The harmonious combination of CNC machining and sheet metal manufacturing equipment depends on determining the right process and the right price for each part. #Basic
“When Pringles moved into the city, everything changed,” Jeff Cupples said as he drove onto the highway, away from the metal complex named after his last name. It takes about an hour to drive from Cupples’ J&J company’s headquarters in Jackson through West Tennessee to the satellite factory in Dyersburg-enough time for introduction and some background knowledge, first of all, how the opportunity to help make potato chip machines stimulated The greater ambition was a simple tool and mold shop at the time.
Employees collect parts from one of the company’s newer fiber laser cutting machines, which are usually faster than their CO2 cousins. Cupples’ J&J has a total of 25 lasers, ranging from a 3 kW fiber laser perforation combination to a 20 kW fiber laser, all over its factories in Jackson and Dalesburg, Tennessee.
Walk through the 65,000-square-foot satellite factory and you will see how far the Johnson & Johnson Company of Cupples has gone. The equipment here ranges from milling machines, lathes and EDM to bending machines, CNC rollers and robotic welders. All of this, we have not seen a broader and more complex mirror with the same functions in the seven-building main campus of nearly 40 acres, which also has on-site service operations and some of the first Eagle and Bystronic fiber lasers. Same kind of cutting machine on one side. Suddenly, the term “one-stop shop” used by Jeff Cupples before seemed less clichéd.
However, what makes this company with nearly 400 employees unique is the equipment itself, whether it’s in Dellsburg or Jackson. The diversification and expansion of machining and manufacturing capabilities are partly due to the adherence to a central idea. As Cupples said, “Each component has its own characteristics”-that is, a method of shaping metal, at a specific point in time, with specific resources and customer requirements, is more costly than any other option benefit.
Finding the “identity” of each part is a unique advantage of Cupples’ business. How can a store expand and diversify its capabilities without losing the full efficiency of each capability? How to effectively use different capabilities such as laser cutting and CNC milling in the same organization at the same time? For Cupples’ J&J, the answer starts with a job quotation system that recognizes and utilizes the advantages of various manufacturing processes and equipment.
Away from the hustle and bustle of satellite factory equipment, the drive back to Jackson provides a good opportunity to discuss the turning point of the overall situation. We discussed the transition from manual processing to CNC in 1989, and the addition of welding and forming equipment for mechanical parts in 1981. However, Cupples soon set its sights on purchasing the company’s first laser cutting machine in 1997.
Although the company operates a variety of processing and manufacturing equipment, laser cutting is a particularly proud place. Image courtesy of Cupples’ J&J Company
At the time, the main interest was to support CNC machining and manufacturing equipment through faster drilling and cutting of simpler geometric shapes. The speed (and quality, in many cases) of this new discovery has been driven by deepening the turf and gardening industry in the region and relationships with major customers such as MTD Products, Caterpillar, Kubota, and Kellogg’s (purchased Pringles from Procter & Gamble in 2012) expansion. The laser also makes the company the preferred source of urgent orders to help customers keep their machines running. “Next we know that we run it 24 hours a day, 6 days a week,” Cupples said.
Jeff Cupples, J&J vice president at Cupples, developed a one-page spreadsheet to simplify and standardize the quotation process, which has become a key competitive advantage. Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson of Cupples.
Laser cutting also opens up new opportunities for pursuing volume manufacturing contracts. This ability is no longer just a promoter of rolling mills and lathes, it has since become a particularly proud place, so much so that the company is known for repairing, modifying and even designing laser cutting nozzles from the ground up. It is the key to a strategy that relies on manufacturing and processing capabilities to support each other, whether through tools that produce batch work or through complementary operations on the same parts. “We would use a laser to cut something, bend it, process the bosses and weld them together with a robot, and then possibly process it afterwards,” Cupples said. “Is it laser processing, or processing first and then laser? Waterjet? What is the best cost solution for the customer?”
Owner and President James Cupples founded Cupples’ J&J Co. in 1966. Jansen Cupples (James’ grandson and Jeff’s son) also works for the company and he is the materials manager. Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson of Cupples.
By early 1998, just a few months after the first laser device was installed, Cupples was committed to spreadsheet-based automation to help answer such questions more effectively. At the same time, he said that most of the competition is just “insertion of numbers”, charging excessively standardized rates, and there is no basis for the reality of the workshop.
We rode a golf cart through Jackson’s facility, passing by a laser operator wearing sunglasses, hurriedly scooping up freshly cut parts from a nest of sheet metal. After a while, we stopped for professional machining operations on the large boring machine. Each of these jobs requires very different priorities and skill sets to be successful, but both start in the same way: carefully arrange the cycle to map the potential process chain, and determine which of the four independent teams ——Manufacturing, professional manufacturing, production and professional processing — will be most suitable for handling work. “It’s like a group of small companies working together,” Cupples explained. “Whoever does the most is the owner of the project, and they subcontract to other departments.”
In order to determine the “main” department for the new job, Cupples uses the same Microsoft Excel-based system, which is used by estimators in each department to “subcontract” each other. In this process, the idea of ”each part has its own identity” is reflected in the following aspects:
This assembly requires a rough-machined boss, as well as laser cutting, forming and robotic welding operations. The final operation is CNC machining the hole with a tolerance of ±0.0008 inches. Photo courtesy of J&J Company of Cupples.
Estimate is better than guess. Cupples said that when considering the fact that no process is 100% effective, many estimators are trained to “divide everything by 0.8.” However, each part has its own identity, which assumes that each part also has its own efficiency. The actual number of any given job may come from time period and experience. For example, a particularly heavy part may cause the efficiency of the bending machine to be estimated to be lower than the value suggested by the machine’s timing cycle.
There is no average. Cupples said that converting the average rates of different work centers into a single price may be effective, but problems arise when the work mix changes. As he puts it, “equalize three-quarters of your HMC with anything else” and the store may find that “all these large processing centers will be loaded” because their prices may be underestimated. At the same time, less valuable equipment may be overvalued, making it more difficult to fill. At J&J in Cupples, rates vary by workstation and job.
This component includes a combination of laser cutting, forming and CNC machined parts. Photo courtesy of J&J Company of Cupples.
Pricing is fine-grained. In fact, the same machine usually requires different rates for different jobs. For example, counting the set-up time of a job into each quote may result in the same workstation requiring a lower rate for production quantities of parts than for low-quantity special parts (which usually require more setup). “We pay for (a machine) by running time,” Cupples said. “Accountants will say that the value of this machine is 24-7, but based on our experience, you can’t charge a 24-7 fee for the setup. You really can only charge when it works.”
“Overhead” can be job-specific. As with setup or programming (which also affects work center rates separately), the costs associated with quality control and transportation may vary from job to job. Similar to the average work center rate, Cupples said he learned a long time ago that including such costs in administrative expenses can be a mistake. He said that even if “higher interest rates are generally used to cover the unknown,” the result is often “the work report says you are making money, but your financial situation is not.”
This work requires fiber laser cutting, shaping and robotic welding, and then online machining of holes on the HMC. Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson of Cupples.
Pricing is fluid. Quality control costs and other variables are introduced as rates for individual work centers from a tool called “Matrix”. This supporting spreadsheet outputs a text matrix: a part of the spreadsheet that outlines up to 16 possible charge rates for each payback period (usually set to 3 to 5 years) for a given work center or unit. The estimator can enter different shift plans and set times for the work center when trying to meet the quotation target.
Automation is essential. After setting the work center rate, the estimator only needs to enter the variables related to the work—material data, number of parts and process routes, working hours, etc.—the quotation will be updated accordingly. “We can change the work center rate as needed for new jobs or new units that may have higher or lower efficiency,” Cupples said. “We can actually load the number of hours that we have run on the machine or unit in the previous year, and it will tell us whether our rates can still generate profits and returns.”
Although if all these calculations are manual, the company’s meticulous estimation process will never work, but it still requires a lot of time and effort. In fact, Cupples has been considering upgrading to multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP) software packages for years. However, most systems tested so far have the same problem: “You have to lie to it,” he said. “It is difficult for an ERP system to run parts from multiple customers in one unit at the same time.”
During a walking tour of the Dyersburg satellite factory, we stopped to visit the “broken” production unit shown in the picture below. This is one of many examples of a single employee running a machine with a relatively high charging rate (laser) and a machine with a relatively low charging rate (bending machine) at the same time. This unit is “broken” because the machine usually runs completely different parts, usually for multiple customers. “This is how we compete with China,” Coops said.
Placing relatively high-priced equipment (laser cutting machines) next to relatively low-priced equipment (bending machines) allows one employee to run different parts from different customers on two machines at the same time.
However, Cupples said, damaged units tend to destroy any store management software that directly links labor assigned to different work centers with payroll. In contrast, using spreadsheets, it is easy to simply “combine these costs and set work unit rates.” Or, he may “let high-value work centers take on labor” to get more benefits from lower-value machines.
In addition to wage issues, “broken cells” also hinder systems that expect operators to work through barcode scanning. “How do you time two different parts on the same machine?” Cupples asked, although he had already answered his own question. In either case, “lying” to the store management system (in this case, perhaps by being creative during the scanning process or manually overwriting manual input later) can be troublesome.
For example, Cupples cites a feature that he has not replicated in other software: easily and quickly determine whether the extra efficiency gained from overtime is worth the extra labor cost. Using his own system, for employees who actually worked 45 hours but received overtime pay for 5 of them, there is no need to enter 47.5 hours (hence, 40 hours of normal wages and 5 hours of overtime). This is because the system automatically changes the work center rate based on the actual overtime hours. There is also no need to manually create additional work centers in the system-such as “OT1″, “OT2″, etc.-to calculate overtime costs. The estimator only needs to change a single spreadsheet field and the quote will be updated accordingly.
Cupples said that when he first developed a one-page spreadsheet to simplify and unify quotations for the then brand-new business unit, this flexibility seemed far away. Since then, the company’s growth has proved the success of its methods. At the time of writing, this approach seems unlikely to change anytime soon. “The work we do requires fewer people, less time, and is more accurate,” Cupples said.
Much like the situation with desktop 3D printing, Omax has developed a method that can bring the versatility, functionality and simplicity of waterjet cutting to a wider range of users.
Soon, industrial users of waterjet metal cutting will be able to cut metal plates, composites, and other materials without using abrasives—or at least using much less abrasives than they are accustomed to.
The president of Hunt and Hunt said that using a turning/milling machine was one of the most challenging tasks in his 55-year-old factory. He also said that in order to improve the efficiency of contract work, this is the best thing the store can do.
Post time: Nov-16-2021