High-Productivity Horizontals at SKS

Along time ago Jerry Keating learned that discovery consisted of seeing what others had seen and thinking what others had not – that’s how you become one of the most creative and cost-efficient die casting, machining and finishing corporations extant.

SKS Die Casting & Machining was a leftover from World War II; all the tanks, planes and ancillary materials were history. Yet, three men, Schumacher, Kay and Scott (SKS), had a facility that needed to survive. They struggled through, making ends meet, until 1975, when a “discovery” occurred. Jerome W. Keating, President of Aerojet Manufacturing Corporation, saw SKS as an under-utilized facility, and he thought a progressive future. So what did he do? He bought SKS, and he’s never looked back. With a Masters in Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a manufacturing background in rocket propulsion, chemical manufacturing, space technology, lunar exploration and nuclear reactor componentry, an eclectic future was a promise for SKS with Jerry Keating at the helm.

A quarter of a century later, SKS designs and manufactures parts for the computer, aircraft, medical, automotive and communication industries. The corporate client list reads like the Who’s Who of the S&P 500: IBM (a customer for 36 years), Hewlett Packard, Northrop, Titan Information, Xerox, you get the idea. Currently delivering nearly 6 million parts a year to clients, this postwar machine shop is now upgraded to an authentic, progressive manufacturing concern utilizing the latest CNC and CMM technology.

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In a word, SKS has a “vision,” and that “vision” is enhanced by a corporate leader whose hands-on approach to managing governs 75 employees. SKS produces more than 500 different parts a year that conform to applicable industry standards or customer specified requirements.

Traditionally, die-casting companies do not machine parts. Only 20% of die casters machine parts to a finished quality. Here again the vision of SKS comes to the forefront. Their attitude is, Whadda ya want? – casting, machining, painting, anodizing, plating, powder coating, etc. The client provides the drawing, SKS provides the part.

In the production of parts, Mr. Keating learned a long time ago that machining is labor intensive and costly. Hence, parts are cast then machined. Anything that saves time in machining processes also saves money. A case in point for Keating was when he visited the 1997 Machine Tool Show in San Jose with Sergio Specia, his shop superintendent; Jesus Lavenant, the program setup man; and Jeff Ratto, maintenance supervisor. Dropping by a Haas demonstration, Jerry again could see beyond what others had seen. Currently, he was machining a part that required three different setups. What became blatantly clear at the Haas booth was that the HS-1RP horizontal machining centre could be utilized to machine the same part with only one setup – a savings of time and money. Logic dictated that two HMCs would greatly enhance SKS’s shop capabilities and increase their capital worth.

Shortly after the show, two Haas HS-1RP 4-axis horizontal machining centres with pallet changers were purchased and delivered to SKS. The Haas mills commenced a 4000 part production run of a Titan Information Systems enclosure. This aluminum die cast part necessitates 72 inches of milling and the drilling and tapping of 60 holes – 24 of 8-32 and 36 of 4-40 specifications. When compared to the vertical milling of the part, the Haas horizontal saved 11 minutes out of the total production time. This reduction of machining time provided SKS a $14.00 savings per part. Now, when you stop to consider that the original contract was for 5000 parts, then you add a follow-on contract of 7000 parts, you arrive at the tidy savings of $168,000. This profit was more than sufficient to pay for the Haas HS-1RP . . . no dolts on this team.

According to Jerry, it was the rigid tapping feature and the built-in rotary table that made the difference between the Haas HMC and their old vertical mills. Not only did the Haas save milling time, but it eliminated two setups, and that’s an additional savings in labor costs. Or as Jerry puts it, “it significantly decreased the cycle time on parts. We run these machines on two ten-hour shifts. And remember, the art of making money in the machining business is, keep your machines running. Furthermore, the rigid tapping didn’t break taps. On our other mill, taps were regularly being broken at significant expense to the company.” So, where does this part go? Into a satellite communications module, that’s where it goes.

Today, SKS has the technical capability and the capacity to run a number of concurrent die casting development programs involving new alloys, process-control procedures and specialized processing or finishing. Programs of this kind are normally handled on a time-and-material basis, with proposals based on estimated overall costs. For R&D projects, the client bears the costs of required tooling regardless of the outcome of the project.

Over the years, SKS has developed many master holding blocks for use with individual customer insert dies. These insert dies are the property of the customer. Once the quoted price for the initial tooling has been paid, these dies will be returned to the customer without additional costs.

Inquiries and requests for quotations are carefully screened by SKS’s engineering and estimation departments; then, detailed cost proposals for individual parts are provided in letter form. To assist clients in obtaining the best possible component with the most economical manufacturing method, they will offer design suggestions at this stage, particularly when slight modifications to parts will improve castability and generate cost savings.

Currently, SKS also realizes that compliance with ISO standards will have a major influence in manufacturing and quality control in the years ahead. SKS is undergoing a rigorous ISO 9002 certification program. Concise and clearly defined procedural guidelines have been established for every operating department. Because of the exacting ISO standards, quality assurance is virtually certain at every level. From employee training programs to various stages of project development, the ISO certification declares a commitment to excellence. The accuracy and repeatability of the Haas HMCs will help SKS meet and maintain these rigorous standards. As of February 5 of 1999, SKS is positioned to fulfill the most imposing demands of client quality requirements with full ISO certification.

Another example of SKS’s discovery philosophy is a joint venture in the People’s Republic of China (PROC) with Silk Road Enterprises, a corporation specializing in the transfer of technology to PROC. There are now three joint venture plants: the first was opened in 1989 in Zhuhai SEZ near Hong Kong; the second plant in Changqing commenced production in 1990; the third plant is in Qinhuangdao, a city near Beijing. This Asian operation is named Pacific Die Casting and Machining. Pacific will provide high volume, low-cost production of precision components to the whole of Asia. However, all of the initial tooling is done in the U.S. plant, and the Haas equipment has been instrumental in that production. The First Article Qualification Units are manufactured here in the United States. An initial production run ensures that all tooling, quality and production problems are completely resolved before mass production begins abroad. It is at this time that die cast, machining and inspection tooling, along with the process control and quality assurance programs, are then shipped to the China operation. With their China initiative, SKS feels well-positioned for the new millennium.

REPORTER’S NOTES:

The directness of this man is uniquely beguiling. Well-informed, contemporary, opinionated and knowledgeable – Berkeley should produce as many Jerome W. Keatings as they can. Of course, you don’t get many reproductions like this one. Holding his Masters in Science from MIT, he is a registered engineer in the State of California. Mr. Keating also holds a number of patents issued by the U.S. Government for manufacturing processes. In 1989 the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awarded Mr. Keating its Distinguished Technical Achievement Citation for “tremendous effort displayed in development, design, construction and demonstration of a safe and economical manufacturing process for the continuous production of composite propellants for the Polaris 260-inch Space Booster, Minuteman and ASRM.” Not a bad account of a septuagenarian, would you say?

And Mr. Keating has become a fan of his Haas equipment. He delights in having a distributor but a few miles away when a machine burps. “One of our incentives to purchase Haas was the service provided by our local distributor, Selway Machine Tool Incorporated. In the past, we have paid mechanical engineer’s round trip airfares and hotel expenses to affect repairs on some of our machines. The cost, delay and lost production can be a significant drag on our bottom line. With the Haas, we know we can have same-day service in an emergency.”

Jerry Keating has another major accomplishment, a 49 year marriage to his wife Leonore. Add eight children to the mix and you have a man who has a pure definition of how much time there is in a day. He is a man for all seasons.