Jackson Corporation Stays Local
Live Tooling Opens the Door
Succeeding in business means producing top quality products at competitive prices. Unfortunately, these two characteristics don’t always go hand-in-hand. While some companies resort to low-paid, Third World labor to make the equation work, others choose to stay at home and utilize technology to work smarter and more economically. Jackson Corporation of Los Angeles, California, has chosen to stay at home and prove this philosophy is effective for stimulating growth and remaining at the top of their industry.
Anyone who has walked through the doors of a mini-mall, convenience store, bank or other commercial building is familiar with Jackson Corporation’s products. For more than fifty years, Jackson has manufactured the highest quality door hardware for the aluminum and tempered-glass door industry. Its Overhead Concealed Closer, patented more than 35 years ago, remains the leader in the aluminum storefront industry.
“Business is getting more challenging every day,” commented Mark Warden, Jackson Corporation’s operations manager, “and companies are faced with making hard decisions in order to survive. Not long ago, our main US competitor decided to cut production costs by subcontracting to factories overseas to make their products. This gave them a distinct advantage over us as far as labor costs, which, in turn, made us rethink our operations.”
“Manufacturing offshore to reduce production costs was never an option we considered,” added Sidney Cap, Jackson’s director of operations. “The owner of our company believes so strongly in supporting the local economy that he has established a corporate policy mandating that we buy locally. Finding what we need at an affordable price domestically is difficult at times, but worth the effort.”
Instead of going offshore to remain competitive, Jackson opted to modernize and streamline their operations. “We decided to apply intelligence rather than just cheap labor,” said Warden. “It is the only way to compete against wages of fifty cents a day. Keeping production in-house also enables us to control the manufacturing process in order to make sure the quality of our products remains high.”
The first steps of Jackson’s modernization were consolidating the machining processes into a single area and purchasing two machining centres, a new Haas VF-1 vertical machining centre and a used VF-0 unit. Before the upgrade, Jackson was manually machining components in four different buildings, and the only CNC machine in use was an old Miyano lathe.
When the Haas machines were brought on-line, Jackson immediately realized a tremendous jump in production. “Since the Haas machines arrived, our production has increased by sixty to seventy percent,” Cap explained. “Before bringing in the new machines, we were producing 300 to 350 complete Overhead Concealed Closers a day. Now we average 500 a day. By the end of the year, we project our output will reach 900 units a day.”
Warden added, “The CNC equipment is letting us rethink how we manufacture. It is allowing us to grow the business without having to substantially increase manpower, which allows us to be more competitive and win more market share.
“The operators can handle the increased volume, and the learning curve is almost nil. Some of our operators were semi-experienced programmers and were able to pick right up and go. We have two programmers and setup guys and the rest just man the machines and keep them loaded.”
When the first two Haas machines were installed, Jackson was still using their old Miyano lathe to produce end caps for the Overhead Concealed Closer, which accounts for sixty percent of sales. The machine couldn’t keep up with production, so they decided to replace it with a Haas HL-1 CNC lathe.
“The CNC lathe we replaced was old and dirty,” said Cap. “Our operators were suffering because they had to breath the fumes, and there wasn’t a path through the system for the chips. Our guys had to work much harder and the accuracy was much lower. You cannot make good quality parts on old machinery.”
The HL-1 helped solve the problem, but completing the end caps still required a secondary process on a mill to drill two offset holes into each cap, which took extra time to set up and run.
“We had been running on the lathe for several months when we realized live tooling would completely solve our problem,” said Warden. “About the same time, our Haas representative asked us if we had a need for live tooling. We said yes, and the rest is history. Haas came out to our facility and added live tooling to our existing lathe. I think we were one of the first companies to have the opportunity to use live tooling from Haas.”
“It worked great. With the live tooling option, we eliminated one operation and all the additional handling,” said Cap. “Each overhead closer needs two end caps, which used to take two minutes of machine time and two operations. Now both operations are done in ninety-five seconds on a single HL-1 lathe. We face it, turn the O.D., thread, groove, drill offset holes, tap and cut off. It goes in as an aluminum bar and comes out as a finished component.”
Warden said the HL-1 lathe equipped with the live tooling function is giving them the potential to grow. In order to reach their goal of 900 Overhead Concealed Closers a day, they will have to produce 1,800 end caps per day, which translates into 600 per shift with a three-shift schedule. To meet the challenge, the HL-1 is equipped with a chip conveyor, and has been teamed with a CNC Enhancements automatic bar feeder with a rack capable of holding 12 hours of stock.
Jackson’s programmers utilize the customizable macros on the Haas control to program tool life and the number of pieces to run through the bar feeder, both necessary for running unattended on the third shift. In accordance with their ISO 9000 guidelines, they program to run 500 parts between tool changes. Tolerances are held in the ten-thousandths of an inch, and they have minimal component waste.
“Following our corporate policy of buying American hasn’t always been easy,” Warden reiterated. “For instance, finding hats with our logo that were made in the states took quite awhile, but the mandate has taught us how to work smarter, which is improving our products. With the changes we made in the layout of our facility and with our automation, we are now in position to go after a Grade I classification for our overhead closer. Instead of being rated for 1 million cycles over a five-year period, they will be rated for 2 million cycles.”
“Made in America still means something, especially to our international clients, which include South America, Central America, Europe, Asia, Australia and others,” Cap explains. “We are proud to say Jackson Corporation sells American products manufactured by American equipment. We expect the same commitment from our vendors and equipment suppliers, which is why we returned to Haas for two more units. A VF-4 and another lathe have been ordered and are on their way.”
Automation is keeping Jackson Corporation growing and in synch with their commitment to support their local economy. They are already talking about robotics and pallet systems as their next step in the never-ending battle to remain ahead of the competition and loyal to their company credo.