Horizontals in the Mix at Hobart
Process flexibility and a multi-talented work force are two important elements when it comes to success in today’s manufacturing world. One of the easiest ways to capture this elusive upper hand of productivity is through effective employment of user-friendly, automated machinery.
Hobart Corporation works to constantly refine and augment its success to this end by maintaining a stringent set of standards when it comes to the machine tools it selects.
The 247,000-square-foot Hobart facility in Hillsboro, Ohio, employs approximately 350 people, working 3 shifts daily, 5 days a week. At present, there are about 70 CNC machines operating in the facility, 24 hours a day.
We visited the Hobart Corporation’s manufacturing plant to see what methods and machines it uses to reflect today’s job shop manufacturing realities. Known as Plant 31, the Hillsboro Hobart facility is basically a large-scale captive job shop that makes food wrapping machines, package labelers and the world-famous Hobart line of mixers.
HOBART AND HISTORY
Ever since the introduction of the company’s first product, the coffee mill (introduced in 1897), Hobart has been the world’s leader in innovative food processing equipment, systems and service. Although Hobart manufactures a wide variety of industrial food machines – mixers and slicers, warewashing equipment, cooking equipment, bakery equipment, refrigeration equipment, and weighing and wrapping equipment – today, the company is probably best known for its line of “industrial-strength” mixers.
Hobart’s Plant 31 has been successful in implementing numerous techniques to increase throughput and reduce cost while maintaining quality; but the relocation of the mixer line to the Hillsboro plant brought about new challenges, along with new chances to improve with new technologies.
Dick Valentine, Hobart’s manufacturing manager, explains the tools and techniques used to continuously upgrade the company’s manufacturing process.
“Our latest major expansion was in 1994,” remembers Valentine. “It was done to accommodate the addition of the Hobart mixer line, which was to be transferred from the company’s headquarters in Troy, Ohio. For a hundred years, the company manufactured mixers at the Troy plant. We saw the move of the product line to our plant as a chance to re-evaluate how these mixers were manufactured, and to improve the process.”
MOVE TO MODERN METHODS
Hobart’s professional mixer line has nine standard models ranging from counter-top to freestanding industrial units. These can be used for all manners of food preparation duties, from mixing enough pizza dough to feed a high school football team, to chopping up the Caesar salad fixings for the latest awards convention.
“When the mixer line moved to our plant,” recalls Valentine, “we inherited the machines and processes that had been used to make them. This included a lot of older machines; they were good machines, but they were technologically out of date.”
Prior to receiving the mixer product line, Hobart’s Hillsboro facility manufactured wrapping and labeling machines for the food industry. The plant’s existing manufacturing capabilities were already well on the way to implementing CNC operations across the milling and turning departments, so the decision to update manufacturing process for the incoming mixer line was approved.
In evaluating the new CNC machines to support the new mixer production capabilities, one of the major concerns was making sure that the new machining centers would be compatible with the existing software and controls. With most of the CNC machining centers already Fanuc-compatible, the search was narrowed to controls that would fit within these existing parameters and limitations.
Also of major importance were providing the means to service Plant 31’s current product mix, and the shop’s need for maximum flexibility. Typical lot sizes for Plant 31 are 50 to 150 pieces. These are scheduled on a “just-in- time” basis so inventories can be kept reasonably low, or in some cases eliminated.
Manufacturing without an inventory safety net means downtime is not an option. To ensure that manufacturing stays online and on time, Hobart made sure that backup systems were created for most of its critical operations. This included the purchase of a number of Haas CNC machining centers.
Not only are Haas controls Fanuc-compatible, meeting one of the most important requirements of the Hobart system of built-in backups, but they are significantly more affordable than comparable machines.
Because Haas machines are virtually identical in control operation, and the control is Fanuc-compatible, proprietary programming and fixtures can be easily changed from one machine to the next.” Valentine also noted that this also makes operator training easier. “We can have a novice up and programming in a week,” says Valentine. “Our operators do the programming on the shop floor, so there is little off-line programming done by our manufacturing engineers. This frees them to work on process improvements and developing more efficient methods, rather than being tied to a programming task.”
Valentine continues, “One can argue about which CNC is the best, but for our shop, compatibility of controls is important, because we move people around from department to department. We can take a program from a Mori Seiki machining center, change one element of code and our Haas machines will run the Mori code.
“Most of our fixturing is designed to run on more than one machine,” says Valentine. “If, for example, one of our Makino machining centers is loaded or goes down, we can quickly and easily shift work to one of our Haas machining centers because of program and workholding compatibility.”
TRAVELS AND PODS
In addition, many of the machines on the floor are arranged in small pods or groups. “We’ve combined lathes and mills in one group because there’s less interference time,” says Valentine. “When the lathe is equipped with a bar feed, that typically leads to long runs where the machine doesn’t need a lot of attention. The verticals need more hands-on operation, so two mills together would have a lot of interface. But you put a vertical machine together with a lathe and you’ll have a more productive station.”
So in that respect, it’s important to have controls that are virtually identical. “I won’t argue with anybody about who’s best,” says Valentine, “but for us, from both a maintenance standpoint, and from an operator training standpoint, we were deep enough into Fanuc that that is where we wanted to stay.”
When they started looking at new CNCs to bring the mixer line up to date, a lot of the manufacturers said that, while they didn’t have the Fanuc control, they were 100% compatible. “So we took some of the programs we run on our larger machines and put them on a disk, took it to their showroom and put it on their machine,” says Valentine. “When we put it on the Haas, we only had to change one code and we were running. Every other machine we tried couldn’t cut it. So when they say 100% Fanuc-compatible, that’s a pretty broad statement.”
But before Hobart buys any big equipment, even if it’s a brand already on the shop floor, they go out and look at other users. Valentine reasons that a lot of machine manufacturers have proven to be strong in one area, but not in another.
“We visited this one Haas user about 100 miles down the road that had 6-7 verticals,” says Valentine. “We talked to the operators and everything, and got no negatives. However, we were skeptical, because traditionally, our facility has been a Mori shop. Then the maintenance guys paid them a visit and asked the manufacturer how the maintenance was on the Haas machines, and he said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never had them out!’ And one of these machines was six or seven years old! That really sold us.”
“So we started out with the two VF-0s and ran the daylights out of them,” he continues. “After we had them for about 2-3 years we started looking at 40"x20" machines. We bought three VF-3s with the 15-hp system on them and they did great – no problems. So as we needed more verticals, we kept buying VF-3s. You know, when you really look at the table size and the difference in price, why buy a VF-0?”
Valentine says he considers non-cutting time spent working on a machine as wasted time. “So if I’ve got a VF-0 with three or four jobs on relatively small fixtures, why constantly remove and refixture the jobs when I can buy a VF-3 and leave the fixtures on the table all of the time? That’s why now, the smallest machine we are going to buy is a 40"x20", and we’ll just fill the table up with fixtures. We’ve been doing that more and more, and it is really helping in setup savings and in reducing related problems like setup-related crashes.”
SALES & SERVICE
“As far as service goes, Haas has kind of spoiled us,” laughs Valentine. “It used to be that when we bought a new machine, it would be a week or two before we actually had it up and running. Virtually all of our Haas’ have been up and running full production within three days at the most. For instance, we had one machine that came into the shop on a Monday at about 8 a.m. We had to take another old vertical out, put the Haas in place, and Wednesday at noon, the Haas rep turned the machine over to us. We ran that machine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 7 months before we shut it off. Never had to make a service call. How could you beat that? Like I said, we’ve been spoiled!”
By using the multiple-machine pods run by a single person, Hobart is able to beat the costs of parts manufactured overseas. “We just had a transmission part quoted in Taiwan, and they couldn’t even touch our price. If it’s a manufactured part and we have the technology, there’s nobody going to beat us!”
The results of this technology are apparent in better throughput, lower production costs, better quality and reduced scrap and rework.
However, the plant isn’t stopping to rest. “What’s key for Hobart, or any job shop,” says Valentine, “is to continuously look for processes, equipment and peripherals that maintain flexibility and agility on the shop floor while maximizing the in-cut time and production consistency.”