Turnkey strategy meets a set of Tier 1 demands.

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Flexible production, ramping up to accommodate a doubling of demand, machining accuracy to less than 25 percent of conventional tolerances, and consistent performance from a complete turnkey solution.

That's what a leading Tier 1 plant was looking for when it took on production of axle assemblies for near-luxury SUVs.

That's what Heller Machine Tools, Troy, MI, was prepared to deliver.

The tolerances on these parts are what you would expect from the automaker--possibly even tighter--according to the plant manager of the new Tier 1 manufacturing facility in the South Carolina piedmont.

"They are a fraction of the tolerance our customers typically require--and we make up to 3 million of this type of assembly a year as the No. 1 independent axle maker. For that reason, we were very careful about the machining supplier we partnered with," the plant manager says.

The automaker, having had experience with Heller in Germany, agreed Heller would be a good partner for designing the machining systems for the carriers and axle parts while the supplier concentrated on the critical assembly process and car testing.

Experience processing similar axle parts to high tolerances was one important qualification in Heller's favor. Another was the ability to operate globally. The Tier 1 supplier produces similar parts in plants in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Heller's capacity to act as a turnkey system supplier was also vital to this project. The plant manager points out that his company saved itself a great deal of time and manpower resources by using Heller as machining project manager and meeting the quality and volume goals of its customer. Heller managed the robotic material handling, fixturing, tooling, measuring scheme and programming, automation, and chip and fluid management and disposal system.

According to the plant manager, "This last concern was critical because the assembly area in the plant is located between the machining cells and therefore had to be 'hospital clean.' The fluid must be cleaned, chilled, and recycled to support the machining tolerances we must achieve here."

Multiplying cells

Production began two years ago with a cell of five horizontal machining centers producing the front axle housing and cover. Later, the carrier pinion machining cell was installed. Then a second phase was added: It duplicated the two original cells, matching capacity as the business grew. The plant now operates a total of 20 Heller horizontal...

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