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Measuring System Part of Continuous Improvement for Tube Fabricator

Continuous improvement is nothing new. The idea of making improvements is as old as manufacturing itself, and continuous improvement is a fact of life in any competitive industry. Whether it’s a matter of ironing out the wrinkles in an existing process, responding to customer input, or working to stay ahead of the competition, there usually is no shortage of opportunity to make improvements in manufacturing. Some companies just take it more seriously than others. One such company is Spinco Metal Products, Newark, New York.

Founded in 1966, it has been operated by the same family throughout the decades. The company name reflects its work producing spun copper driers and drier assemblies for air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. With around 75 employees, Spinco also makes specialized products for several niche markets, including brazed assemblies, fabricated tubing, rigid hydraulic lines, and machined products.

Remaining competitive and profitable in a high-mix/low-volume environment, many orders are for fewer than 25 pieces, with a dynamic production schedule requires advancements in production technology.

“Money is spent to stay ahead of the competition,” said Engineering & Quality Manager David Gardner as he described some of his recent advancements. “That investment is to keep a separation between us and the competition.”

Improvements in Bending

Back in 2018 Spinco recognized a need to make some investments to improve its tube bending operations. Its goal was to improve both the speed and accuracy of bending. The company developed an expansion plan that would provide room for more new benders and enable the better organization of the tube bending workflow. After adding a significant expansion to its shop. It purchased a couple of new, all-electric Crippa tube benders and two new Chiyoda benders.

“With the new benders, my repeatability goes up and my setup time goes down,” Gardner noted. To support its speed and accuracy goals, Spinco also acquired a TubeInspect P8 from Accurex Measurement.

The TubeInspect is an optical tube gauge. Spinco invested in the P8 model, which has eight cameras mounted in the top of the enclosure looking down at an illuminated 40- by 22-in. measurement area. The machine uses photos from its cameras to measure the tube’s dimensions. Each photo includes a silhouette of the tube and many black dots, which are the photogrammetry targets that serve as the calibrated reference.

The BendingStudio software that runs the machine takes the photos and does the photogrammetry calculations to produce a 3D model accurate to 35 microns. Inspection is completed in about 10 seconds using the specified alignment and inspection criteria. Any deviations of the tube from nominal are calculated and translated into corrections that are fed back to the CNC benders. The process is so fast that it dramatically reduces times for bender setups, first article inspection, and periodic inspections.

Inspection Overhaul

Before the expansion plan, the process for setting up a new part involved setting up the machine, producing a first article, taking the first article to the inspector, and waiting for the inspector to check the part with an inspection arm. With 50 setups per day, the company’s inspection station often was a bottleneck.

Today the operators set up the machines, produce a first article, and inspect it themselves at an inspection area in the middle of the shop. If adjustments are needed, they are communicated straight back to the bender. When the part passes inspection on the optical system, the inspector simply reviews and approves the report generated by software.

The shop expansion and reorganization, along with the addition of the optical gauge, have had an immense impact on the company’s speed and manufacturing flexibility. Previously the company did about 50 setups a day on 14 machines; it recently hit a peak when it ran 40 small jobs on one machine in an eight-hour day.

Opportunities Abound

Like most companies, Spinco has had to deal with a shortage of manufacturing labor for some time, a situation made worse by COVID-19. Because the optical measurement system reduced the need for skilled labor by simplifying tube inspection and bender setup adjustments, Spinco has been able to continue production despite the labor obstacles.

As regrettable and devastating as the pandemic has been, it did create new opportunities for many manufacturers. For example, the success in developing vaccines for COVID-19 created a spike in demand for refrigeration systems for vaccine storage.

“The scientific community and the medical device community have been very, very busy,” Gardner said. With a strong background in refrigeration and its improved manufacturing flexibility, Spinco was able to meet the demand and help empower the nation’s fight against COVID-19.

Spinco has seen other benefits from its proactive improvements, such as demand growth for refrigeration components for recreational vehicles. It also produces tubes for some applications it had not previously addressed, such as kayak racks and fuel cell stacks for clean mobility.

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Editor’s note: A longer version of this article was published in the October/November 2021 issue of The Tube & Pipe Journal®, a publication of FMA Communications Inc.