondragn said. "Now they are easier to work with. On the TRUMPF machine, we can easily change the backgauge. We used to have to change it manually, which is much more time-intensive and far less safe."

Punch/Laser Potential

Fifty miles from Monterrey in IJD's Saltillo facility, a third type of technology-a combination punch/laser machine-helps produce agricultural equipment. However, the company saw the possibilities of the technology at TRUMPF's headquarters long before the company needed it.

Three years ago, while reviewing the production forecast, Mondragn realized that the company would need additional capacity to meet future requirements. A new part design-which had a lot of holes-was still being refined, and its diameter and dimensions were changing. This made traditional punching impractical, so the company initially decided to purchase a new laser cutting machine each year to increase capacity.

However, the company recalled seeing a combination punch/laser machine at TRUMPF headquarters that it thought would be better-suited for high-volume jobs that required flexibility and a large number of holes.

"We realized that the TRUMPF [TC 6000 L] combination machine would be the best option," Mondragn said. "The machine's capabilities matched our needs in terms of part design, material thickness, and production levels exactly."

The company completed its analysis in 2001. The machine was installed in April 2002 and now runs three shifts a day, seven days a week.

Support, Service Are Critical

Mondragn said that when implementing any new technology, support is critical.
"Technology naysayers are just waiting for it to fail," he said. "Service is the key to the acceptance and success of the technology. Some companies will tell you anything to make a sale, but the truth is revealed after their machine is installed. Service technicians sell the rest."

The technology IJD has implemented has brought the company much success, Mondragn said.

"Our reaction time is better, we are more competitive, and we are better able to adapt quickly to customer demand," he said. For example, the company's response time used to be between four and five days. Now a similar job can take just one day.

Today all three of IJD's facilities use a variety of TRUMPF equipment that runs in three shifts, seven days a week.
For fabricators considering similar equipment, Mondragn advises remembering two points-reliability and technical support-because they often are critical to the technology's success in the shop.

Mondragn also said that buyers should consider the whole package, not just the price tag of the equipment. Making a list of factors that are most important and making an equipment evaluation based on those factors can help, Mondragn said.

"It is important to make the fine distinctions and look at the complete package when considering the cost of a machine."

Industrias John Deere, S.A. de C.V., Blvd. Daz Ordaz #500, Garza Garca, N.L., Mxico, C.P. 66210, 52-81-8288-1212, fax 52-81-8288-8201, mondragonluisi@ johndeere.com, www.johndeere.com.mx

TRUMPF Inc., Farmington Industrial Park, 111 Hyde Road, Farmington, CT 06032, 860-255-6000, fax 860-255-6424, www.us.trumpf.com



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