Kenosha Metal Products started as a two-man shop in 1960, with a strong tie to the automotive industry. The metal stamping company, based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, focused its work primarily as a parts supplier for American Motors Corporation.
When American Motors was purchased by Chrysler in 1987, it began a period of substantial growth for Kenosha Metal Products.
“We went from annual business of about $800,000 to about $12 million in 10 years,” says Jim MacCracken, president of Kenosha Metal Products.
Now with 35 employees and a 71,000 square-foot facility, the company continues to have a strong presence in the automotive industry and is working to diversify with a conservative approach.
With capabilities that include metal stamping, design, tooling and small assemblies, Kenosha Metal Products provides powertrain components, heat transfer systems, brake components and steering column stampings and assemblies to major OEM and Tier suppliers for American, Japanese and European automakers.
“Growth is important, but controlled growth is much more important,” MacCracken says. “Customers want to be treated as special, and I think our customer service and our attention to detail is what keeps us in business and keeps our customers happy. We sell our service.”
Over the years, numerous customers have asked Kenosha about adding welding to the list of the company’s capabilities.
“We believe that welding is a natural extension of stamping or producing metal fabricated parts,” MacCracken says. “Once we had that opportunity with the right customer, we thought it was the right time.”
Choosing an automated solution
Kenosha Metal Products implemented welding automation with the PerformArc™ 350S system
from Miller. As a result, the company has improved productivity, met its customer’s quality demands and added three jobs.
“It’s exponentially faster. You can’t beat it,” says Casey Faher, supervisor at Kenosha Metal Products.
In making the decision to invest in automated welding, Kenosha Metal Products weighed several factors. The company typically works with small- to medium-size stampings and assemblies, ranging from simple to more difficult undertakings. Producing parts with zero defects and 100 percent on-time delivery are important goals for the company.
Using an offline program—the DeskTop Programming and Simulation Software (DTPS) — Miller worked with a local tooling vendor, Sorenson Industrial Systems of Waukesha, Wis.,to conduct part simulations and cycle time analysis with the PerformArc system. By estimating the weld time and speed, it was also possible to estimate consumables costs for the system separately. Given this information, Kenosha Metal Products had confidence that this pre-engineered automated welding cell was the right choice for the job.
“Miller was very helpful in providing us with estimates and cost structures. That allowed us to quote business, and we were awarded business before we ever bought our first welding system,” MacCracken says. “They were instrumental in helping us to act like a manufacturer with welding capabilities before we were one.”
In addition, their Airgas distributor in Kenosha, Wis. helped ensure they had all the other items they needed to be successful in their welding endeavor, including welding wire and consumables.
The combination of everyone’s help proved beneficial to the complexity of the application at hand. The series of parts that the company welds with the PerformArc system have many curves, so precision and accuracy are very important.
“If you look at the value-added cost that we were being awarded by purchasing our first robotic weld cell, it was pretty obvious,” MacCracken says. “We actually had cost returns of less than a year.”
Productivity results in job growth
A year later, Kenosha Metal Products added another cell, which helped the company add capabilities in a productive and efficient manner. It also helped them take on new business — enough to add three additional workers.
Some individual parts require 48 separate welds, which makes the consistency and repeatability of the system key. The system is designed for high output welding in automotive and general manufacturing applications, and has a turntable capable of rotating 180 degrees in under 2.2 seconds — which helps Kenosha minimize index time and maximize productivity.
“You wouldn’t physically be able to do it over the course of an eight-hour shift with manual welding and put out what the robot’s putting out,” Faher says. “As far as repeatability and quality, nothing beats it.”
While the welding is automated, the system still requires skilled employees to oversee the process and program welding runs — and to help ensure customer deadlines are being met.
“If I’ve got 2 minutes and 40 seconds cycle time on this part and I need 22 parts, I’ve got about an hour,” says Eric Burke-Hoel, a lead in the welding division for Kenosha Metal Products. “I always have a deadline to meet. I don’t think manual welding could ever compare to what the system is putting out.”
Because of the customers and industries that Kenosha Metal Products serves, part quality is also a top priority. Products often must meet safety and durability standards. The PerformArc system provides the repeatability the company needs to meet quality standards.
“We need to make sure that the quality is there, and the cells give us the quality,” Burke-Hoel says.
Quick and easy implementation
The company was also impressed with how easy the weld cells were to implement — and how easy they are for operators to learn to program and control. Kenosha employees took a one-week training course with Miller — covering everything from basic controls to advanced weld programming.
The system has an integrated operator control panel and full color teach pendant, so Kenosha operators have full system control, diagnostics and programming capabilities in one central, easy-to-reach location.
“I was really surprised at the ease of them,” Faher says. “The controls are almost like my kid’s video games, so it’s really easy to pick up. The more you do it, the easier it gets.”
From time of delivery of the weld cells to a finished program was inputted and actual production began was about three days for the company. The system’s small footprint of just under 14 feet by 7 feet made it easy for Kenosha Metal Products to install it in the location they wanted.
“We leveled it and made sure the rotating table was level, and as soon as you do that you basically can plug the thing in and go,” Faher says. “If it is a little bit off and you need to go in and make a half-millimeter adjustment, you can just jump into the program, make your adjustment, get back out and keep going with your day.”
First-time welding success
Kenosha Metal Products quickly went from a company with no experience in welding or automated welding to a manufacturer fulfilling customer orders using the PerformArc 350S system.
“We were green. We knew absolutely nothing about weld cells or robotics. This was our first go-round,” Faher says. “We’ve had nothing but success.”
The support the company received in selecting and implementing the weld cells was key to that success.
“Although we have been involved in automated assembly, we’ve never been involved with automated welding or production welding,” MacCracken says. “Miller’s expertise was very important.”
Kenosha Metal Products now has added capabilities and expanded its workforce, with a productive and efficient system that meets customer demands.
To learn more about Miller Automation Solutions, click here.