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How a toolmaker used a disaster to improve quality

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Founded in 1976, Taurus Tool & Engineering started as a multi-step cutting tool manufacturer. Beginning with two partners, in February of 2015, the company was purchased by employees Jim Kantak, President, Roger Wise, Engineering Manager, and Richard Thiele, Production Manager - all of whom had long histories with the company. Since then it had grown its Schaumburg, Illinois, shop to 17,500 square feet and over 30 employees.

Over the years, manual equipment was slowly removed and replaced with new, quicker and more accurate CNC equipment. The business flourished as Taurus became known for accurately engineered, precision manufactured cutting tools.

But in 2014, the upgrade program was accelerated dramatically.

In June of 2014, the shop burned down forcing Taurus to rebuild quickly or lose the business. Within weeks, Taurus acquired a larger, modern 25,000 square-foot facility in Batavia, Illinois, that could handle the growth that the business had been starting to see.

Setting goals and starting afresh

“We were already working toward becoming the number one round cutting tool manufacturer in the country and the key to that is, first, producing high performance tooling for our customers’ applications. Next is consistency. Order after order. Last is production – how quickly and efficiently can you make the tools,” Mr. Thiele says.

The fire turned out to provide Taurus an unusual opportunity to put into place all the practices they had been thinking of to bring the company to the level of performance they wanted to reach.

“We began filling our new facility with some of the best technology on the market in a manner that would improve workflow, reduce production costs, and promote batch manufacturing capability and tool quality,” Mr Kantak says.
Mr Theile observes, “One of the biggest battles was to get our people to forget the old way and start afresh. But once they started to see improvements, they bought-in to the new technology.

“We felt that ANCA was going in the direction we wanted to go in terms of pushing the envelope in technology and support. Their support for a small business like ours has been very helpful, particularly in terms of applications. Plus, the support is local through two service engineers within a couple hours. They made a commitment and delivered.”

“So the fire was a blessing for us since we were already working toward a new way of engineering and processing our tools,” Mr Theile says.

Goal 1: Recovering from the Fire

Previously, Taurus had run other brand CNC tool grinders, which were lost in the fire. “It has been very interesting coming from a different machine tool builder’s machines and methods,” Mr Theile recalled. “We ran a different brand CNC grinder for 15 years and our operators, designers and machinists were used to producing tools per those protocols.”

Once the move began, it was all ANCA. “We moved in the FastGrinds and shortly thereafter four more ANCAs came in the door of our new location,” Mr Kantak says.
“We looked at shop work flow. In the old facility machines were placed wherever there was space. After the fire, we made physical changes to make the shop floor work flow more efficient, from material in the door, pre-processing the tool material, grinding on the ANCAs, inspection and shipping.”
Goal 2: Fresh tool designs for better tool performance

“It was a struggle for about six months after we moved into the new shop full of ANCAs,” Mr Theile says. “Our people had to learn a new process for making tools. I told them, ‘Forget about the previous way, instead, imagine what would be the craziest design, surface finish, and geometry to make the optimum tool for the customer’s job.’”

Taurus set up what it calls its Simulation Station on the shop floor – four seats in the middle of the action that operators can sit down to any time. Mr Theile calls it the manufacturer’s water cooler. “We feel that putting the design seats near to each other and on the manufacturing floor, we will get the kind of sharing and conversation that results in the best tool designs we can possibly make,” Mr Theile says. Two other ANCA Cimulator3D seats are in the front office.
Goal 3: Save all programs in one place, eliminate paper

Taurus wanted to get away from the former practice of specific machines assigned to produce certain tools. It created bottlenecks and with multiple people and multiple shifts, the production variation could be a nightmare. Machine flexibility, versatility, and storing all tool programs in one location was a key step to removing this issue from the shop floor.
With the investment in ANCA machines, the company could now save all the programs in one place to ensure tool production programs are repeatable.

“Now, all 16 ANCAs run off our server; none run locally. Engineering approves the program and machine setup so that each time a job is run, it is identical. All the notes are saved in the program. This is an extremely important point for us. No paper. It was very difficult to produce consistently with a variety of notes and changes.” Mr Theile says.

Goal 4: Reduce cycle times, improve turnaround times

Mr. Kantak says, “The versatility of the ANCAs also allows us to look at new tools we could not be competitive on previously because our cycle times were so long and our process was so detailed. Now we are competitive. On our largest running job, we cut cycle time 40 percent – and that was a job on previously we had constantly tried to pare down the time.”

Goal 5: Capture tool makers’ experience

Mr. Theile recalls, “We had a crew of older toolmakers who are skilled in the art of toolmaking. The ANCAs and the Cimulator and ToolRoom software enabled us to store this knowledge to capture it for the long term.”

Goal 6: Programming made easy

Menu-driven programming makes it easy to grind the tools designed in Cimulator. ANCA’s ToolRoom software suite applies to a wide range of tool types and applications with an easy-to-use interface to input tool geometry parameters. 

The machine operator can easily set up or modify tool programs, depending upon the required tool type. For more proficient users, advanced software pages enable complex tool designs and operations. ToolRoom supports the grinding of drills, end mills, profile tools, burrs, routers and many other special applications.
Taurus Tool and Engineering produces solid round specially cutting tools that range in size from 1/8 to 3 inches in diameter. Products include HSS and carbide offerings.

The shop's Simulation Station is located on the shop floor to encourage tool grinder operators and tool designers to collaborate productively. The station features four seats of ANCA's CIMulator 3D design and programming system.