As product designers aggressively try to find better and more cost efficient ways to produce products, one manufacturer stands out with its processes as a choice that gets better over time.
Metal spinning is an age-old art, but even high technology manufacturers have rediscovered that Acme Metal Spinning has the solution to many of their design problems. With an unusual ability to spin a broad range of materials in very large diameters to 120 inches, Acme stands out for its exceptional capabilities. Even in its most basic form, there is no other process like metal spinning as conservative with material, simple to tool up, yet produces precision and repeatable quality. It's fast to produce and is completely flexible in its application to many products in many industries. Acme, as you will see, takes these metal spinning processes even farther.
To those who know that Acme Metal Spinning dates back to 1908 may also think this is when the process first began. Not true.
5,000 years ago the Messopotamians discovered that spinning was an ideal method for making pottery and eating utensils. The Egyptians applied the technique to precious metal to produce containers like chalices and cups. But it wasn't until the early 1860's that the process really began to be accepted for manufacturing parts. Just prior to World War I, the process began to compliment metal stamping and lathe turning as a less costly and faster alternative.
Acme Metal Spinning originally began at North Star Speciality Company, a general sheet metal shop with a metal spinning department. In 1919, the metal spinning operation became a separate specialized business and through many changes and expansions continues on into the '90's.
Today's parts produced at Acme bear little resemblance of centuries ago. For example, Acme's parts are cryogenic tanks, decorative light fixtures, filtration systems, chemical and food processing containers.
Acme's accumulated experience over 85 years has been enhanced with the latest computerized spinning processes and equipment with the result that its operations are highly cost-effective with unusually fast part turn around.
Acme's manufacturing approaches not only make them highly competitive with metal stamping, but spinning is often the process choice over deep drawing, hydroforming and die casting.
By definition, metal spinning is a method of forming flat metal discs or pre-formed metal workpieces on a metal spinning lathe into conical, hemispherical and cylindrical shapes.
According to Bruce Johnston, Acme Vice President, metal spinning is inherently a low volume production process. As quantity requirements increase, stamping becomes a more cost-effective choice, particularly if the stamping tool requirements are nominal. However, as the part diameter increases and tool costs for stamping increase, metal spinning usually is the more economical choice.
Metal spinning also competes favorably with a variety of plastic fabrication processes, especially where the cost of metal is often less than expensive petroleum-based material.
Quantities, tooling costs and time-to-market are all important factors in choosing one process over another, according to Johnston. Often to launch a product, Johnston reports, Acme will spin part prototypes or test market quantities while permanent tools are being made. That's an economical way to launch a product, check its acceptance, modify it if needed and then begin making permanent production tooling.
Acme's ability to turn prototype orders in just a few days wins over many customers. A good example is Twin City Fan and Blower, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment and long-time Acme customer. Its requirements include prototype components for a variety of products in production quantities of 100 or less. Acme's metal spinning processes provide the ideal solution.
To say Acme's metal spinning operations are customer driven is an understatement. There's a strong presence of the craft skills that over 100 successful years in the business generates. But there's been a steady transferral of hand skills to computer-controlled operations with effective results.
This really shows in the type of customers the company has retained and grown with over the decades. Minnesota Valley Engineering, a producer of cryogenic tanks, has been an Acme customer for over thirty years. Acme first produced these tanks in the 1960's with traditional spinning machines using flat stainless steel discs and shaping them using hand tools to form the proper cylindrical shape. The skill of the operator was critical to producing a quality finished part. To do it repetitively with consistency took not only skill but a totally dedicated operator with excellent concentration skills.
Today's metal spinning processes include computer-aided design and CNC spinning equipment. The craft ability is ever-present but it's translated into designing the computer programs which automatically produce the parts and with far greater speed, higher quality and consistency. The design and manufacture of these low temperature storage tanks and vessels has become a highly sophisticated, big business. The containers have a multiplicity of uses including the transport of animal semen for breeding purposes through artificial insemination. In this industry, Minnesota Valley Engineering has grown to be one of the worlds largest suppliers of cryogenic tanks. Acme is helping in this growth by supplying innovative spinning processes to keep pace with accurate and acceptable product prototypes and fast turnaround on production runs.
Acme maintains a large inventory of tools for both prototype and production run work. Tooling is made of both laminated wood and mild steel. Both types are far less costly than the heat-treated tool steel required for metal stamping or deep drawing. This tool inventory gives the company an ability to respond very fast and economically on a new project.
"We can quote on a job one afternoon and deliver prototype parts in a few days", says Mike Mokita, General Manager. "We're not able to do that on all work, but we do it most of the time when needed on a new product. Normal delivery is two to three weeks with complex jobs requiring 4 to 6 weeks." "Acme is not afraid to try new things to help out a customer," Mokita added. This is particularly true in prototype work where Acme is continually challenged with new materials, shapes and sizes. The ability to make parts quickly from increasingly thicker materials - 3/4 inch steel is one of the most notable -- has made Acme's offerings even more appealing.
The company's fast turnaround is enhanced because it does all tool design in-house. Already-made tool components in a vast tool library gives Acme a head start on many jobs. Add the skill and experience of its tool makers to quickly design any missing elements and it's easy to see how the company has kept pace with the growing needs of customers like Minnesota Valley Engineering and Twin City Fan Blower.
Acme manufactures parts in many standard and exotic materials including various alloy steels, stainless, aluminum, copper and precious metals. Its size capabilities range from less than an inch up to 120" diameter. The fact that it works with a broader range of materials and in sizes that are beyond many metal spinners, sets the company apart and is important for its long term customer relationships.
Another Acme strength is its excellent equipment. Acme's two-roller, 100 horsepower drive CNC controlled spinning machine has a capacity of 48" diameter parts of 0.750" thick mild steel. The company's 60" CNC controlled spinning machine has a capacity of 0.250" thick mild steel while its recently-installed 120" capacity, hydraulic-assisted spinning lathe gives it versatility not found in most spinning plants.
In addition to a wide range of hand, hydraulic and CNC controlled spinning lathes, the company has support machines for performing other operations such as trimming, beading, welding and hole making.
Acme grew from a regional supplier to Midwest companies right after World War II to a national manufacturer supplying many large industries. It sells to giants like General Electric and 3M Company and to aerospace leaders like Boeing and General Dynamics. The industries it serves between both coasts include the heating and air conditioning, filtration, architectural cryogenic, food processing, agricultural, chemical and lighting, not to mention a continuing stream of small emerging companies with new products.
According to Johnston, Acme's future promises continued growth with no foreseeable technology that will replace the metal spinning process. With the full impact of CNC and computerization still to be felt, the creative application of metal spinning has a long way to go and the next decade the company should see solid growth.