US Manufacturers Tour KAISER Switzerland, Compare International Notes
BIG Kaiser hosted a group of US manufacturers on a visit to the KAISER headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland in February. The third annual event paired educational presentations, tours of the assembly and machining areas, and traditional Swiss hospitality.
“The challenges of manufacturing are universal,” Dennis Rosene, owner, Rosene Machine, Firth, NE, said. “Visiting factories outside the US can help us find new ways to solve the same challenges we face at home.”
- David Stucki, Marketing Manager at KAISER Switzerland, discusses new KAISER products with United States guests at the recent open house.
Operations from product and fixture design to rough and finish machining and assembly are done on two levels of the original KAISER factory. A flexible production process supports lot sizes from one to 1,000, but typical lots are 10 to 150 pieces. At KAISER, high quality products come with a long operating life. Visitors on the tour were shown a 30-year-old tool body that had just been returned by a manufacturer for repair work.
A universal take-away for the American visitors was the Swiss model of efficiency. “In this part of our country, close to Zurich, the operating costs, cost of land, and demand for talent are all very high,” Peter Elmer, CEO, KAISER, explained. “We must always drive efficiency, quality and process optimization to be successful here.”
“We were really impressed with how much production could be done in a relatively small space,” Ronda Peterson, CEO, Peterson Machining, Boulder, CO, said. “That gave us some ideas for our own shop.”
The visitors were given a brief overview of the global organization. Many were surprised to learn that 25 percent of the BIG Kaiser products they use are actually licensed for manufacturing in Tennessee.
“Many of our tools are designed to the CAT specification common only in the US. With a portfolio of over 30,000 items, it’s important we have domestic production and inventory for our customers,” Jack Burley, VP, BIG Kaiser explained. Meanwhile, products like digital boring heads, micro tools, tool presetters and HSK shanks are produced at the facilities in Europe. In 2003, KAISER entered into a global sales and marketing partnership with BIG Daishowa of Japan, thus changing the name of the US operations to BIG Kaiser, and expanding the product line globally.
- KAISER not only entertained guests at the headquarters, but also during an afternoon tour of Zurich.
One highlight of the tour was the selection of new boring head technology. Released in 2012, this line of high-precision digital boring heads designed and manufactured at the Swiss facility. A small sensor and digital display are built into each tool body, allowing quick and precise adjustment of the tool carrier. The patented design saves time and enables critical boring adjustments down to Ø.00005”.
Machining tests demonstrated the benefits of proper tool selection and tool balancing. Cycle time, chip management and part finish can all be notably improved even on machines that are not particularly robust.
While there is no single brand strategy for machines, the commitment to process optimization is clear in the number of combined mill/turn operations on the shop floor. “We look for a minimum 20 to 30 percent increase in throughput for any new capital investment,” Elmer said. The company also runs one 12-hour shift per day, and targets 30 percent of machining time to be completed during unmanned hours.
High interest in KAISER’s apprenticeship program reflected the common challenge of finding skilled machinists. Each year, a few select students are accepted into KAISER’s four-year program. The apprenticeship combines continuing education in the classroom and on various CNC machine platforms and controls. Over four years, students master fundamental skills and move on to real-world challenges like fixture design or process improvement. Approximately 90 percent of the machinists at KAISER graduated from an apprenticeship, and many continued studies to become master craftsmen. This level of talent, paired with efficient and flexible processes and high quality machines, is the core competency of KAISER.
Click here for more photos of the event.