One high-volume manufacturing company that felt little impact from the 2009 recession is Premium Frac Pumps in Fort Worth, TX. The young company makes a line of well fracturing pumps for the oil and gas industry. These energy producers use such pumps as a critical part of the hydraulic well fracturing process. The pumps force a slurry comprised of fluid mixed with sand or ceramic material into the wells to penetrate cracks or fractures. The fluid is then removed, allowing the remaining material to prop open the fracture. This allows the oil or gas to migrate into the well bore for production.
To manufacture the many component parts used in their pumps, Premium Frac works around the clock. Even so, they were finding it challenging to keep up with demand. It was then management realized that some of their more labor-intensive operations could benefit from automation. This was the company’s first foray into automating production, so they sought input from various machine tool suppliers and eventually decided to work with Hartwig, Inc. (Dallas, TX) who introduced them to Gosiger Automation (Dayton, OH). The Gosiger and Hartwig engineers studied the company’s processes, considering various aspects of the operation including material flow and both manual and machine operations.
The machining system they designed includes an Okuma LU-400, 4-axis lathe; an Okuma LB-3000EX, 2-axis lathe; and a Fanuc R-200 iB/165 robot that services both Okuma machines. The system is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate a wide range of parts, but is primarily used to make pump valves and seats. These parts are made from castings and forgings and have cycle times of 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes. Initial operations are performed in the LU-400 machine and secondary operations in the LB-3000. The robot tends both machines, flipping over the part between operations.
Because this work was previously performed on manually loaded CNC machine tools, Premium Frac Pumps Vice President Sales/Manufacturing, David Capps, calculates that productivity for these items has improved by more than 40% since automating the process. According to Capps, “Given that we run 24/7, the payback on this automation system took just six months. That’s how much direct labor we save. Before, our operators couldn’t keep up with the cycle times, so there were a lot of wasted hours. With the robot and the fast cycle times of these Okuma lathes, the line can run continuously to pump out the volume we need.”
“This has been a great experience.” Capps continues. “The Hartwig/Gosiger team has done a first-rate, professional job. Since this was our first automated line, we’ve learned a lot along the way. In fact, we’re already working with Gosiger to modify the new installation to handle other product components and move these highest-value parts to a new automated line that will increase our overall efficiencies even more.”