On the cutting edge
August 29, 2013
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Anniston Army Depot boasts a highly trained workforce and numerous state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. One area where these assets are showcased is the Manufacturing Division.
There, the men and women of ANAD's workforce create parts for nearly every combat vehicle family overhauled or repaired on the installation.
From turret components for the Assault Breacher Vehicle to mine route clearance equipment capable of being attached to a variety of vehicles or parts for a M1 Abrams tank, employees have the expertise and equipment to tackle the task.
And new equipment is making the job quicker and easier.
The division's newest project is a five-axis vertical machining center. This device's capabilities allow the operator to bring the cutting head to the incision point, rather than having to turn the part to make it accessible to the cutting head.
Though the machine is already in place, additional safety measures and necessary final touches mean it will be ready for production operations at the end of September.
Randy Porter, a supervisory engineering technician and chief of the Directorate of Engineering and Quality's Computer Integrated Manufacturing Division, said the large computer numerically controlled, or CNC, machine will increase the installation's machining capacity for large parts.
"We already have a few jobs in mind to do on it," said Joe Lackey, chief of the Manufacturing Division. "This machine is large enough for a turret and some of the smaller vehicles."
In addition to the new machining center, the division is home to a wide variety of equipment capable of every machining function from grinding and lathing to intricate cutting with tight tolerance specifications.
A new laser cutter recently installed is able to slice into steel up to three quarters of an inch thick with accuracy. With its installation, the depot now has two machines with similar capabilities.
"Our workload on thicker steel pieces was so high we couldn't keep up with production using only one machine," said Porter.
The machining and fabrication workloads are assisted by a large variety of CNC machines.
"Manufacturing has over 50 pieces of CNC equipment the Computer Integrated Manufacturing Division is responsible for keeping programmed," said Porter.
Each machine is designed to save the workforce time by eradicating extra steps.
In addition to lathes, grinders and cutters, this includes a newly installed tubing bender.
"It is just like everything CNC. Once you have the machine set up, you can change out the parts and it will do everything automatically," said Porter.
The division's newest grinders replaced models created in the 1950s, taking a manual process which could produce one piece at a time and upgrading the procedure to one which can create multiple copies of the same part, exactly to specifications.
A robot welder also works on a five-axis system and is capable of welding 25 parts without a break.
"Certain jobs have more than one set up and this machine is useful for those parts," said Porter.
One CNC lathe in the division can create parts up to 42 inches in diameter and the four electro discharge machines, or EDMs, which cut with electric current under water, can make an incision in metal that adheres to tolerances up to two ten thousandths of an inch.
"With the EDMs we can create odd shapes, such as square holes, in one operation. On conventional machines it would take several steps," said Lackey.
Other equipment, such as the plasma cutter and water jets create parts from metal several inches thick.
"The water jets will cut any type of material that can be cut with an abrasive wheel. This includes glass, paper, wood, metal and Kevlar," said Lackey.
Using water and sand pressurized to 55,000 pounds per square inch, the cutter can slice through steel up to six inches thick.
One of the greatest benefits of many of the CNC machines, particularly the laser cutters and EDMs, is the fact the pieces are finished as soon as they leave the machine, no grinding or other machining process is necessary.
And each plan created for these devices is able to be stored as a computer file, ensuring the program is ready to go immediately, whenever the component is needed.
"With the new technology, set up times are quicker," said Lackey. "After the original plan is made, it is saved, so you can go right back to work."