Avers Machine partnered with Helios Gear Products to install a new, automation-equipped Hera 90 CNC gear hobber. Helios had a chance to check in with Chris Wellman and Ivan Torres at Avers Machine to see how their workflow has changed since the installation.
Q: Who are your typical customers?
We like to focus on niche business. Most of our niche customers are going to be OEM (original equipment manufacturers), and we’re making a specialized component that goes into their assembly or into their machine to be used in whatever industry that they happen to be in. We’re a rack manufacturer, we’re a gear manufacturer. We’re a machining company and we’ve become a little bit more of a one stop shop for our customers over the years.
Q: As a leader at Avers Machine, what are your primary goals for now and how are you looking forward to the future?
One of my main roles here is to be a continuous improvement champion; if we’re not changing, and we’re not looking at something new, then we’re stagnant which is not a good thing in our industry because the technology is always changing, the tooling is always changing, and you always need to be looking at the new things. What are we going to buy, why are we going to buy it? How is this going to improve our process? How is this going to improve our efficiency? All of these are very important considerations that we evaluate every single day.
Q: How did you first get connected with Helios and what is the relationship today?
We were always good friends with the people at Koepfer America [former name of Helios Gear Products], and we always knew their products and had their equipment and machines. When I moved over to Avers, we didn’t have any Koepfer machines or equipment, so we started a conversation with them. And it was probably about two years later that we bought our first Helios machine. We knew that they knew gearing, and they knew hobs, and they knew processes, and how to make everything, so it was a good relationship and a good partnership to strike up with them, to basically bring us into the newest, most updated technology and processes, and cutting feeds and speeds.
Q: What was the Hera 90 installation process like? How long did it take to start cutting gears and what has the technical support been like?
The machine came in and we powered it up the next day. Then Helios was in the following day to start training and installation. From the time that the machine hit our floor we ran our first part three days later. We joke about it a little bit like, wow you can call Helios and ask them any question and they’ll stop what they’re doing and they’ll help you. They’ll answer all the questions and they’ll send their service person and their tech person to help you. Most companies won’t send a person unless you give them a PO and they’re going to charge you. When Helios says they’re there to support you and help you, they really do mean that.
We text Edgar with questions and he responds right away with answers. We really appreciate that and it has been a selling point. They’re very responsive and that’s important to us. Not everyone else is the same.
Q: What types of parts are you making on the Hera? How has the machine been working for you?
The machine has made us so much more productive. There are jobs that used to take a week, and now we are knocking them out in two days or less. It’s been a game-changer for us. We’ve done spurs, helicals, worm gears, and now we’re doing worms, so basically everything it’s made to do, we’ve run through it. We had a recent worm gear job that we knocked out in about a week and a half, and it was probably a 1000-piece run and that stuff was super hard. Previously it would have taken us over a month on the slower Barber-Colman. So again, it’s been a game-changer. Everything that we’ve thrown at it, it’s been able to do.
We ran seven jobs back to back on the same arbor and all we had to do was go up to the control and change the number of teeth; we never had to change the work arbor, never had to change the hob, and because of the CNC control and the accuracy of the machine, we just put in exactly what size we wanted, and we ran seven jobs and cut them all in a matter of hours. As opposed to if we would’ve had to stop, change all of the gears, lead gears, differential gears, all the different stuff on the Barber-Colmans; it would just take so much longer in setup time. With the accuracy of the machine we were able to check them immediately in our CNC gear checker and everything was spot on, right where it needed to be.
Q: What are your top three favorite benefits of the machine and what changes has it brought about?
Our top three are the capability of the machine, the repeatability of the machine, and the accuracy of the machine. With the Hera, we’ve been able to save so much time because the machine automatically goes back to the settings where we were successful. We’re using the same hob, the same tooling, and our setup times have been significantly cut. We also appreciate the rigidity of the machine. On tough-to-cut parts, we used to run a few hundred parts and the hob would be done; we would have to take it out, sharpen it, and recoat it. With the Hera we’re cutting over 1000 parts because it’s just that much more of a rock solid, rigid machine.
Q: What are cycle times now looking like with the Hera?
In the Barber-Colman we were limited by a 600 RPM hob spindle. In the Hera, we’ve got 6000 RPMs, so we’re not limited at all and it really becomes a limitation of how fast the tool can run. We were running a high speed steel hob that was coated so we were able to ramp that up to 1000 RPM without a problem. We even now have the ability to utilize carbide hobs which we have done on some jobs, and we can take that 1000 RPM up to 2000 or 3000 RPMs. So our cutting cycle time improved dramatically, 2x to 3x faster. But even more importantly, there’s a deburring disk in the Hera 90. The deburring disk comes up and deburrs each part so all we need to do is just a very light brush when the part comes out of the machine, which saves a tremendous amount of deburring and handling time. So it’s not just a cycle time and accuracy improvement, it’s also a handling and deburring improvement.
Q: How has your manufacturing process changed since you added the Hera 90?
Before the Hera 90 we would run higher volume jobs on more manual equipment, putting a lot of strain and load on the operators; you may have a short cycle of 3-4 minutes, and then you need to spend 2 minutes changing the part. The Hera 90 brought us automation. Since we were able to make the tooling in-house with our own machine shop, we were up and running immediately. The machine is loading and unloading faster than any operator could do manually, and it takes all that load off of the operators, so that was really good to see. We’ve improved our efficiency, we’ve improved our quality, and we’re cutting parts faster. Everything from that standpoint worked out really well and was a no-brainer.
Q: How would you describe your dream shop floor? What does it look like in terms of process and
A dream shop floor for me would be to continue down the automation path. We’re not going to be the shop that does 1000s and 1000s of everything all the time. We’re going to have your 5, 10, 50 and 1000-piece jobs. The ideal shop for me would be to have automation, inspection systems, and machine tools that if you don’t run a job for some time, and you come back in two years to load up your program and put those tools in, your accuracies are there and you’re running exactly what you need to run for your customer.
Q: How is the Hera helping you prepare for the future?
The Hera 90 platform allows us to do a couple of different things. It allows us to use our creativity and think outside the box when it comes to making new tooling, and re-engineer jobs so they can be so much smoother to set up and so much easier on our operators. The main focus is the accuracy and efficiency of the machine, and we’ve been able to save a lot of floorspace, and floorspace at our company is very important nowadays as we’re jam-packed with equipment. What we’re doing now is taking an old machine out and putting a new machine in. If we can take an old machine out, in
particular two or more machines, and I can put a new machine in that has less floor space and can outperform them from an accuracy and efficiency standpoint, that’s a no-brainer and we’re doing that every time.