Weaver Manufacturing is no stranger to airframe component manufacturing challenges. Founded in 1942, the Kansas company has established a solid reputation as an industry leader and has won several awards from Boeing Seattle, Cessna Aircraft, Goodrich, Sprint Wichita, and other aerospace leaders. Weaver did realize, however, their capabilities had limits.
"We wanted to bid on manufacturing a large structural aerospace component that required a huge amount of aluminum hog-out and tight accuracies, where success hinged on speed," said David May, vice president of operations. "That’s when we attended a seminar at Makino’s facility in Mason, Ohio, and saw the MAG. We knew the MAG could put us in a more unique manufacturing position and, more importantly, help facilitate future growth by adding a powerful capability to our company."
Buck Weaver founded Weaver Manufacturing in 1942 as one of the first tool and die shops in Wichita. Buck quickly found his niche as a machine shop in the emerging aerospace market with customers such as Clyde, Cessna, and Beech Craft.
In the last 60 years, Weaver has built solid reputation for producing high-quality, close-tolerance machined parts as well as tooling and prototype work. Its commitment to quality was recently demonstrated when it received full registration to AS9100, Rev. B:2004 and ISO 90001:2000.
Weaver serves the aerospace, general aviation, and defense markets, with $35 million in annual sales and growing. The company’s customers include Boeing, Goodrich, Cessna, Eclipse, Spirit, and Northrop. It specializes in producing structural bulkheads, airframe parts, window frames, support beams, and in high-precision hog-outs of aluminum components. It has 110 employees at its two locations, both in Wichita, Kansas.
"We run aluminum aerospace parts every day, but running a part this large and at high speed was something new for us," said May. "We knew the equipment we had on the floor couldn’t pull it off."
The project is an aerospace piece for a tier-one structural assembler of defense and commercial applications. It requires a 2,000-pound aluminum billet to be milled down to about 25 pounds, holding a ±0.005-inch tolerance on the walls and floors. The final part is 34 inches wide by 95 inches long.
Previous manufacturers’ attempts at the part had used outdated technologies, such as gantry mills. These technologies were not only slow, but also required many setups and have inherent accuracy problems. Weaver knew this wasn’t an option. It was a just-in-time (JIT) manufactured part, so they needed a machine that could handle the part size, reduced setups, was accurate to eliminate hand work and rework, and, most importantly, was very fast.
"This piece is for a sensitive application, so we can’t go into great detail, but the key to the project was producing the parts very quickly, on demand, and keeping all the work in the machine," said Chris Vannover, Weaver’s production manager.
"All value-added content had to be done on the machine to make this job profitable," added Derek Shriver, director of operations support. "We quickly realized the potential of the MAG3 and how it could produce this part more efficiently than any other machine we’d seen." The job provided an opportunity for Weaver to expand its capabilities into large, complex parts machined at high speeds.
"None of our equipment could handle a part this size and still pull off acceptable accuracies," said Shriver. "The machining center we chose had to be able to hog-out aluminum at very high speeds, and it had to have the flexibility to limit setups as much as possible."
A five-axis horizontal machining center, the MAG3 is specifically designed for high-productivity machining of complex aluminum monolithic parts for aerospace. It has X- Y- Z travels of 118.1 x 59.1 x 39.4 inches, and can handle a payload up to 6,600 pounds. It is equipped with a high-speed, 107-horsepower, core-cooled spindle.
"The 30,000 rpm spindle and fast feedrate were essential to the success of this project," added Vannover. "We’re removing over 1,900 pounds of aluminum, so it’s got to move fast to make the process efficient. And the bed size was perfect for this part—it takes up about three-quarters of it."
In addition to speed, limiting setups was also important. "Because of the MAG’s unique rotary spindle head, we were able to reduce setups from seven to two, another essential component in reducing the cycle time of the project," added Vannover.
The MAG3 is designed with the C-axis behind an A-axis nutating head. This allows the tool to orient itself toward any position within a hemisphere. The ±110-degree movement of the A-axis is enhanced by the infinite degree of movement capability of the C-axis, providing for exceptional machining flexibility.
In the final bid, Weaver was able to handily beat the previous manufacturer of the part. The previous manufacturer had produced the part in 16 hours in seven positions. Weaver, using the MAG3, was able to reduce production time down to two hours and two positions.
"The simple fact is this part cannot be machined as efficiently in any other machine by any other manufacturer," said May. "We’ve looked at all the options. The MAG was the only way to do the high-speed, accurate machining required in an appropriate time."
Service Was Essential
"On a unique job like this one, we knew we needed to make sure that the machine had a solid reputation of service and support behind it," commented May. "Because of the amount of metal removal, the speeds we are dealing with, and the sheer size of the part, we knew there could be challenges in the manufacturing process that would require the machine builder’s expertise. Luckily, we went with a manufacturer that not only stands behind their equipment, but also works to exceed the expectations of their customers.
"We hit a few bumps in the road during the early stages of manufacturing. Makino worked with us to resolve the issues, and we quickly were up and running. Support like that is important when you’re dealing with JIT orders, and we’ve discovered we can trust Makino has our interests in mind when service comes into play.
"Without the MAG3, we could not produce this part competitively. We credit the high speed, high accuracy of the Makino, along with our top-notch engineering staff with that."
When Weaver purchased their MAG, it was a new machine for Weaver and Makino. In fact, it was one of the first MAG3 machines released in the US market.
"We knew a machine this new and this different would have a few growing pains, so we were glad to have a machine builder who could not only show us how to use it, but also how to best apply the part and high-speed machining techniques to the machine," said May.
Weaver sent several of its machinists to Makino’s facility in Mason for a MAG boot camp, both to train them on the MAG and to configure Weaver’s new cell controller. Mark Rehwinkel, Makino’s local agent who helped Weaver implement the MAG3, spent several weeks on site at Weaver to help out with the transition.
Weaver has been successfully producing the part for nearly three years now, and has found that the MAG3 is one of their most efficient and profitable machines. Due to the part’s success, Weaver has decided to expand the use of their MAG to other parts, and add another MAG3 to take on even more work. The MAG3 has become an important component of Weaver’s continuous improvement on internal parts, making other jobs more efficient and profitable.
"We originally bought the MAG just to run this new part but quickly realized the machine’s potential," said May. "That’s really why we decided to add another machine and upgrade to the pallet system." Weaver converted some of their extra production to the MAG with excellent results.
"One structural bulkhead’s machining time went from 20 hours to two and a half and from eight setups down to two. Another went from 10 hours to two and four positions to two. This is typical of the kind of savings we’ve seen out of the MAG," said Vannover.
Weaver has experienced significant savings in many of their machining operations, and even saved steps due to the abilities of the MAG3. "Rough-offs aren’t needed anymore due to the high-speed machining techniques we’re able to implement on the MAG," added May.
Weaver plans to continue its growth, and is working hard to move further up the value chain for their customers.
"There’s a lot of global competition out there, but there’s also a lot of work out there that could be run significantly more efficiently," said May. "You just have to have the people and the equipment to be able to pull it off."
Fortunately, Weaver’s reputation as a cutting-edge, high-speed aerospace part manufacturer has brought many jobs to them, and, due to this, they are optimistic about the future.
"Our company is dedicated to aggressive growth," said May. "We plan to increase revenues by 30 to 50 percent in the next three to five years. To pull that off, we need more equipment like the MAG3."
"Soon we’ll need to purchase more large, fast machines like the MAG," commented Vannover. "We’re looking hard at the larger MAGs in case a job comes up that would demand another investment."
Adding a Linear Pallet System
Weaver currently uses the standard pallet system to aid in some automation, machining one part as another is loaded, but is in the process of adding an automated cell to extend their efficiency. But to push their growth further, they’ve decided to invest in another MAG with a pallet system.
The new setup is a linear pallet system with two work-set stations and 12 pallets. Weaver estimates it will increase spindle utilization by 30 percent or more. It will also reduce setup time, since there are multiple fixtures for male and female parts, while helping the shop foreman manage work better to optimize the use of the MAGs.
"We sell machine time, not parts," noted May. "Because of this, we need the most efficient machines possible to make every minute count. We want to be a $100 million company in five years. We’re on track to do that, and we’re willing to grow and invest aggressively to accomplish that goal."
On a unique and challenging job like Weaver was tasked to complete, finding the right machine and the right machine supplier was essential.
"Every moment we lose, whether it is due to our own inefficiency or through downtime, is detrimental to us and our bottom line," said Shriver. "We needed a machine that was fast, accurate, and had a solid company behind it to make sure we’d be successful with this job. The MAG3 fits that description perfectly."