New MAPAL Facility Relies on Vollmer
As a world leading cutting tool manufacturer and technology partner, the importance of the US market to MAPAL is something that was re-affirmed in 2013 with the opening of the company's second US facility in Fountain Inn, SC. Complementing the existing headquarters in Port Huron, Michigan, one of MAPAL`s mottos is ‘Always close to the customer, worldwide.’ “MAPAL is dedicated to continuously meeting and exceeding customer expectations and the expansion has allowed us to better service customers in the South whilst also expanding our customer base,” emphasizes MAPAL Chief Operating Officer (COO), Mr René Kristensen.
The 40,000sq/ft state-of-the-art facility opened with just three staff members sweeping the floors of an empty building during the first few weeks of business. However, the tool grinding machines rapidly flew through the door soon after the company’s inception. As Production Manager, Mr John Schuck recalls: "In 2013, we were sweeping the floors and waiting for the first machines to arrive, one of which was a Vollmer QWD750H wire erosion machine with a 12-station tool loader.
During the first couple of weeks, our small team went to MAPAL WWS in Pforzheim Germany, the world`s largest PCD manufacturing facility. The trip involved extended training courses and when we arrived back in the US, we were welcomed by a multitude of grinding centres and inspection equipment."
Identifying why the global manufacturer opted for the Fountain Inn location, Mr Schuck says: "The location was an obvious choice for MAPAL, our parent company has well established long-term relationships with Global suppliers for the automotive industry like Bosch Rexroth, ZF, Alupress, Continental Teves, KSM, Bosch and many more that all have manufacturing plants close to our facility. Many of these companies had such trust in MAPAL that for many years, they were sending some of their re-grind/re-tip tooling back to Germany for servicing and new product development did have extended lead-times from our German plant - as MAPAL Germany supports customers worldwide. By locating in South Carolina, we now have PCD and solid carbide manufacturing, new tool design, an Aerospace Test Center as well as service and re-grinding right by our customers.
With MAPAL having an uncompromising reputation in the automotive industry and the Port Huron facility located in Michigan and near Ohio, the two automotive epicentres of the US; the existing and potential customer base needed a complementary manufacturing facility and additional capacity – the Fountain Inn location now provides both.
The new facility in Fountain Inn has given MAPAL the ability to work with new and existing customers to develop and trial new products, which has been invaluable for developing new business with prominent Tier 1 and OEM customers. Supporting the growth from day one has been tool grinding and erosion experts, Vollmer. As the company has evolved, so has its investment in Vollmer technology, as John Schuck recalls: “Globally, MAPAL is a big advocate of the technology from Vollmer, so our first two machines in 2013 were the QWD750H with auto loaders for processing PCD tools. Our immediate growth noted an additional two QWD750H machines arriving in Spring 2015.”
“From day-one, our ambition and plan for this facility was to run ‘lean and unmanned’ production wherever possible and the 12 station Vollmer QWD750H wire erosion machines have supported this philosophy.”
Whilst growth at MAPAL’s Fountain Inn factory can be apportioned to a multitude of factors that include historic customer relationships, a globally polished reputation, more than 65 sales engineers targeting growth in the US, the highly skilled workforce and automated production facilities; one thing MAPAL has finely honed is its uniform delivery of unsurpassed quality regardless of worldwide location.
Whilst the Fountain Inn factory still imports steel tool bodies for PCD tooling and MAPAL’s own manufactured 3-D printed hydraulic tool holders from Germany, the majority of both procured and supplied products are manufactured in the US. As John Schuck continues: “With the exception of some very specialised grinding and erosion wheels and the machine tools, almost everything we source is manufactured in the US. At this site, we started with the production of PCD tooling and this has rapidly evolved into solid carbide end mills, reamers, drills and bespoke specialised tools.”
With global OEM manufacturers from Ford, FCA and GM through to Boeing and Airbus among just a few world-class customers; a global player like MAPAL has to provide a uniform approach to quality and consistency to ensure that a production line in one country receives the same impeccable quality it would expect on the next continent. It is for this exact reason that MAPAL has rolled-out a worldwide Global Standard System that allows every MAPAL manufacturing site to share tool designs, drawings, manufacturing plans and schedules the world over. Central to this quality is the uniform approach to manufacturing and the reliance on high-end erosion and grinding machines from Vollmer – a global partnership that stretches back decades.
As the company has ramped-up production, it has also exponentially increased its investment in Vollmer machines. Following the four QWD750H wire erosion PCD tool machines that arrived between 2013 and 2015, MAPAL again invested in more Vollmer equipment in 2018. Succeeding the Vollmer QWD Series as the next generation technology, MAPAL took delivery of two new Vpulse500 machines in March 2018. Referring to the two Vpulse500 machines that were delivered in 2018, Mr Schuck states: “We were really pleased with the performance of the QWD750H machines, but the new Vpulse500 takes it to a new level. The Vpulse500 incorporates a new erosion generator that is far more efficient than the QWD machines. The new erosion generator and the new control format are optimizing our productivity, giving us 25-30% cycle time reductions over the previous machines whilst also generating improved surface and edge finishes. Furthermore, the CNC control unit and software has been enhanced for greater ease-of-use and operator friendliness.”
Fulfilling Industry Demands
As the PCD business has ramped-up rapidly at Fountain Inn, so has the demand for solid carbide cutting tools. So much so, that in the fall of 2018, MAPAL Global Management lead by CEO and President for the MAPAL Group Dr Jochen Kress decided to establish a Solid Carbide competence centre for the Americas in Fountain Inn - and Once again, Vollmer entered the fray with its industry leading Vgrind 360 5-axis grinding center for the production of solid carbide tooling.
Taking-off Into New Sectors
To facilitate this ‘Solid Carbide Competence Center Americas’, MAPAL now has five Vgrind 360 machines with another three on-order.
Referring to this, John Schuck states: “The automotive industry accounts for near 60% of our output and this is across both PCD and solid carbide tooling. PCD tools are generally ordered with batches rarely larger than 5-10 pieces. With Solid Carbide it is a mix of small as well large order quantities. MAPAL is investing big amounts globally every year to stay at the top as the ‘Technical leader’ in our industry as we are today. And we are working closely with our customers and sales teams to develop and produce the best solutions possible. Most of these ‘Test’ tools are one-offs or small batch runs. This is where the flexibility of the Vgrind 360 comes into play.”
The five Vgrind 360 machines that were all delivered between June 2018 and January 2019 have all been supplied with the Vollmer HC4 chain loading facility. Referring to this, John says: “Two of the Vgrind 360 machines have the HC4 loaders set-up for 32mm diameter HSK tools whereas the other three machines can hold and process up to 158 shaft workpieces. This gives us the flexibility to load series production as well as small quantity tools.”
Suitable for manufacturing tools up to 100mm diameter, the Vgrind 360 offers multi-level machining with its vertically aligned twin-spindle grinding configuration. This allows MAPAL to conduct heavy flute machining on the lower spindle with the upper spindle retained for finish grinding and flute polishing. With the two vertically aligned spindles on the swivelling C-axis, the Vgrind provides optimum productivity levels with relentless rigidity and stability for unmatched surface finishes.
The CEO and President of MAPAL, Dr Jochen Kress, acknowledges the company’s position as a world leader in the automotive industry and has for a while emphasized the importance of diversifying into other areas like E-Mobility, Die & Mold and the aerospace sector. Discussing this, John says: “We are increasing our footprint in the aerospace industry and the new ‘Aerospace Test Center’ is giving us the capability to conduct extensive in-house trials on customers’ materials and develop the ‘Right’ tools. We have a new facility and a sales team to promote our expertise; this is backed by the ‘ONE MAPAL’ systems that combine with our first class engineers to give us a unique offering that is winning us a lot of major aerospace business.”
“As we move forward, we already have three more Vgrind 360 machines on-order and no doubt more Vollmer machines will follow as we continue to grow. From a staff perspective, part of our growth trajectory will see us start an apprenticeship program in 2020 and what better environment for apprentices to learn than in a new factory with state-of-the-art machine tool technology from Vollmer,” concludes John Schuck.