Critical Equipment at Aalbers Tool & Mold

EDMs that have slashed burn time by a third and two five-axis machining centers are among the latest equipment implemented at the winner of this year’s Lead Time Leader—Honorable Mention award.


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Thanks to the shop’s new double-column, five-axis machining center, setups like this will be far less frequent. (Image courtesy of Creative Technology Corp.)

As detailed in this article, the shop that won this year's Lead Time Leader—Honorable Mention award takes a very cautious approach to equipment investment. That makes sense, given that Aalbers Tool and Mold's slow, steady growth philosophy would never work if the company spent beyond its means. However, this growth strategy also requires ensuring any investment packs a real punch. As a result, all purchases are carefully prioritized and evaluated according to not just their effects on any individual operation, but overall lead time. Here are just a few of the investments that, according to company president Toni Hansen, have made a significant and recent impact on the shop's operations:

*Eagle 1200 EDMs from OPS-Ingersoll (MC Machinery Systems): Installed within the past year, these two sinker machines have not only significantly reduced electrode wear and improved surface finish, but also reduced burn times by a full third. As a result, the two EDMs replaced four older models, thereby freeing up floor space for other equipment down the line. These machines were priority investments not only because EDM is among the most time-consuming processes, but also because it's essential—it can't be shuffled elsewhere without delaying the entire build.

Hansen says these benefits are largely the result of two key features: Eagle PowerTec and Eagle Power Jump. The former is a power supply incorporating an adaptive current-shape generator that ensures the right discharge requirements for the application. The latter rapidly moves the Z axis up and down during the burn far faster than the previous models’ servo motors, thereby improving flushing.

*F5 five-axis machining center from Makino: Break one bottleneck, and others tend to emerge elsewhere. Installing the aforementioned Eagle 1200 EDMs increased burn efficiency to the point where the shop couldn’t produce electrodes fast enough to keep up.  To remedy the problem, it installed a Makino F5 machining center with a robot for loading and unloading this past March. This machine far outclasses the model it replaced in terms of raw feeds and speeds, but that’s not the only advantage. Its five full axes of motion also eliminate the need for second setups on certain electrodes.

*Sharav double-column, five-axis machining center from Promac (Dynamic International): Historically, Aalbers Tool and Mold has employed three-axis, horizontal boring mills for finishing large tools that require machining compound angles, Hansen says. However, positioning blocks at the proper angles, which often requires angle plates and sine bars, can be a time-consuming process—one the shop would rather do without. To that end, it invested in a Sharav double-column, five-axis machining center from Promac that can reduce setups by accessing multiple sides of the workpiece. Capability to handle not just finishing, but high speed, 3D machining as well is expected to further consolidate setups.

Additionally, the machine offers X-, Y- and Z-axis travels of 137” × 86” × 47”, whereas the largest boring mill measures only 86” × 68” × 25”. The extra capacity is critical because the shop’s work has been trending even larger, Hansen says. Hansen also notes that the machine also improves safety because using angle plates and sine bars to prop up very large workpieces can be dangerous. That’s notable because safety is a key component of Aalbers Tool and Mold’s workforce development strategy.

The items above represent just a fraction of the machinery on the shop floor. To learn more, read the article, which includes a list of just some of the technology suppliers that have helped keep the shop competitive for more than 30 years.   

For a video tour of Aalbers Tool and Mold as well as 2014's Leadtime Leader award winner, Westminster Tool, click here.