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Automate when value isn’t being added by people—that improves efficiency.

Digital Tech & Making Machines

It is the classic northern California story: Twelve years ago four guys out of University of California-Davis start work in what is now known as the Digital Technology Laboratory (DTL), located nearby in an industrial park in Davis.

It is the classic northern California story: Twelve years ago four guys out of University of California-Davis start work in what is now known as the Digital Technology Laboratory (DTL), located nearby in an industrial park in Davis.

But what is entirely different about this story is that the purpose of the DTL is not to develop products and programs that are for downloading music or for making pithy comments on some social media site, but for the programming and operation of machine tools and manufacturing systems, for the analysis of machine designs and for the optimization of parts throughput. The DTL is operated by Mori Seiki (dmgmoriseikiusa.com).

There are more than 60 engineers and programmers in the facility, about 40% of whom have PhDs, who are running finite element analyses and computational fluid dynamics routines on machines that are being designed by their colleagues at Mori Seiki in Japan (Mori Seiki owns DTL). The people in Japan and California access the same database and they both use Solid Edge design software. Given the time difference, when the people in Japan go home, the people in Davis can get to work.

And now, Adam Hansel, one of the original four, & chief operating officer at the Mori Seiki DTL, walking through the 200,000-ft2 facility across the parking lot from the DTL (which itself is some 90,000-ft2), says, “California is not the cheapest place to make a machine. So to survive, we’ve had to make everything as efficient as possible.”

Hansel is in a new factory that is being used to manufacture machine tools, such as the new lineup of NHX horizontal machining centers, that Mori Seiki officially opened on November 7. “We’ve spent a lot of time making everything simple and efficient,” Hansel says.  The whole objective is to focus on value-adding activities and to automate wherever value isn’t being added.

So, for example, take the case of machining the base castings for machine tools.  They’re using an overhead crane to move the massive parts onto the fixtures where they’ll be moved in front of one of the two opposed giant Toshiba gantry bridge mills.  But rather than using a hook-and-chain setup, which is not uncommon for such operations, there is a gargantuan end-effector on the end of the vertically oriented arm of the crane for precise positioning of the castings. Once the castings are machined, instead of having people brush off the machined parts, there are two Fanuc robots, each fitted with hoses: one to blow air onto the casting and the other to vacuum away the chips.

The other machining for components is performed on automated equipment, with the company’s Linear Pallet Pool (LPP) configuration being used for part transport. The engineers and programmers across the lot at the DTL have worked to optimize queuing and scheduling for LPPs (for customers as well as for the Mori Seiki Manufacturing plant) for throughput efficiency.

At the dedication of the plant, Dr. Masahiko Mori, president of Mori Seiki Co. Ltd., explained that not only is this, only the second Mori Seiki plant outside of Japan (the first is in Switzerland, but the one in California plant is purpose-built for the company), a means by which they can more effectively serve the North American market, but it allows them to use their own production machinery and processes to make sure that they are absolutely capable of achieving the levels of accuracy and productivity required. Adam Hansel says with a bit of amazement in his voice as he surveys the plant: “Twelve years ago I would have never imagined this.”