Skip to main content

SC Hydraulics – Investing In Automation For Increased Production

Founded in 1953 by Bob Vedder and Willie Mohler, SC Hydraulics has always had their own product line of pumps. They design, engineer, manufacture, and assemble high pressure, air-driven liquid pumps, as well as air and gas boosters which are being used in a variety of industries and applications. They are continuously developing new products to meet the demanding requirements that their domestic and international partners require. “Since the company opened, we have been in the pump manufacturing business,” tells Jun Yang, SC’s shop manager. “Our pumps are used by oil and gas, test labs and to pump sea water, so in the worst environments they need to thrive. We run a lot of 316 material and have many outside processes, but first and foremost we must manufacture all our parts inhouse.” 

Left – Pallets are quickly and easily loaded and unloaded. Everything else is fully automated. Middle Left – Once loaded the pallet system and gantry loader get to work transferring parts to the main spindle for machining and back to the pallet pool once the operation is complete. Middle – The gantry style loader is positioned above the Leadwell lathe and loads and unloads parts from the top. Right – The robotic arm comes down to retrieve machined parts and replace them with castings that need to be processed. It is a simple to program automated solution that allows unattended lights out manufacturing.

Back in 2014 CNC West Magazine met with SC Hydraulics about their newly installed eight pallet Kitamura HX400G/8APC. The Kitamura was their first big jump into lights out manufacturing, and one that over the last eight years changed the way SC Hydraulics looked at running their parts. “We instantly saw value from our Kitamura,” explains Jun. “The speed, the accuracy, the lights out operation. Everything was just an improvement.” SC Hydraulics set their sights on more automation throughout their manufacturing facility and have spent the last several years adding machines that do just that. “When I came on board 17 years ago my robotics experience was a big part of being hired,” continues Jun. “The good news is that the automation is paying off for us. Every step we make has been good for the company and the bottom line. We are a production-based company. We make the same parts repeatedly, so repeatability, and fewer setups is a huge savings. After the Kitamura we began buying bar fed advanced turning centers like the Okuma LB3000 EXII and Ganesh Cyclone 32CS. We load raw material and out comes a finished part in a single setup, and mostly unattended. All the new machines we invest in must be 4 or 5 axis and save on setups and labor costs. The Leadwell LTC-25iASMY lathe and Toptek gantry loader saves us 4 operations.”

The Toptek gantry loader has a 5 pallet system connected to the Leadwell LTC-25iASMY.

SC’s pumps are different sizes, made from different materials, and all have different pressure ratings depending on their usage. SC has hundreds of part numbers that require thousands of pieces to be made. The 65,000sq.ft. Brea, Ca. production center is filled with machining centers of different brands and capabilities, but their newest addition is something you don’t see every day. “Automation is the first thing we think of when buying a new machine,” tells Jun. “If it doesn’t reduce setups or require less human interaction, we are not going to buy it. I have a pair of cast aluminum parts that we were running two shifts on a traditional lathe, netting around 50 parts a day. We couldn’t keep up with the demand and began looking for an automated solution. We had a space limit between machines and didn’t want a robot in the aisles feeding parts. I explained to Karl Izumi of So Cal Machine Tools we needed something more automatic like the Kitamura, but in a lathe. He suggested the Leadwell LTC-25iASMY and a Toptek gantry loader.” 

The Leadwell LTC-25iASMY is a CNC box way turning center with milling & Y-axis. Features include: BMT65 Live Tooling Turret w/ Y-axis travels of 4”, 12” Chuck w/ 4.0” bar capacity, main spindle tool setting, Fanuc 0iTF Control w/ 10.4” color LCD display, through the spindle cooling, 24 position index – 12 tool station bi-directional servo driven turret, 40HP 3,500 RPM main spindle and a 20HP 4,000 RPM sub spindle, parts catcher and conveyer system. Attached to the advanced turning center is the Toptek gantry loader GR-10 pallet station. “The Leadwell lathe is great, but the gantry pallet system makes this setup amazing,” details Jun. “The key is no downtime, saving us setup times and on labor cost.” The automation is simple and effective. There is no robot in the middle of shop floor hanging out. It is all behind and above the machining center. The pallet system is loaded and unloaded by hand, but the demands of the loader are minimal. They only need to place the material in the correct position on the jig. It is super simple, and the parts self-align enough for the gantry loader to reach down and pick them up. The part that needs machining is selected and travels above the machine before being lowered down into the main chuck. At the same time the gantry loader is removing a finished part and bringing it back to the pallet pool. It has a two-position head unit to pick up and put down the parts. Prior to having this automated machining center SC Hydraulics were loading by hand with a person standing at the machine for two shifts. The two parts they bought it to manufacture are 7” diameter aluminum castings. “Since we bought the Leadwell it runs more parts in a single 8-hour shift than we could before on two shifts,” touts Jun. “The parts are better too. We don’t have micron tight tolerances, but we deal in tenths all day long. They have to be precise, and the machine has to run. We’ve been up and running for about a year now and it hasn’t needed any service or repairs.”

SC Hydraulics is only investing in new machining centers that offer multi axis automation to reduce setups and labor costs. The Kitamura (far left) was the first advanced machining center installed back in 2014. Since then they have added multiple systems from Okuma (middle) and Ganesh (right.)

Jun and everyone at SC Hydraulics are very pleased with the production numbers coming off the Leadwell. Every time a company invests in new technology it is a risk. Will the system live up to the hype promised by the salespeople? Will it produce the parts as intended? The pandemic has been to say the least problematic for most everyone on the planet, but with a lot of Asia shut down there was no practical way for Jun and his team to actually see the system working prior to purchase. “This is the first unit in California and maybe even in the United States with this combination,” explains Jun. “Which was too bad because we were not able to go see one running. Covid restrictions made it difficult to do much of anything, so we trusted Karl and watched a lot of YouTube videos. It sounds strange, but the machine and gantry are from Asia and there are a lot of videos showing it in action over there. It was a large investment, but we took the chance and have been happy with it for over a year. Once delivered and installed it has run flawlessly. We get great support from So Cal Machine Tools and trust them to help us purchase a sophisticated machine tool sight unseen. We couldn’t be more pleased with that decision.”

Since joining the team 17 years ago Jun Yang, SC’s shop manager has championed automation throughout the shop for reduced setups and increased production.