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Link® Manufacturing, with headquarters in Sioux Center, Iowa, is a leader in developing commercial vehicles and equipment suspension systems specially engineered to address the unique needs of OEMs, body builders, fleet owners and operators. For over four decades, Link has been committed to engineering heavy-duty trucking solutions that raise the bar for performance, installation efficiency and overall driver well being.

With a record of 99.5% On-Time Delivery & OE PPM < 300, the company has high standards for its machine tool supplier. That’s why Link is a Doosan Shop.

Ramping up Productivity

Link’s relationship with Ellison Technologies started when Derek Poppema, the company’s Manufacturing Engineer overseeing CNC machines, attended his first IMTS show in Chicago. He told Tim Petersen, his account manager, that the business was evolving rapidly and he was beginning to see a need for more advanced equipment on the shop floor. There was some discussion about whether a horizontal or a vertical mill would be a better choice. After consulting with Tim, Derek suggested the management team consider the VCF 850LSR, an HSK63 taper, large vertical machining center with a 120" wide table and rotating B-axis spindle head.

"This machine allows the use a partition on the 140" long table, creating separate work zones. We use this to our advantage, much like a pallet changer, where an operator can be unloading/loading parts while the spindle is machining in the other work zone, “ Derek said. “Take out the partition and you have the ability to work on very long parts. In our case, that means truck axles.”

With some creative fixturing and the use of the B-axis spindle head, Link could now process multiple faces on the axle part, something they weren't able to accomplish before on the smaller vertical machining centers they were using. This allowed them to cut down on total cycle time as well.

“Not only that, we also relocated some casting parts to the VCF and cut cycle times in half,” Derek said. “We now run four parts in 30 minutes versus an hour.”

50 Taper Workhorse

Incremental growth continued at Link through 2018. It was around that time when Tim demonstrated what a 50 taper horizontal machine could accomplish for them in their shop. At the time all the horizontal work was being done on a 40 taper. “It was quite an eye opener,” Derek said.

Link purchased an NHP 5500 50 taper, 500mm horizontal machining center. The spindle on the NHP 5500 has a 50 hp dual wound built-in spindle motor that rotates at 10,000 r/min and outputs 310 ft-lb of torque. “Since the pallet size was the same as 40 taper machines on the shop floor, all of our fixturing worked on the new machine,” Derek said. “But the cutting capability of the NHP 5500 really caught our attention. It allowed us to use tooling we never dreamed of before and run them harder than ever.”

Derek and his team began to brainstorm what process would benefit from the NHP 5500’s design and capability. They designed a tombstone that had a total of eight parts per pallet and slashed their cycle times from 60 minutes a set down to six minutes. They estimate that the advanced workholding and added machining capability of the NHP 5500 gave Link an annual savings of $140,000 a year for that part.

Another job they moved to the 50 taper was steering knuckles (a vehicle part that contains the wheel hub or spindle and attaches to suspension and steering components), which are part of their product line. The machine’s B axis table is capable of holding bi-directional axial tolerance of 0.001" between 2 bores that have an 11" clearance between them.

“We are also machining bushing surfaces with an 1" end mill with 6" stickout at 190 ipm,” Derek said. “The steering knuckles process had a cycle time of 12 minutes that we got down to three minutes after debugging and tuning, allowing us to save about $24,000 per year.”

Turning the Tide

2018 was also the year Link considered upgrading their turning capabilities. Until then they'd been outsourcing most of their round work, spending almost $2 million. They started with a Lynx 220 LSYC, an 8” chuck horizontal turning center with a live tooling turret, sub-spindle and Y-axis capability.

“These features allow us to process a complete part in one operation,” Derek said. “With the optional LNS barfeeder and parts conveyor, the operator can walk away to do other tasks.”

More Money Savings with Doosan

In 2019, Link bought another NHP 5500 machine and realized additional cost savings. “In this particular application, we were machining a cast part and found 20% extra tool life with the new machine, which equated to $60,000 annual saving in tooling and total cost of production on the part.”

With two NHP 5500 machines sitting right next to each other, Link is thinking ahead to the productivity and spindle utilization they could achieve by adding a linear pallet system to these machines. “With 90 tool magazines on each machine, we can mix and match tooling and run whatever parts, whenever and wherever” Derek said.

Turning capacity keeps growing too, as the company added a Lynx 2100LB to the lineup. It now sits facing the Lynx 220LSYC, a nice little cell run by one operator. This machine is currently running suspension components that were brought back in-house ($104,000 annual savings). The machine is equipped with an LNS barfeeder and a modified parts catcher with a hopper. “More automation is definitely in our future,” Derek says.

The Lynx 2100LB is also used for round work in combination with the Lynx 220 LSYC. Using both turning centers for this process has brought on a savings of $180,000 a year to the company. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that they have only taken back half of the outsourced round work so far.

Great Machines. Great Workforce.

To keep all their Doosan machines working at full capacity in spite of a shortage of skilled operators on the market, Link pursues a proactive “Promote from Within” policy. “Instead of hiring industry veterans who might be set in their ways, our managers walk the floor looking for hard workers who exhibit natural curiosity and an enthusiasm for finding new ways to do things,” Derek said. “We set them up with a machine ‘guru’ who passes on their knowledge to the apprentice.”

Derek sees a lot of advantages to this philosophy. “Our workers are rewarded for hard work with increased responsibility and get to prosper along with the company. We get operators who know how Link likes to get things done, and all of our tribal knowledge is retained and passed down to the next generation.”

With its formula of continuous improvement, combined with an agile workforce running great Doosan machines provided by a hard-working distributor, it is no wonder that 2019 was a record year for Link Manufacturing. But Derek and his team are not complacent types. “There’s always something new we can try to increase production and provide even better quality and value to our customers,” Derek said. “We’re kind of wired not to give up until we find it.”

Are obsolete or worn-out machine tools holding your company back? Our professionals can help you reach the next level. Contact us and we’ll find a way to reduce cycle times, increase production and improve your bottom line, just like we did for Link Manufacturing.

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