Machine Tool Builder Reinvests in Technology Upgrades and Employee Training

Cincinnati Builds What It Preaches: Build-to-Order Machine Tool Maker Gets Lean and Competitive

By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor

Through 111 years of operation and 60000 machines shipped, Cincinnati (www.e-ci.com) has remained a family-owned company. The machine tool builder primary supplies the North American market but also does business in South America, Africa and Europe.

"We design and build machines for the metal fabrication industry, be they integrated manufacturers such as John Deere, Caterpillar, Trane and BAE Systems," says Ed Bosse, marketing manager at Cincinnati. "We also supply the service center industry, such as O'Neal Steel and Olympic Steel, with equipment. The job shop market and custom fabricators are key users of our equipment, which includes CNC laser cutting systems for sheet and plate, press brakes for forming metals and squaring shears to process prime sheets. Tooling to solve a customer's forming application is a significant part of our business."

Cincinnati primarily hires mechanical, electrical and industrial engineers, but total customer support is synonomous with Cincinnati, says Bosse. "Field service engineers are stationed in major cities throughout North America for machine installation and after-sale support," he explains. "And spare-part support is a prime strength of ours. Parts are still available on machines that were built in the 1940s, and part shipments are available from stock. We also offer operator and maintenance training at the factory, or field programs can be conducted at the customer's site."

A Cincinnati machines typically includes a touchscreen PC with custom HMI software running on a Windows OS, says Bosse. "The real time control is implemented with an MPC555 processor on hardware that's designed and built in-house," he explains. "All I/O is designed and built in our Whitewater, Ohio, plant. We use PCs for the HMI on the majority of our controls but use separate hardware for the embedded control. We do use PLCs on our material handling systems."

The majority of Cincinnati's machines are hardwired, says Bosse. "We use a fiberoptic network on our laser machines and DeviceNet on the material handling system," he explains, noting that no wireless applications have been developed yet.

Safety systems play a key role on Cincinnati's machines. "We have dedicated special-purpose safety systems for the press brakes," says Bosse. "But safety relays are used on our laser machines and material handling system."

While the economic slow-down is driving Cincinnati to reduce costs without sacrificing features, certain technology trends are impacting the business, as well. "The continued increase in processing power, the improved reliability of electronic components and reduction in size and power consumption all will combine to improve functionality and reduce cost," says Bosse.

Cincinnati also is positioning itself for the recovery, much as it prompts its customers to do. The company is investing 10% of 2009 sales, and another 10% in 2010, to retool its plant and implement lean practices from top to bottom. Investments in machine-tool upgrades and training will reduce lead times on built-to-order machines by 50% and increase capacity up to 50% without adding labor hours while reducing manufacturing costs and improving competitiveness, according to Michiel Schuitemaker, president and CEO. The machine tool maker has completely rebuilt its major machine tools with new controls, drives and spindles, and all employees are receiving lean training.

The company is taking advantage of the excess capacity created by the economic downturn to rebuild key machines including a 100-hp Waldrich Coburg portal gantry mill, a twin-traveling column Mazak horizontal machining center and a Makino HMC with a 40-in. work cube. "At the onset of the recovery, quick delivery is going to be as critical as price," says Schuitemaker. "The rebuilds coupled with lean practices will be crucial to our objectives of increased velocity and plant capacity, even with a reduced workforce, while allowing us to hold prices down through internal cost reduction." With the current economic conditions, manufacturers have faced the double-edged challenge of having to reduce staff and resist price increases to offset revenue losses. While Cincinnati has reduced staff in the last year, it has kept machine prices at 2007 levels.

"A core competency is production of our own machine control hardware and software," says Schuitemaker. "We recently incorporated surface-mount manufacturing capabilities by purchasing pick-and-place robots and automated soldering machines. This allows us to reduce lead times and use smaller components for smaller footprints on more complex circuit boards."

Also demonstrating Cincinnati's commitment to lean practices is the new Web-based machine diagnostics/monitoring system that allows customers access to remote troubleshooting services. "We found that a third of our service calls can quickly be solved using remote diagnostics," says Schuitemaker. "And if a service call is required, remote diagnostics allows us to identify and ship the required parts so they are at the customer's site even before the service rep arrives."

Cincinnati releases regular software upgrades to its customers to take advantage of the latest manufacturing techniques.

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