Making Manufacturing Processes Palletable


Muller MartiniMuller Martini, the leading manufacturer of bookbinding equipment, needed to integrate a pallet system into their operation in Newport News, Virginia, that would accomplish something different from anything they had seen previously in their industry. They needed to speed up their process for running small volumes of a long list of parts in a fast and efficient "just-in-time" manner, in order to help drive costs out of their manufacturing process.

The pallet system that Muller Martini envisioned would allow for frequent part changeovers, the grouping of pallets for designated part runs, and the flexibility to use about 60 percent of the pallets for part change over on a daily basis in order to maximize machine operations. The desired parts system would allow up to ten different parts to be run at one time through a horizontal machining center (HMC). Some of these parts might even require as many as six different positionings, and utilization of several pallets, to complete the task quickly enough to meet production needs.

Jerry Fox, manufacturing support engineer for Muller Martini Newport News (MMNN), discovered that Makino’s Machining Complex (MMC) system met all of their needs and requirements. Makino has extensive experience with a variety of manufacturing operations, including those that use a production machinery pallet handling system for high volume quantities of a few parts as well as those that run a wide variety of parts with very low volumes. And, with an effective combination of machinery and integrated software, they showed Muller Martini how the latter could benefit their operation.

Muller Martini Newport News
Muller Martini Newport News discovered that Makino’s Machining Complex system met all of their needs and requirements.

Setup time was no longer a daily consideration, according to Fox, no more so than what part goes into the machine. "All our tooling, fixture preparation and loading of raw material, generally happens outside the actual setup and goes on while we are producing other parts. Once the job is proven out, our actual setup time amounts to the operator verifying that the proper tools are in position and making adjustments to meet critical dimensions. Other than that, there is no setup time allotted.

"This allows cycle time to be the primary production measurement of our success. We could not consider this before due to machine and equipment limitations. Some of the conventional tools we used did not allow for loading and unloading while we were running parts. So we had to wait for a job to finish, tear it down, load the new part and continue. That is now all done in the background due to the Makino MMC and Makino cell control software, which permits these multiple activities concurrent with the production of parts on the Makino A-Series horizontal machining centers. And we have enough pallets on the Makino pallet changing system to keep the machines running continuously, which buys us time to do other things outside the system."

System Selection 
Fox heads the self-contained HMC operations at Muller Martini, a global corporation that also has operations in Switzerland. He is in charge of the people, the equipment and their integration and utilization. He also writes all horizontal operational programs and manages parts production processes.

Muller Martini has a self-contained design, fabrication, machining, powder– coating and assembly operation at Newport News. They produce a variety of perfect binding and saddle binding lines as well as other types of equipment for the bookbinding industry. These machines complete the production of all types of reading materials once printing is finished. The machine parts of these binders are made from aluminum castings, cast iron and steel.

"The first thing we had to do was find equipment that would meet the capacity for the size parts we run," says Fox. "Then we tried to decide what machine and system we wanted, what spindle speed we wanted, whether we wanted to go with old box way technology or linear guide machines for the speed.

Makino A99
The Makino A99 machines, married with a 24-pallet, 3-work setting station MMC system, is extremely versatile with a flexible and expandable modularity that can change and grow to fit future needs.

"Once we decided on what machine tools met our specifications, we looked at pallet systems and the basics for the pallet system, with the original goal to reduce our setup times. With our stand-alone equipment, our setup times were extremely high. Much of this had to do with limited tooling and pallet availability. So a pallet system looked to be our best avenue for improving process times. We had success with Makino for years with such machines as MC1513 and MC98 horizontal machining centers. In this investigation, their reputation clearly stood out as the leader in what we were trying to accomplish."

Muller Martini uses their A99s to make a wide range of parts including the main base castings of the machinery, the side frames and the numerous equipment parts. Some are as large as 800 millimeter cubed castings, and some are as small as zebra-type castings that fit on shafts. Most of these require drilling, taping and close tolerance bored holes from eight to 150 mm, as well as blade holding casts, in order to trim the books.

"It is not uncommon for a part to have four or five different sized bores ranging from 20 to 100 mm in diameter, with respective tolerances of 10 microns and 20 microns. A great benefit of using the A-Series machines is that it is a very fast 800 mm pallet machine, with rapid traverse and feed rates up to 50,000 mm per minute with extreme accuracy on all aspects, including accurate boring, to handle this level of variety," says Fox.

Flexibility and Usability 
Fox added that Makino is very flexible and open to integrating new ideas and desires with their customers. "Our big issues have always been tooling, and they have been flexible with incorporating our tooling and controller ideas. When we are running multiple jobs, and each required 30 or 40 tools that are not necessarily universal, it was difficult to know what tools to pull or add to our machines. We wrote software to analyze this for our old machinery and processes, but it was not as informative as desired and required manual manipulation of the data.

"Makino developed a special program where the Cell Controller analyzes the tooling that is in the magazine and the production area. Our operators now know what tools are loaded, what tools are available outside the machine and what tools are required not only for currently running parts, but also jobs to be added to the system. This coordinates the entire process. It also looks at tool life and determines whether there is enough life on a particular tool to complete the processes. This is a great aid to the operator and to the process time. We forward that information directly to our tool preset department so they can stay ahead of the demand."

The cell controller software from Makino maximizes production output while effectively monitoring multi-machine production requirements. The PC-based system is designed to handle a wide variety of parts and provide for flexible production management.

Training on the system was vital, according to Fox. "We met with Makino at their Mason, Ohio, facility to go over how we wanted the cell controller structured, and they described all the available options. Once they analyze your operation and customize their software to suit your needs, they set up the machine and software to simulate the actual layout and process of the machine, including the pallet system.

"They then trained our team and simulated the operation to ensure it performed as desired. After delivery and installation at Newport News, they spent several days going over it with our operators and the actual movement of the equipment in plant. Operations, simulations and controller utilization were observed on-site."

Pallet System Design 
The result of using a pallet system for the production of small quantities is proving successful for Muller Martini, according to Fox. "We plan to run about 200 different parts through our machines, and we wanted to be able to produce them on a ’just-in-time’ basis. In the past, we had to run a six-month to one-year supply of a particular part in order to make it cost effective to produce. We believed that having a pallet system might be the answer, but we could find no other companies using one in this manner.

Once they analyze your operation and customize their software to suit your needs, they set up the machine and software to simulate the actual layout and process of the machine, including the pallet system.


"We were striving to have a lot of flexibility, a lot of options, wanted some parts set up permanently, and the ability to have enough pallets to be able to plan and set up a few days ahead. This would allow us to get things ready so when one job was finished, the next part was ready go. And, it meant a lot more than just pallets. We had to manage the numerous tool load and unload processes."

A cell configuration and workflow analysis was completed to determine how to physically fit the MMC into the existing Muller Martini building. Then Muller Martini had to determine how intricate a pallet system and machine tool system they needed in order to accomplish what they desired. "We did some analysis on our current workload and past history to see how many parts we averaged and how many hours were required annually to run all the parts through a horizontal machining center. In the past, we purchased large equipment because we knew it would accommodate everything. But, that kind of decision-making seemed no longer prudent, as you waste a lot of time and money running very small parts on large equipment.

"We considered buying two different size machines to handle our various tasks, but then we would lose a lot of flexibility and possibly would have needed two pallet systems or an interface to accommodate several equipment manufacturers. So we found a better solution in re-designing and re-fixturing some parts, and bundling them to the machine that had the widest breadth of service along with the highest speed, production quality and cycle time enhancements. That turned out to be the Makino A99 machines, married with a 24-pallet, 3-work setting station MMC system. The system is extremely versatile, with a flexible and expandable modularity that can change and grow to fit our future needs."

The parts were then orchestrated toward three categories. "The first was complicated parts that needed to stay set up all the time, even if they were not run very often. We knew this was critical to eliminate excessive setup times on difficult to machine products. The second was parts that utilized standard tooling, with tools being used on a multitude of parts, allowing for attended as well as unattended production. The last category was parts to be set up on a monthly or on a bi-monthly basis to meet production requirements."

Tool Selection 
Once Muller Martini decided upon their pallet configuration and machine size, tool capacity was the next priority. "We knew from our past that we had nearly 1,000 different tool assemblies that were required to run all our parts. Our first step was to reduce that number," says Fox. "We standardized a lot of tooling, and determined ways to use one length or one size tool to do the task of a number of others. We came up with a realistic figure in the 400 to 500 range, half of our previous usage. Then we needed to make a choice between a 244- or 188-magazine tool changer. Due to cost efficiency and an extensive tool changing formula we developed during our research, we decided the smaller 188-tool magazine was better for us.

The Makino pallet system...
The Makino pallet system is state-of-the-art in its complex capabilities yet simple in its operation.

"Our analysis looked at how often each individual tool assembly was used, how often the parts were being run, and how frequently the tool would have to be changed to accommodate the combinations and parts. What we determined was that tools that were used on 10 or more different parts needed to stay in those machines. Our decision was that if they needed to be changed out more than 10 times a month, we were running into too much downtime labor cost."

"We then found a number of tools which were used on 50 to 75 percent of the parts," says Fox. "The total of the two groups of standard tools was about 140, which left us with an extra 48 pockets in the 188-tool magazine. After running every job we had, we looked at how many more tools on average we would need to add to the tool magazine to run each part. We found on average that we only needed to add 3.8 tools per job to our standard tooling to be able to run any new job coming in. It then proved to be pretty simple and cost effective to add three or four tools each time we need to run a job. For these reasons we opted to invest our money on tooling, permanently setup, rather than on the additional tool pockets."

A System Above The Rest 
Muller Martini knew that if they were to get the results they wanted and tested for, they needed a pallet system that was above the rest of the competition in operation, performance and maintainability. "The Makino pallet system is state-of-the-art in its complex capabilities, yet simple in its operation," says Fox. "There are not a lot of moving parts, but it does more than just shuttle pallets around. The key thing we needed, and which Makino provided, was the control system. Makino’s cell controller is able to manage the entire process, not only properly moving the pallets, but also properly coordinating our complex tooling, part process and work scheduling requirements.

"The Makino cell controller has been customized to our needs and allows us to make alterations or seek alteration concepts from Makino. It is very flexible, and automates production orders, pallets and delivery dates for complete machine scheduling or reassignment purposes. We’ve had several instances where suggested changes be made to the software to accommodate our process. Makino is very open to doing that, and their expertise makes it pretty simple. Sometimes it can be done right over the modem. It’s set up so that they can dial into our system and run our cell, or load software changes or variations to determine any problems. Their technicians are incredible and a great benefit."

Fox adds the tool management function also monitors tool life and helps ensure that Muller Martini gets the maximum usage out of each tool. "We knew frequently used tooling would require careful monitoring and replacement. This monitoring is made easy utilizing analysis generated by the cell controller. And knowing that these frequent tooling updates left the door open for mistakes, we decided to incorporate the Balluff read/write tool data verification to our system. We could not afford for a tool to be placed in the wrong tool magazine pocket, or to have incorrect tool length or diameter data in the system.

Special Silos Developed and Integrated
Special silos developed by Muller Martini have been incorporated into the Makino pallet system.

"Our tool presetter measures our tool lengths from strict guidelines, generally plus or minus three millimeters. The preset personnel must set tools within those guidelines. Every tool combination has its own, pre-programmed parameters. Tools falling outside these parameters are rejected. After tools are measured, all pertinent data is transferred onto a memory chip on the tool holder. This data includes tool number, length and diameter measurements, tool life and other data necessary for proper tool usage on the machining centers. This data is then uploaded to both the machining center and the cell controller as the tool is loaded into a pocket in the tool magazine. Any data that is modified during tool usage is written back to the chip when the tool is removed from the machine. This fool-proofs the system."

Special Silos Developed and Integrated 
In trying to further reduce setup times and make them quicker and easier for operators, Muller Martini decided several years ago to get away from standard pallet tombstones. They developed their own replacement, which they call silos. They are similar to tombstones but have precision locating and locking receivers rather than pins and bolts. Every fixture is designed utilizing these quick disconnect mechanisms, which Muller Martini says has cut their loading time in half.

These silos were easily incorporated into the Makino pallet system. They now only use standard tombstones for jobs that are permanently mounted or changed out very infrequently.

Jerry Fox adds that this silo/fixture system and the Makino pallet system have allowed them to further automate their process with a unique storage system. "We had to have our fixtures readily available for our operators, we could not afford the time for them to be stored outside of the production area. We didn’t want to bog down the whole pallet production system.

"We have incorporated two Remstar Shuttles, which are vertical material storage handling systems to store our fixtures. They are programmable by fixture or tray number, with each tray having the capacity of 500 pounds. They are located right next to the Makino work center loading stations. When our work orders come out with the necessary fixturing information required, we call it down and position them directly to one of the three loading stations."

Improved Setup and Cycle Times 
Improved Setup and Cycle TimesMuller Martini set out to improve their setup times with the Makino pallet system, which they found easy to accomplish. They also expected greatly reduced cycle times. "Improved setup time was what we went after with the Makino pallet system. Any cycle time reduction beyond normal expectations was going to be a plus. We knew that we would gain a percentage of cycle time improvement simply based on the reduction in our tool change times. Our older equipment took approximately 35 seconds per tool change with the average part requiring 35 to 40 different tools. The A-Series machines save us about 30 second per tool change, thus reducing cycle times on a 40-tool job by 20 minutes on tool changes alone. Positioning rates that are four-times that of our older machines, and utilization of higher spindle speed tooling, have made for big savings."

Muller Martini has seen other cost and time savings throughout their operation due to the pallet system conversion. "We have been able to reduce the amount of raw material in inventory because we can run parts in smaller lots on a more frequent and more cost effective basis," says Fox.

Examples of Savings on Part Production

"This helps us from the stocking of raw material to a reduction in the finished parts inventory, and we can reduce our scrap and rework created from engineering changes. We also have a much better material flow once a part is produced. The parts don’t sit around the area for extended periods.

"When we produced six months worth of parts, we tied up machines with large quantities and storage areas were cluttered with parts. Now there is a much better part flow. We run smaller lot sizes, the materials are generally in the area for no more than one to four days and the whole operation is a lot better and smoother."

Making a Choice For The Future 
"One primary thing Muller Martini looks at when getting a new machine is technological advancement," says Fox. "You cannot afford to fall behind. Just the pure speed alone on new machinery proves beneficial. And without new technology you fall behind in maintenance, too. We are not only satisfied with the quality and technology of these Makino machines, but also the uptime and service. We have had few problems with the machines, and downtime costs us time and money that we cannot afford.

"Muller Martini has some very tough standards for internal manufacturing operations to meet," says Fox. "Much tougher standards than are imposed on the average manufacturer. One thing that is really important for anybody wanting to try to convert to a pallet system, like Makino has provided Muller Martini, is that the demand on your operators changes. If anyone wants to try to accomplish what we have accomplished, you do it with people that have a good machinist background, are computer literate and are very able to multi-task. That is the machinist of today, and for tomorrow.

"They have to be able to think ahead. They have to be able to manage a multitude of different parts through all complex stages. Fortunately for us, our operators do all of this extremely well. And Makino’s MMC is the perfect solution for companies wanting to get away from old manufacturing practices. For products that were originally developed for high production, it’s amazing how well Makino has integrated their MMC systems to manage parts, tooling, and processes for ’just-in-time’ manufacturing."

The key to modern manufacturing success at Muller Martini, according to Fox, is the quality of the Makino cell and pallet system. This quality includes the potential for the company to expand the pallet system for future growth in their manufacturing process.

The Makino cell controller software is what he says makes the manufacturing process palletable—and profitable—for Muller Martini.

Muller Martini Manufacturing Corporation
Newport News, Virginia
Phone: (757) 873-1234