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North Carolina shop now utilizing additive manufacturing to assist in the Engineer & Build of Hydraulic Workholding and CNC Production Parts
Morganton, NC – James Tool designs and manufactures a wide variety of hydraulic workholding devices, used in aerospace, automotive and other high-precision industries. Because of the continuous custom work done here, it is imperative that the company keep abreast of all technological developments in the design and production of its products. To that end, James Tool has recently installed 3D printing, a form of additive manufacturing, to its Engineer & Build Hydraulic Workholding Division at the company. James Tool also offers CNC Production Machining and Non-Production Precision Machining to its customers, who comprise major OEMs and suppliers to aerospace, automotive, off-highway, energy, nuclear and transportation industries.
According to Jeff Toner, president of James Tool, “We are always watching trends in the manufacturing industry and we started seeing 3D printing make an impact, some years ago. We waited until the technology had evolved and become more affordable before making our investment.” The first machine was purchased recently and is currently used to support the company’s workholding division as well as help in the estimating of CNC machining opportunities.
3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing, in which material is built-up, one layer at a time, to create a 3D solid working model from a CAD file. James Tool engineers believe this technology is substantially changing the way the company can serve its customers. It is referenced as additive manufacturing to distinguish it from the subtractive process of traditional machining, in which metal chips are removed from the surface of a blank workpiece.
James Tool assigned a team to research the current 3D printing technology in great detail, before making their purchase decision to acquire a Stratasys Dimension 1200ES machine. This machine has the capability of running parts with a 10” x 10” x 12” envelope in an ABS plastic substrate.
As Toner explains, “We were up and running parts within two hours, after the installation and set-up. This included the initial calibration on the machine and training from the local technician. The 3D printing image gives our engineers a cleaner concept and enables a much more robust design process, as we can see clamping tabs, locating pins and the entire work envelope more clearly. This results in an easy-to-use, cost effective tool, plus we have significantly shorter times needed for quote and order-to-first part sequencing.” Because James Tool had run 3D imaging in its CAD designs for over 15 years, the transition to 3D printing was practically seamless, he added.
James Tool Vice President and General Manager Tim King further notes that, while the interaction between James Tool and its customers has not changed substantially, it is quite helpful to have an actual part generated through the 3D printing process, before engineering and quoting begin. He sees this new capability as a positive extension of the existing customer service process at his company. The first customer orders to benefit from the use this system at James Tool have already been secured and the results have exceeded expectations, King said. “When you can go into a meeting with an actual part in hand, it can help in many ways. The customer and we can often see desirable changes that might make the component function more effectively, be easier to machine, or both.”
Peering into the crystal ball for a moment, Jeff Toner also notes that he sees additive manufacturing as a true “game changer” for the machining world. “The day is not far off when subtractive machining will be obsolete and actual production parts will be printed rather than machined using conventional methods, on a very large number of the jobs we handle.” He plans that his company will soon become a regional leader in the additive and other advanced technology arenas. “The future of 3D manufacturing is really limitless, as anybody can now order a desktop 3D printer for their business or home office and have a 3D prototype part in less than a few hours, once they master the system. I expect this technology will revolutionize manufacturing and create a new breed of entrepreneurs in our industry and others.”
Quantifying the impact of this new technology at James Tool, Jeff Toner concludes that 3D printing has already reduced engineering and quoting time substantially for workholding fixtures and CNC production jobs at his company. James Tool runs roughly an equivalent amount of work in production and one-off or short run jobs.
In its ongoing effort to maintain a quality workforce, the company partners with Kennametal on tooling advancements, as well as maintaining a full training facility on its Morganton, North Carolina campus, which has recently expanded to house more machining, finishing, quality lab and large work piece handling equipment. James Tool actively trains many of its employees in cross-functional machining operations, proven out by the many work cells the company operates in its various shop departments. Jeff Toner and Tim King both believe this strategy makes the company more flexible and capable for its customers.
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North Carolina job shop seeks to diversify and expand customer base in aerospace and other markets; boasts “large shop ability, small shop agility”
James Tool began as a five-man machine shop in 1987, founded by James “Bud” Toner and has grown steadily, over the years. Today, under the leadership of Bud’s son Jeff Toner, the shop has become a supplier of quality machined components to Fortune 500 companies and prime suppliers to the aerospace, heavy equipment, automotive, oil & gas, nuclear and transportation industries. James Tool currently comprises three manufacturing centers, namely engineer/build hydraulic workholding, CNC production machining and precision short run CNC machining. The shop recently achieved the highly valued AS9100 registration for its manufacturing protocols and processes.
As Jeff Toner explains, “We were driven by a need for market diversification and expansion of our current business, building on the strengths established from our aerospace success. Our goal is to secure more business in market sectors that demand the same precision and production efficiencies as our aerospace customers.” He also explained how the company, already recognized for its in-house engineering of hydraulic workholding systems and its precision CNC machining capabilities, sought to obtain the AS9100 registration as a further value-add to its current and potential customers in the aerospace market, one of the fastest-growing manufacturing sectors in the Southeast.
James Tool produces parts in prototype, one-off, short run and production quantities, using 4- and 5-axis CNC machine tools, from high and low carbon steels, nickel alloys, aluminum, stainless, thermoplastics and engineered aerospace materials alike.
In seeking the AS9100 registration, the company engaged in a rigorous process that included reviewing and understanding all the standard requirements, evaluating all current processes, gap analysis program (GAP) utilization, revision and implementation of all necessary processes, procedures, manuals, documentation and training, as well as the ongoing evaluation and continuous improvements in the processes and protocols used at James Tool.
In assessing the current state of the company, Toner observes, “We use state-of-the-art CNC machine tools of the latest generation, plus highly advance metrology solutions to achieve and maintain consistent part quality. We have 5-axis vertical machining centers, high-speed milling centers and multi-pallet workstations. In addition, we offer wire EDM, thermal deburring, CNC torch cutting, vibratory stress relief and a black oxide coating system in-house.” To enable this expansion of services and in anticipation of future growth, James Tool took a bold step in the current economy and recently completed additions and expansions onto its statewide facilities in North Carolina. One new facility in Morganton is 30,000 square feet, while another facility houses a new training complex for the company’s workforce, currently over 120 employees. Overall, James Tool now occupies in excess of 100,000 square feet of manufacturing and service facilities in Morganton and Columbus, North Carolina.
CAD (SolidWorks®) and CAM (MasterCam®) programming is all done in-house to support the CNC machining at James Tool.
Looking to the future for James Tool, Toner concludes, “We are a very pro-active company. We make a decided effort to acquire the latest machine tools and other technologies, so that we can continue to provide our customers the very highest quality products in the fastest possible turnaround times. Hand in hand with the machining and metrology advancements, however, must be a corresponding program of training for our current and future employees. Highly trained people create a better environment, where high quality work, safety and production efficiencies lead to the very best experience for our customers. This is an ongoing commitment at James Tool.” The new AS9100 registration and substantial investments made by the company in both new machinery and new facilities are further evidence of this fact, according to Jeff Toner.
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