TOOLING & WORKHOLDING: Working with Workholding Suppliers

Asking the right questions from your workholding suppliers can save time and reduce overall costs.

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There have been and continue to be many technical improvements in the workholding industry. These improvements keep up with the evolution of faster and more complex machines, more efficient cutting and grinding tools, and the overall manufacturing environment. For example, faster machines call for workholding designs with increased rigidity. Quick-change bases reduce setup time and help address the challenges of an inadequately trained workforce.

Workholding suppliers can also provide significant added value on the process side of gear manufacturing. The common sayings “time is money” and “knowledge is power” describe how your workholding suppliers can make an important difference.

Having your workholding supplier play a greater role in the manufacturing process can free up more of your department’s time for other functions, reduce costs, preserve valuable information, and bring more order and efficiency to your operations. In many situations, it’s only a matter of asking.

Think About Workholding First

When purchasing a new machine, ask your machine tool builder to discuss workholding with you and the workholding provider at the beginning of the process. Many machine tool builders are beginning to recognize the value of workholding. How you will hold the parts you plan to run on your new machine is important. To achieve the best solution for a new major machine investment, the time to think about workholding is before the machine is purchased.

Discussing the workholding helps determine what type of machine and what options are needed. It prevents having to work around any potential limitations in holding the part if the workholding is not considered initially. In addition, well-designed workholding that’s envisioned at the beginning of the purchase process can reduce the need for expensive machine options.

Speed and Transparency

Ask for speed and transparency throughout the order cycle. The value that lean research puts on speed is well-known. Ask for that speed from your workholding supplier, starting with quick turnaround for your RFQs and expedited delivery options. Short lead times and on-time delivery contribute to the advantage of speed from your supplier. Transparency and continual project updates also add value. Placing a workholding order using a supplier that communicates fully and regularly will save time. It also helps with tracing the progress of your order and coordinating the progress of the project.

Ask for Complete Drawings

Ask your supplier for complete drawings that have the proprietary information and dimensions. Considerable time and money can be saved if you have access to complete drawings. Although this may be an additional cost up-front, having a complete set of drawings if your line goes down can give your tool room what they need to quickly get you back up and running.

Always Consider Versatility

Always consider a fixture with more versatility versus a static dedicated fixture. If you initially consider running additional part families on the fixtures in the future, you will maximize workholding dollars, increase speed to production, and reduce change-over setup time. For example, the fixture shown in Figure 1 was originally designed for a few part sizes, but because it was designed with versatility in mind, it has become a workholding workhorse. With the addition of different part stops, collets, and clamp plates, the fixture has held over 70 sizes of gear blanks for tooth hobbing to date. Even industries like automotive — where low-mix high volumes are the norm — are now looking more often to fixtures with greater flexibility.

Ask About Refurbishing

Having your chucks, hydraulic arbors, and even collets refurbished by a workholding company with experience and good price points is an effective way to extend the life of your workholding and your budget. If you can also receive quick turnaround times on the refurbishing items, you can potentially lower the numbers of fixtures that you need to own. Evaluate the cost of refurbishing based on the part piece cost and the cost of turnaround time.

You can also ask your workholding supplier about reusing and recycling fixtures. Many large OEMs may have plants with shelves of workholding fixtures that they might be able to use. Consider asking your workholding supplier to take on this project.

Rethink Who Does What

With the changing manufacturing world, many manufacturers have less staff and less time to address every need. Activities and duties that have traditionally been done internally can be outsourced to your workholding supplier. It can save time and budgets, as well as add additional long-term value.

Ask for Layouts

Instead of having to do setup layouts internally, ask your workholding supplier to create your layout books for you. The workholding supplier has all the information needed for the layouts and has had to go through the process already to ensure that the customer parts are fixtured correctly. Even though it may be an additional cost item, it can be well worth the time savings for your department.

Ask for Knowledge

Use your workholding suppliers as consultants, organizers of knowledge, and trainers. Consider having your workholding supplier act as your consultant and never hesitate to utilize the expertise of your workholding designers. Also, you will get your best value if you remain open to considering additional design options for holding parts. The workholding supplier’s focus is solely on how to effectively hold parts. They see many hundreds of different parts and applications annually. Asking them for their suggestions can create a fixture solution with results that exceed your original expectations.

Your questions usually contribute to increased ROI. Before requesting a specific type of fixture, ask what type of fixture is best for what type of application. Discuss possible datum to hold, machine pressures, and grinding wheel forces. And discuss the range of parts you want to hold now and in the future.

Ask for a Library  

A library of your company’s workholding fixtures and their components can be a great asset. Utilized properly, it can save considerable time and money. Work with your workholding supplier to have them create one for you.

At Drewco Workholding, we keep several customer libraries that are devoted to every fixture designed and built for that customer. A copy is kept with the customer and another copy with us. When the customer contacts us with a request to run a new part over a specific machine, we can quickly determine if the current fixture can be utilized for the workholding. In many cases, additional components added to existing fixtures can greatly lower the cost to tool up a part. By having a library, you can utilize all of the tooling you already own.

Don’t Lose Your History

Designate a historian inside your company or ask your workholding supplier to help preserve your company’s tribal knowledge. With so many company changes, offshoring, or reshoring, the tribal knowledge for processes and fixturing is getting lost. Keep records within your company of how and why this process and tooling is currently being done. Losing this knowledge can be costly and time-consuming to recreate. Even if new fixturing is appropriate, knowing why a part was originally held in a certain way improves the new design. You can use your workholding supplier to be your fixture historian.

Get a Workholding Trainer

Use your workholding supplier to train new staff members and even commodity buyers about workholding. Having new manufacturing engineers or process specialists up-to-speed on the variables involved in effective workholding adds value. Many commodity buyers are cutting tool or supply chain-based and can be a much better resource if they are trained in what they are purchasing. Drewco offers training to commodity buyer groups and to employees.

Ask for Turnkey 2.0

Many OEMs and their tier-one suppliers want turnkey projects. The concept is sound: one entity, most often, the machine tool builder, is accountable for the whole project. However, there can be problems with this concept. The customer’s information and requests have to be filtered — often through several people — before they may reach the various suppliers of the turnkey project. Whereas with Turnkey 2.0, the customer and all the suppliers have a transparent form of communication. Asking your turnkey supplier to connect you directly or at least copy you on decisions involving the project’s workholding will create the best outcomes.

Conclusion

These are a few ideas of how you can more fully utilize your workholding suppliers. Continue to ask your workholding suppliers for help on the process side so they can continue to create ways to reduce your costs, save time, and make your job easier.

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is CEO of Drewco Workholding. She can be reached at ann@drewco.com.