Steering Toward Flexibility





24/7 is not just a catchphrase or a motto for some companies—it is a business strategy for competitive survival and success. And achieving it often requires extreme flexibility in quality manufacturing processes and solutions.

R.H. Sheppard Company, Inc., of Hanover, Pennsylvania, has been around for 70 years by doing just that. The 1,100- employee, privately owned company primarily manufactures power steering components for heavy-duty trucks. It also is a tier-one manufacturer of hydraulic pumps for injection units on I6 and V8 engines and   many other production products.


Working 24/7 allows Sheppard no room for machinery downtime, and the demands for quality performance are paramount in maintaining the company’s reputation for excellence and dependability. For a dynamic company such as Sheppard, management has learned that working harder is not always the answer; working toward a better solution is more important.

"We work a lot of hours and we are putting out a lot of product," says Jim Keagy, manager of manufacturing engineering with Sheppard. "And we need machine tools that work even harder. This technology must lower our initial investment costs compared to dedicated equipment lines. It also must provide us with the flexibility to eliminate operations, reduce setup time and improve reliability.

"We have added about nine Makino horizontal machining centers over the past year to replace other machines, and have a total of about 18 of them in all our plants. The performance of Makino is outstanding, and the support from its distributor, Automation Solutions, Inc., has been a key in our success at R.H. Sheppard."

Controlling the Process 
R.H. Sheppard operates nine of its 11 facilities within a three-block radius of its headquarters. A great deal of three-axis production machining is done, primarily with machining centers, turning centers and milling machines. Sheppard makes a lot of its own tooling and fixturing through its in-house tool room, and operates its own foundry to control product quality and production timelines.

The company believes that its customers benefit from its control of the entire production process.

"Controlling quality and output has always been a major consideration here," says Keagy. "That helped build our mainstay business of manufacturing steering mechanisms as a tier-one supplier for ’over the road’ heavy trucks since the 1950s. We maintain that attitude throughout our operation, whether we are manufacturing 20-piece lots or quantities of 10,000."

"Sheppard has four primary cell configurations utilizing Makino machinery. We operate a Makino a51 cell, a combined A77 and a81 machining cell, a Makino J55 that we created to be a cell unto itself and an A55E cell.   Plus, we have stand-alone a81, A66, A55E and A55 machines, and even an older GF6 machine," says Keagy.

"Our overall cycle time has improved by 20 to 25 percent.   We also reduced all the material handling for the operator, and all the deburring."

"But the automation cell flexibility and manufacturing solutions are what really solidified us with Makino. We put the units in and they have worked great. Makino makes a very robust machine, and our people enjoy working with Makino. They are a major part of our success and our future."

1-Series Cell 
Sheppard machines compacted graphite iron (CGI) parts on the Makino 1-Series cell, with two a51 machines sequentially feeding a third. The line produces high-pressure oil pumps for a major engine line and was initially considered for a transfer line process, according to Keagy.  

But the Makino cells provided a strategic advantage in the pump production. "We were able to increase production on an incremental basis," says Keagy. "The transfer lines have long lead times, and are difficult to ramp up and redeploy. Using a common configuration with the a51s give us the ability to respond rapidly to production requirements.  

"Plus, the transfer line manufactures in three sequential operations. If one element goes wrong or shuts down, they all shut down. The Makino cells have the flexibility to route parts to any or all of the component machines independently, but in a coordinated fashion."

"The pump housing is a new process using the Makinos, supplementing some other equipment due to higher than expected production demands," says Allen Smith, manufacturing superintendent. "We are doing a lot of milling, drilling, boring and reaming on the pump housing part. Two positions are very tight, within 0.0002 inches. The Makino a51 cell has continued to drive   savings in efficiency and quality.

"We are very pleased with the overall performance of the Makinos. I have been dealing with Makino machines for maybe 15 years and have always found them to be rigid, reliable, low-maintenance and very low downtime equipment. The tool change is quick, chip-to-chip time is very quick, and overall cycle time is awesome. Any mechanical downtime I have is usually scheduled, preventive maintenance. I can count on them for what I need to get done."

Combination and Created Cells 
"On a second cell, we have A77 machines   and a 1-Series machine combined to machine complete power steering housings," says Smith. "The tolerances in the CGI are still reasonably tight, and we have flatness requirements on the ends of 0.0002 inches.

"I will make good parts on these machines day in and day out without any doubt. Compared to many other machining centers we have used on this part, we have seen a cycle time performance improvement of 20 to 30 percent."  

Smith notes that a hybrid machine built by R.H. Sheppard includes a Makino J55 to form a complete one-stop cell. "We have two very rigid, ’stand-alone’ spindles doing some heavy cutting. They are connected with a third station that has the J55 machining center.

"I have been dealing with Makino machines for maybe 15 years, and have always found them to be rigid, reliable, low-maintenance and very low downtime equipment."

"We use the J55 for interpolation work, milling, grooving and intricate machining of CGI. This operation has basically increased our production rate by 15 percent."

A-Series Cell 
Steve Willet, an industrial engineer for the company, says Makino’s flexible technology has made a great difference in production rates of the cells. "We have used cellular manufacturing since about 1972," says Willet.

"We have cells with up to five machines in them that can produce up to 90 parts an hour, some including automation and robotic operations. But the Makino cells have proven to be the most reliable in controlling our lean processes."

"We wanted to combine a couple of operations to reduce our cycle time and the amount of material handling," says Willet.  

"We had to be able to load our fixtures up with as many parts as possible. Utilizing tower fixtures, we have the most amount of parts on the pallet to make a good, balanced cycle time.  

"Our quality was also improved because we could do many more operations in the same position without unclamping," adds Willet. "We have increased our production by 100 percent with this cell and gained 20 percent on the tool life of our roughing and finish tools.

"Our overall cycle time has improved by 20 to 30 percent. We also reduced all the material handling for the operator, and all the deburring. This solution allowed   us to go from three operators to one and reassign our valuable manpower to more important tasks."

Reduce Setups 
Because of the Makino onboard memory, Willet says the machines are flexible enough to hold a number of different programs.   "We have been able to design the fixturing on these machines to allow us to avoid unnecessary changeover and build many of the parts together.  

 "Within our business, we have thousands of different housings. This technology has allowed us to make a tremendous cut in the number of setups. A lot of times we can change out a whole tower right off the top of the pallet. So we have increased both capability and capacity.

"Repeatability of the concentricity on the Makino A-Series was surprising to us," says Willet. "We are able to hold tight   tolerances for repetition on an eight-part fixture. The quality and accuracy that we received from the 40-taper spindle is very impressive.

"If I can hold the part once, I am going to do as much to it as I can in that one single holding. Every time I move that part, the quality is affected. We are very, very strict on quality because we so strongly stand behind our product.   And the Makino has actually outperformed our expectations. Our maintenance people love that. The a51s and a81s as well as the A55s and the A77s don’t mind being worked. They just hammer the hell out of work."

"This past year in particular, when we got into a crunch and needed reliable equipment quickly, we went to Makino," adds Smith. "We knew that when the equipment came in, we could put a fixture on it and have it running in a couple of days.

"Makino makes my life easier from a scheduling standpoint. It helps steer us toward the best and most flexible solutions and outcome possible."

For additional information on the products and services of R. H. Sheppard Co., Inc., contact the company at:
101 Philadelphia Street,
Hanover, Pennsylvania, 17331-0877
Phone: 717-637-3751
Fax: 717-633-4125;