Brek Manufacturing Co. — Gardena, CA

Roughing It The Easy Way—An Aerospace Job Shop Hogs Out 10,220 Lbs. Of Aluminum In Half The Time With A New Cutting Tool

Sometimes it pays to be wrong, according to Gene Price, owner-president of Brek Manufacturing Co., a Gardena, CA job shop specializing in machining medium-to-large airframe parts for military and commercial aircraft. To his credit and profit Price learned this lesson about eight months ago when being proved wrong allowed his company to almost double its aluminum rough cutting speeds from 160 IPM to 300 IPM.

“What happened was, this sales guy from Greenfield Industries came into my office one day and showed us a new 1-1/2 inch diameter Cleveland Twist Drill roughing end mill,” Price says. “He told us it could increase our rough cutting rates. My response was, 'That's BS, I don't believe it.' I told him we had used that kind of end mill before, and I knew it wouldn't work. So I basically just gave this guy the boot.”

But according to Price the sales representative didn't give up. “About a month later he came back,” Price continues, “and this time he's got two guys with him, a local salesman and a guy from the factory. I sat at the desk for 15 minutes arguing with them and asking them what part of the word 'no' they didn't understand. Finally, I said, “I'll bet you a hundred bucks it won't work.' They wouldn't take the bet, but they were persistent and kept pushing until I finally agreed to give the tool a try.”

 

The Proof Was In The Chips

What happened next not only made a believer out of Price, but also out of Brek general manager, Jon Stannard, who was just as skeptical.

“We went out to the shop and clamped a piece of metal on the machine, then put the cutter in the holder,” reports Stannard. “It cut straight through without a problem. We were both pretty amazed.”

“It's a good thing these guys were persistent,” adds Price, “or we'd still be cutting at 160 IPM.”

“That first trial cut was a 1" depth of cut with a 1" diameter end mill cutting at 200 IPM,” says Stannard, “and the motor load meter only hit 50%. Before, with other end mills running at only 150 IPM the meter had been hitting up around 70%.”

“The thing I liked about it was that the chips came out clean and it ran quiet,” says Price. “No vibration and no harmonics. I was impressed.”

The three sales people left, saying they had a bigger cutting tool they wanted Price and Stannard to test.

“As soon as they left we revved up the machine and ran it at 300 IPM and it went through that without a hitch,” says Stannard.

“They brought back a bigger one and we tried it,” Price says, “and I said we have to buy some of these.”

“The bottom line is we've gone from 160 IPM to 300 IPM,” reports Stannard. “This tool goes right through its cycle without a stop, where before we had to program in several stops during a cycle so the operator could check and clean the tool.”

What allows the new roughing end mill (Brek now uses a List 538 1-1/2" diameter, 3" long, 3-flute, TiCN-coated PM Plus tool) to perform so much better than Brek's previous tools?

“It's the geometry,” Price says. “The tool has a high helix and the knuckle geometry causes the chips to come up and out. The chips just don't load up and melt to this tool the way they were doing on our old ones.”

“Before switching to the new tool we were using a combination of 2-fluted, solid carbide cutters,” Stannard says. “For roughing we were using insert-type cutters that were custom made for us, but when we were 3" into the pocket the tool wouldn't clear out the chips. The chips would load up around the tool and the tool would start recutting the chips, so at some point the operator would have to stop, blow the chips off or take out the tool and clean it. Now we don't have to do that.”

“We're running 3 tools on 3 spindles,” Price says, summing up. “I figure if you save 30 hours a machine, you're saving some big bucks. Now, whenever we're roughing, especially on the big stuff, this tool is our first choice.”

 

Faster, Bigger, Better, Cheaper!

Why all the emphasis on speed and size at Brek?

“It's the way the market is now,” Price says. “Nowadays the emphasis is on bigger and better and faster and constantly reducing prices. So, if you want to survive, you have to adapt. For us that means bigger and faster machines.”

“Three years ago I was pretty happy with the size of our company,” he continues, “but when commercial aircraft sales went through the roof I decided I'd be a fool not to take advantage of it.”

Once he decided to go with the flow, Price jumped in with both feet and invested $5.6 million in two new Cincinnati Milacron, 100-HP, 10,000 RPM gantry milling machines and a couple of DEA CMMs. And he hasn't stopped there. He currently has on order 2 new Milacron Lancer V5-2000, 5-axis Vertical Profiling Machining Centers with 15,000 RPM spindle speeds and equipped with Acramatic 2100 controls. One is set for delivery in November '98 and the other for the first quarter of 1999.

Price's plan to grab off a slice of the growing commercial pie apparently has worked well, because Brek's work-force has climbed from 20 to 62 employees, floor space has expanded from 14,000 to 60,000 square feet, and sales have tripled in three years from $7 million to $22+ million this year.

“We're constantly looking for new ways to do things faster and better,” Price says. “We started out cutting on our current high-speed machines at 160-180 IPM. Now we're up to 300. When our new machines arrive we'll be cutting at close to 600 inches a minute. It's pretty amazing, really.”

 

High-Speed Payoff

For Price the payoff on his investment in high-speed equipment has been his ability to land (among numerous others) such desirable contracts as the production of the large, monolithic cargo floor sections (floor planks) for Boeing's C-17 cargo aircraft.

The floor sections (the largest machined components on the C-17) start out as 11,000 lbs of aluminum measuring 3-1/2" thick x 37" wide X about 68 feet long. When Brek finishes machining, the planks weigh in at only 780 lbs each, losing 10,220 lbs. of chips each during manufacture. Under its contract Brek delivers six of the planks per month and runs them 3 at a time on the Milacron gantry mills.

Brek also produces a wide variety of titanium and aluminum (mostly), medium-to-large structural components (bulkheads, doors, etc.) for other aircraft, including the Boeing Whichita 737, the 777, 717, and the F15 and F18 programs.

“High-speed machine technology has been around a long time,” Price says, “but until now I don't think the cutter geometry and technology really had kept up. We've had a hundred horsepower for some time, but we're just now getting to the point where we can use it. Previously you'd be pulling cutters out of holders and having busted holders and busted cutters.”

According to Price in the last year alone he has seen cutting speeds go from 35-40 IPM to the 300 IPM mark. “When I look back, I realize we used to do our hogging the hard, slow way with a lot of tool changes and delays,” he says. “Now it's a lot easier and faster and when our new equipment arrives it going to get a lot faster and easier still.”

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