flexible technology allows sipco molding to expand beyond molds
The adage "don’t put all of your eggs in one basket" certainly rings true for Sipco Molding Technologies of Meadville, Pennsylvania. Today, the company provides design and engineering, precision machining, custom injection molding, and mold-making services to the auto-motive, electronics, pharmaceutical, and consumer markets. But that wasn’t always the case.
"In the 1990s, about 80 percent of our business was dedicated to the telecommunications industry," said Larry Sippy, president of Sipco. "When the telecommunications downturn started in late 2000, the majority of our contracts dried up and we were left struggling to recoup our losses."
While the telecommunications downturn had a tremendous impact on the company, Sippy believes it was a blessing in disguise. Today, no more than 10 percent of Sipco’s business is dedicated to one industry.
"That was probably one of the best things that could have happened to us," continued Sippy. "It forced us to reorganize our business and explore other industries in order to get back on track."
A Third-Generation Shop
In 1959, Henry Sippy, a young toolmaker with more ideas and ambition than would fit in a factory setting, founded Sipco. During these early years, American toolmakers set the precedent for close-tolerance machining and part interchangeability that shaped the future of manufacturing. From the very beginning, Sipco pushed the leading edge of technology, and was a pioneer in utilizing Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) in the United States.
Henry’s sons, Larry and Lon, became toolmakers and Sipco rapidly evolved into a total solutions provider for advanced applications of CNC machining technologies and the design, building, and processing of plastic injection molds. The company embraced Solid Modeling CAD design software in 1996, and remains at the forefront of mold design for precision plastic parts.
Today, Sipco not only uses Solid Modeling for design, but also produces CNC tool paths directly from the Solid Model, providing customers with true integration and reducing art-to-production time by 50 percent.
In 2006, Sipco merged with Excalibur Machine, a company that provides OEM manufacturing, machining, and heavy steel manufacturing services. Excalibur is HUBzone-certified, and with its large mills and pallet changers, lathes with automatic part changers, CNC plasma cutters, and robotic and manual welding equipment, it was a great addition to Sipco’s capabilities.
Today, this third-generation shop, staffs 180 employees in more than 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It manufactures quality parts and molds for such customers as Parker Hannifin Integrated Hydraulics Division, JLG, Eaton, Energizer, and Lord Corporation.
Bringing in New Equipment to Expand Capabilities
Sipco knew that in order to build up its non-telecommunications client base, it would have to add more equipment to increase its capabilities. Makino proved to be a viable solution.
"We purchased our first Makino a61 horizontal machining center in 2005 to expand our production and machining capabilities," said Sippy. "Shortly thereafter, we purchased a second a61 to replace an older machine."
Sipco currently has two a61s, the second of which has a PRO-5 control with SGI software. The company also has two older Makino Sinker EDMs (EDNC65s) that are still in use today. Sipco uses the Makinos for production machining of hydraulic blocks and weldments, as well as mold parts.
Sipco originally purchased the Makinos to run only high-mix, low-volume custom mold parts, but found they can also be used to run production parts. In fact, not only does Sipco run most of its production parts through the Makinos, but they are still fast enough to run higher volume mold parts as well.
"The abilities of the a61s opened doors for us to other industries and possibilities for revenue," said Sippy. "We had the talent and equipment, so when customers wanted production parts we gave them production parts."
The addition of the a61s enabled Sipco to improve reliability, accuracy, repeatability, and speed/ease of operation. The greatest impact can be seen in reduced cycle times. Using the a61s, Sipco reduced cycle time during hydraulic blocks and weldment machining by 40 percent. Prior to using the a61s, complete machining of these components took 18 to 20 minutes. Now Sipco can complete the same part in only 10 to 12 minutes.
Tool changes alone accounted for significant cycle-time improvements. These parts typically demand 20 tool changes; tool changes on the a61 take only two and a half seconds from one cut to the next, resulting in total tool change times of less than one minute per part.
Increased tool life has also been a significant benefit of the Makino machines. With other machines, Sipco used one drill per part. Now the company uses one drill for every 20 parts. Furthermore, the broken tool function proved very helpful when running large or complicated molds. If the tool breaks during production, the operator is alerted and can immediately fix or change out the tool. Without this function, operators may run a complete job before noticing a broken tool.
In addition to increasing capacity as measured by better cycle times and longer tool life, Sipco’s new machining centers also expanded its capability to machine harder materials. Since the Makino machines are much more rigid than Sipco’s other machines, they can be used to effectively machine materials such as titanium and inconel, a nickel-based alloy. This was not possible with its older machines. Because the a61s reduced part vibration during roughing, Sipco was able to machine better parts faster, without the need for secondary machining.
The Makinos now serve as Sipco’s primary machines; they run constantly. The other machines are generally used to run parts when the Makinos are too busy.
"We have been extremely happy with the performance of the Makino machines," said Sippy. "In addition to being user-friendly, they have increased capacity and eliminated setups and secondary operations that were necessary with other machining centers."
Central Programming Station Streamlines Operations
One of the most effective upgrades Sipco made was the addition of a central programming station, which enables operators to send programs directly to eight CNCs, including the Makinos.
"The central programming center houses four or five programmers, who are separated from the shop floor by glass," said Jeff Keas, shop floor manager. "This area is easily accessible, allowing operators to walk in at any time to ask questions or make changes."
In addition to sharing controls, the Makino machines also share toolholders, coolant, maintenance materials, and software so both machines can be run by one operator.
"Having two similar machines has streamlined everything," continued Keas. "We can run a job on either machine without having to adjust the programs, and operators don’t have to be trained to run each individual machine."
Sipco staffs operators for two 10-hour shifts. The Makinos run unattended for the rest of the time.
"The Makinos are self sufficient; we don’t need operators standing by the machines all the time waiting for something to go wrong," said Keas.
Adding Production Parts to the Mix
"Sure, we are a mold shop," said Sippy. "But much of the same manufacturing knowledge and machinery is needed to run many types of production parts. We thought to ourselves, why limit Sipco to molds?"
When opportunities from mold customers came up for production part work, Sipco decided to give it a try. Most of their business is still mold and tool work, but production has become a welcome addition to the product mix. Recently, several government contractor jobs have come through the shop, mostly for defense applications.
"Why turn down a job you can do just because ’Molding’ is in your name?" asked Sippy. "We have the talent, we have the machinery, and we have the technology to do production and molding. So we do."
The addition of production work, as well as the diversification of industries served, has led Sipco Molding to the best success they’ve ever seen at their company. "We’re growing again, and things look better than ever. We owe it to having open minds and top-notch technology, capable of being flexible enough to run the work that was available to us," said Sippy.
As a Complete Machining Solution, Sipco Is More Competitive
The manufacturing industry is constantly demanding flexibility. In order to meet these needs and remain competitive, manufacturers need to operate at the highest level of efficiency. Shops that turn away or can’t complete work because of broken or slow machines won’t be able to compete with those shops that are running at full capacity.
When Sipco purchased Makino’s a61 to increase capability and recoup losses brought on by the downturn of the telecommunications industry, Sippy couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on his company’s productivity.
"The Makino machines have become a central part of our continuous improvement process," said Sippy. "With our technology and talent, we have the ability to do more than mold work. It’s hard to argue with results. These machines have provided faster through-put and cycle times, improved lead-times, and reliable scheduling."
Not only has Sipco expanded to production and complete solution machining, but it has also utilized the talent of its people and the abilities of new technology to expand its customer base.
"It is a great feeling to know that we can take on more and more work and, at the same time, surpass our customers’ expectations by delivering quality parts on time, every time," said Sippy. "We’re not relying on a particular industry to keep our business booming, and we’re not relying on one type of work. Our diversification and investment in flexible technology are the keys to our success."
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