Anytime we dig into a slice of pizza from a major chain around the world, chances are the crispy crust and melted cheese was baked to perfection in a Middleby Marshall pizza oven. Cooking pies in more than 50 countries at some of the most well-known pizza chains around the world, the Chicago-area manufacturer faces rigorous production schedules that demand fast turnarounds, precision manufacturing and highly cosmetic standards.
“The majority of our customers are international corporations. They are spending a lot of money and buying a lot of units,” said Brian Thompson, manufacturing manager and CNC programmer at Middleby Marshall. “All the ovens we produce have to look good and exceed quality standards. They need to be perfect.”
In recent months, Thompson and his team established production goals to gain efficiencies and bring greater profitability to the shop. These goals sought to simplify processes and eliminate secondary operations without sacrificing quality.
“Our goal was to simplify the manufacturing process, which included eliminating all of our secondary operations, preparing the parts for manufacturing all the way through fabrication straight to production while maintaining and exceeding quality,” Thompson said.
One of the most challenging roadblocks in achieving this goal was the existing welding processes and other secondary operations that were standard in Middleby Marshall’s production flow. Many parts and components required significant welding operations – some of which had to be completed by hand – which in turn called for serious time and labor investments.
“We were spending a lot of time welding, which required studs, weld nuts and some secondary operations,” Thompson said. “All of these tasks were expensive, time consuming, and prohibitive in simplifying our manufacturing processes.”
One particular component stifled efficiencies and caused a lag in production and part flow on the shop floor. The front window panel for a conveyor pizza oven consisted of a three-part weldment, which had to be completed by hand. The operator first located the components in the proper position to form the assembly, then welded four joints in a 15-inch weld, and finally added weld nuts to secure the panel. Following the welding, the entire assembly had to be polished to meet cosmetic standards, hiding the seams and making the piece look like a single finished piece.
“For each window panel, the welding and polishing process took about 30 minutes,” Thompson said. “That was watching labor, time and costs go down the drain.”
Working with Minnesota-based Wilson Tool International, Thompson and his team began experimenting with connective forms on the punch press to manufacture locators and fasteners directly into the components to eliminate the welding operations. Connective forming tools involves using louvers, half-shears, thread forms and other types of forms designed specifically for connectivity.
“With the connective forming tools, we were able to eliminate all the welding and make the entire process about a five-minute deal,” Thompson said. “Making the window pane is a three-piece assembly that we snap together using Wilson Tool’s mini-louvers and screw it all together using thread forms. Cutting time and labor like that makes a huge impact on our production goals.”
Most connective forming tools are designed as small station tools and are commonly less than one inch in length or diameter. A number of fabricators may already have tools that would work for these types of applications in their shop, and forming tools can simply help them get to the next step. The majority of tooling manufacturers offer connective forming tools for different styles of punch presses, including thick and thin turret, Tumpf and Wiedemann machines.
Creativity and improvisation often come into play when working with connective forming tools. Louvers, for example, are a tool typically used to create ventilation. When mated with a pierce hole, however, louvers can become a fastener or used as a locator in larger assemblies. Half-shears are commonly used as spot welds or locators, and extrusions are usually used for pass-through holes for wire or tubing.
Cutting costs, maintaining quality
By eliminating the need for welding and using connective forming tools to assemble the components, Middleby Marshall quickly discovered they were able create higher quality products while cutting costs, gaining efficiencies and reducing labor – all of which were part of the company’s original manufacturing goals.
“Our team got really excited about using the connective forming tools and we dove right in,” Thompson said. “As long as we pay close attention and keep our quality up, we are delivering better-looking parts with significant savings. If we’re saving 20 minutes per part, I think it’s safe to say we’re seeing 30 percent savings across the board. If the part can come straight from fabrication, skip any secondary processes and go right to production, that’s priceless.”
The savings positively affect Middleby Marshall’s bottom line and are savings the company can pass along to their customers. What’s more, the entire process helps the fabricator maintain a competitive edge, cutting out competition in the global pizza market.
“We always try to maintain competitive,” Thompson said. “If we can create a better product at a lower price and within a faster timeframe, we’re doing our job for the customer.”
John “JJ” Johnson is the punching product manager at Wilson Tool International. He has worked for the global tooling manufacturer for more than 37 years.
September 06, 2017