Allied Cycle Works is a Made-In-America bicycle brand based in Bentonville, Arkansas. Allied was formed out of the recognition that there was nothing really separating bikes from bikes, as most bicycle companies were outsourcing to Asian manufacturing for their bikes. Allied’s mission was to build better bikes here in America.
Allied Cycle works is competing directly with off-shore manufacturing. They need to take advantage of anything that will give them the edge with efficiency, which means adding automation. Sam Pickman, one of the founders of Allied, enlisted Ben VandeHoef, with Phillips Corporation, to help with the project. Ben is an OPTO (optimizing your machining process) application engineer at Phillips. Ben says, “There are some places that you need to go in and convince the customer that automation is a solution.” That wasn’t the case with Allied. Sam says, “We’re going head to head with Asian manufacturing, and the only way to do it is to pull costs closer in line, and for us, efficiency and automation are the only way that we’re going to be able to make it.”
Allied Cycle Works needed a system that could:
- Run parts through the night
- Handle a wide variety of parts
- Easily add and change between parts
- Integrate with their HAAS VF3 SS with a TRT210
Allied has a wide variety of parts but generally runs lots of 50 parts. Because of this, they needed a system that was easy to do changeovers with and wouldn’t require a ton of supporting tooling. They needed a flexible solution that could support a high mix of parts.
Ben returned to Sam and the team at Allied with two solutions: a Phillips custom solution utilizing a UR robot and VersaBuilt’s CNC Mill Automation System. Ben proposed both systems but was confident that the VersaBuilt system would be the best solution. Pickman reports the reasons Allied chose to automate with Versabuilt was,
Allied Cycle Works BC40
“VersaBuilt’s strategy of using one interface on the robot (MultiGrip Gripper and jaws) to connect to the workholding means you can adapt any part to the system really easily. The concept is a no brainer” -Sam Pickman
Allied has automated dozens of part numbers using dovetail jaws on a 5-Axis CNC
When the system showed up at Allied, Ben, the installer for this project, remembers thinking,
“Could this actually work?” -Ben VandeHoef
This was Ben’s first Mill Automation System installation, and he admits that it was a bit of a learning curve. It took about a week to complete the entire project, including reproving tools and locations and learning how to add parts to the automation system. Once he got it, he got it. His next installation of the system took a day and a half.
How has the System Been Accepted?
Allied is a small shop; they have two machines run by one operator. When the robot was rolled on the shop floor, Drake, the shop operator, had some concerns. “What does this mean for me?” Drake did not, in fact, lose his job. Drake is all about it now. Sam reports, “He realized that he doesn’t have to do a bunch of really redundant boring stuff and gets to focus on setups and just using his brain more. The Mill Automation system isn’t meant to replace operators; it is meant to elevate the role of existing staff.”
Since the system was installed, they have added 17 part numbers and are adding parts every day. Pickman says,
VersaBuilt Automation Systems reduce the time and effort involved in adding new parts to automation
“[The Mill Automation System] is a really great product. I can’t tell you how easy it is to add parts. We go through a whole part library, and we haven’t had a part yet that we couldn’t make. It takes a little bit of figuring out, but man, it just goes so quickly. We’re running new parts in 30 minutes- from when we decide to implement the part to when it’s running on the machine.” -Sam Pickman
Pickman and the team at Allied cycles recognize the Mill Automation System as a tool. Sam says, “Just like any new tool, you start to realize what it’s capable of and what else it can do. It gets people thinking about what’s possible and what other ways we can be more efficient.”
Allied uses two types of jaws, the Universal Top Jaws and Dovetail Jaws, which have gotten them through most of their parts so far. They are just starting to work with cutting soft jaws for their second operation parts.
VersaBuilt CNC Mill Automation System unloading a finished part
“We are really happy with the system. It is incredibly well thought out and has allowed us to keep our spindles running for 2-3 times longer than we were previously.”
The team at Allied Cycle Works has acknowledged that automation is crucial to keeping their business competitive in the market. They are continuously improving efficiency with tools that help make better parts faster. Sam Pickman knows how important these tools are in the shop and is working on adding automation to other areas of Allied as well.
Are you interested in learning more about Allied Cycle Work’s solution? You can learn more about the Mill Automation System HERE.