Advanced Flexible Drills Make the Cut
Franklin, Georgia Tier One automotive supplier realizes up to 70% greater output from its internally designed production equipment, utilizing Suhner advanced drilling technology
JAC Products puts 30-40 million holes into approximately 6 million pieces of extruded and formed aluminum each year. The products made at this facility are used as roof rack rails on nearly every major automobile, mini-van and truck brand. This fact translates into a majority share of the North American vehicle market for JAC.
As Mike Traylor, the JAC tool room & die shop manager notes, “We build and maintain nearly all our own machinery here in our factory. That means the whole team must keep striving to find greater efficiencies and new ideas.” As a vertically integrated manufacturer, JAC operates hundreds of drilling stations in its Franklin factory, located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in southeastern Georgia. In the company’s extrusion department, millions of pounds of aluminum are extruded annually from 6061, 6063 and 6463 alloys. The extruded shapes then move to the fabrication department, where they are formed and drilled on highly automated equipment to produce the finished products. Following a decorative and wear-resistant finishing operation, JAC performs the final assembly of the products and ships directly to the customer’s assembly line.
A tour of this facility strikes the visitor in several ways. First, there is a steady flow of material between departments and very little wasted motion, as every station at JAC is a dedicated operation producing an average of 100,000-200,000 left- and right-side rail sets per year for each specific automobile model.
Another point of note is the openness of the machinery. That condition results, according to Traylor, from one very important supplier to JAC, one that has been a partner to this Tier One for nearly 20 years. Suhner Automation Division, based in nearby Rome, Georgia, supplies an assortment of flex shaft and direct motor-driven drilling units to JAC, where Traylor’s team of mechanical specialists incorporates them into the company’s internally-designed production equipment. Owing to the flex shaft design on many drills, the drive motors are removed from the cutting area, making accessibility much better not only for operators and maintenance personnel. This configuration also improves access to other equipment such as laser trackers and position sensors. “The bottom line, as they say, is that we get upwards of 60-70% more output from our equipment since we began using the Suhner solutions for our drilling,” notes Traylor. The previous drills used here were also prone to breakdowns and service problems, which caused unacceptable delays in production, especially as the industry transitioned to the just-in-time philosophy. As Mike comments, “If JAC was going to keep up with JIT, we needed a more reliable supplier and better ergonomics on our equipment to improve the output.” He contacted an associate from a previous company relationship, Charles Stitcher, the regional marketing manager from Suhner, who presented his company’s solutions in flex shaft and related drilling devices. “It was a light bulb moment for our company,” says Traylor, “because we knew we’d found an answer to a lot of our challenges.”
By taking the motors out of the drilling area, the JAC operators could have much freer access to the work product, while the maintenance personnel could access a single manifold in many cases to do repairs, routine maintenance or replace components. Most of the machines designed here are dedicated pieces of equipment, used to produce a single rail set for a particular model, then retrofitted or rebuilt for the next generation, next model year design, or a completely different vehicle by Traylor’s team. The flex shaft design gave the machine building and maintenance group at JAC a significant advantage and it has continued to benefit the company in many ways, according to Traylor. “We can now use a more compact work area concept, which saves operator steps. Seems like a little thing, but when you do the math and the motion study, it represents a huge annual savings for our company, without sacrificing any safety considerations for our workforce.”
As one might guess, JAC understands the fabrication process for putting holes into aluminum, whether for roof mounting, rivet placement, or trim assembly. Often, the angle of the drill must be oriented to the surface of the workpiece, rather than in a typical x-y planar arrangement. Here again, the flex shaft design of the Suhner drills pays big dividends for the machine designers at JAC, as it allows them to position the drilling mechanisms in various configurations and tighter proximities. This allows the required accuracies, secondary counterbore operations or other processing steps to occur. After working on nearly 500 machine builds at JAC, Mike Traylor says he’s been very impressed with the flex shaft drill and its adaptability on a wide variety of applications.
“On one rail set for a Ford vehicle and another for a Toyota vehicle, the old way would have involved one operator performing all the drilling, one step at a time. Today, we have up to 11 drills and a cutoff operation, all performed at once. The savings in setup time alone are off the chart.” He cites another job where the output was previously 1200 sets per day and is currently 1200 per hour.
Not all of the drilling here is done with flex shaft models, however. On several dedicated machining operations, various Suhner motor-mounted drills are utilized, including a specially designed system for sawing. (See sidebar.)
Senior Launch Manager at JAC, Alberto Blanco, comments, “We need to hold +/- 0.1-0.2mm tolerances on the drilling and +/- 0.5mm on our cutoff lengths for our customers, so the Suhner equipment capability has been very favorable in helping us deliver our value proposition to customers.” Traylor adds that the drills are used virtually non-stop, so wear is inevitable, further noting the availability of Suhner rebuild kits, including o-rings and seals, makes maintenance much easier for his team.
Finally, Jeff Cavalier, the JAC engineering & facilities manager notes, “With the support we get from Suhner, we know Mike and his team can make it happen, every day, creating and maintaining the machines that get the job done for our customers. That’s a nice feeling.”