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Johnny and Jose were able to train the magazine guy how to program basic operations on Robeka in under 10 minutes.

It’s been ten years exactly since CNC West Magazine spent the day at Corona, California based aerospace manufacturer Cal-Draulics, Inc. According to Operations Manager Jose Gonzalez “everything has changed”, but the owners still met me at the door, they still have on time delivery, still provide exceptional quality, and still supply 100% customer satisfaction.

The caption on page 22 of the 2014 Aerospace and Defense Issue reads “Doug and Jeanette Johnson have owned Cal-Draulics since 1992 and love coming to work every day; they will probably do it until they are 90.” The article hypes the decades, and I mean decades long history of their involvement in aerospace manufacturing. It goes into Cal-Draulics build it, assemble it, test it approach to everything they do, and touts being a great place to work. Initially everything seemed the same, same buildings, same parts, same smiling faces, but then came the robots.

Manufacture, assemble and test is the Cal-Draulics way. Left Robbie meticulously assembles a disposable sensor for the Cobra helicopter. Right – Since our last visit all the fluid testing has been relocated to the second building. Here they test a variety of fluids, the most common being MIL- PRF -5606 red oil and Skydrol hydraulic fluid. Every assembly that leaves Cal-Draulics has been 100% tested.

It isn’t often that adults brag about getting a robot for Christmas, but that’s exactly the case for operations manager Jose Gonzalez. He was gleeful as a kid in a candy store and as proud as any parent when talking about OB1 and Robeka. “Take a look in the shop and you will see right away the changes we’ve made,” tells Jose. “The last article focused on the mobility and flexibility of our pair of Trak 2op portable machining centers and touched on our Hardinge. Those are pretty much the only machines still out there from your last visit. We took what we learned from having those cells and expanded the lean manufacturing concept into automation with Okuma and collaborative robots from Productive Robotics.”

Seven years ago, Cal-Draulics set out to replace a few aging CNC lathes with something newer and faster. Kevin Larson (formerly of Gossiger) introduced them to Okuma’s Genos line. “The Genos Okumas are a Japanese machine manufactured in Taiwan,” explains Jose. “You get the Japan quality at a lower price. Kevin hyped the features and price of the Okuma GENOS L-250. It’s a compact machining center ideal for small to medium-sized parts. It offers versatility, accuracy, and productivity with its rigid construction, powerful 7.5hp spindle, and advanced OSP control system. We took a chance and ordered one. We liked it so much the very next month we ordered another one. Then another, and then one more with a bar feeder. We call our four L-250 the “little Okumas.”

The little Okumas were such a success that owners Doug and Jeanette began researching a larger option with added milling capabilities. “We wanted a machine that could deliver a completed part and run lights out,” tells Jose. “Okuma was having an open house in North Carolina and Keven flew me and our shop supervisor Johnny out to see their LB3000EXII Space Turn in person. The LB3000EXII is a high-performance lathe with excellent machining qualities. It features a rigid construction and powerful spindle, allowing for heavy-duty cutting operations. The machine is also equipped with a variety of advanced features, including a Fanuc 31i-B5 control system, a 12-station turret, and a B-axis for multi-axis machining. The LB3000EXII is ideal for a wide range of applications, including turning, boring, milling, and drilling. After seeing it at the show we immediately purchased one upon our return home. Based on our previous success with Okuma, we ordered the second one while we were still getting the first one up and running. It is a popular machine, and the wait time was such that we wanted the redundancy before even getting the first one fully operational. The second one came online in 2019 and we call them the BAOs (big ass Okumas). Within a year we were able to accomplish our goal of lights out operation on the BAOs. Now they both average 22 hours a day of production.”

Left – Deburring is an important part of the manufacturing process at Cal-Draulics. Being able to view a part close up is key to removing any burs. They just picked up a 40x vision system from Quality Control Solutions of Temecula, CA. to assist in the process. Right – Beamer Laser engraver is brand new. They just got trained on it yesterday. The new laser is 100 times faster than their old system and made in the USA. They got it primarily for a landing gear assembly, but it has endless possibilities.

Lights out manufacturing was a big step into the future for Cal-Draulics and set the wheels turning towards more automated solutions. Robotics came up in meetings, but where to start. “Naturally, we began by looking into a Fanuc robotics system,” details Jose. “They are a well-known and respected product, but the cost is a big commitment. Honestly, they are more complex than we really needed and take up a lot of area when you factor in safety. Doug went to a show and ran across a couple robotic options and handed me a pamphlet he picked up from Productive Robotics. I began watching videos and was really drawn to how easy and versatile the collaborative robot was. I called up Productive Robotics and spoke to Kevin Miester on a Wednesday. That Friday, Doug and I were driving up to Carpinteria to see it in person. On the way back Doug half joked “We have your truck, why didn’t we just load it up and bring it back with us.” I wish I could say we turned around and got it, but we waited until Monday to order one. Kevin was like “we have it in stock, you should have come back.” So, within a week we had our first collaborative robot delivered. Johnny and I put it together in less than an hour. Probably could have done it faster but we put the base on backwards.”

User friendly, versatility, price point

The OB7 is a 7-axis robotic arm and comes with various payload options and reach. Cal-Draulics opted for the OB7 Stretch model since their parts are small and having a longer extension would add versatility. After a three-hour drive to Carpentaria, it took only five minutes to train Jose and Johnny on the Productive Robotics OB7 cobot system through their simple and intuitive drag and drop interface. “Teaching us to use the cobot was simple and fast,” details Jose. “It learns by doing. You move the arm where you want it to go, and it creates the path. Want to set a way point? Click a button. Set your arm travel to avoid possible obstacles by physically moving the head in the direction you want it to go, and it remembers, and is repeatable. Open the jaws, set. Close the jaws, set. Move to this position, set. It is as simple as activating the learn mode on the handheld controller and away you go. It is so fast and easy to setup that we don’t even bother saving most operations because it is just faster to reprogram. If we move it to another machine all it takes is position it, set the feet, and program. My son, Aaron was 12 years old when he came with me to work after judo practice. He is in all white and I told him don’t get dirty or your mom will kill me. He has no experience doing anything but playing video games and being a kid. He knew I was excited about getting a robot, so he was interested in how it worked. Five minutes later and still perfectly clean he trained OB1 to open the door, close the door, place the part on the table, and pick it back. He told me It’s so user friendly I will train you to do it too.”

The OB7 cobot is programmed by doing. It learns by going through the desired motions. It begins its cycle by opening the door, wiggling the part to break it off, then closes the door while still holding the part.

The goal was to achieve lights out manufacturing on the little Okumas and Jose and his team hit the mark within the first week. “We started slowly, 20 parts, then 40, then 4 hours, and within a week we had a full second unmanned shift,” boasts Jose. “We were scared a little, but mostly curious about what the robots were doing while we were gone. We got a Ring camera and set it up so I could sit at home and watch it run. You can order them with a built-in vision system, but we went low tech at the time. My Christmas present from Doug and Jeanette was a second cobot from Productive Robotics. So, from Halloween to New Year’s we went from no robots to having a pair of them. They are named Robeka and OB1.”

A third cobot is already in the works, but this time configured for the milling department. The Productive Robotics OB7 cobot standard system comes lathe friendly. You need to add in a few more bells and whistles to the milling version since it needs pneumatic air to operate the work holdings. “We originally figured a robotics system would cost us 100k,” explains Jose. “Thankfully the OB7 systems are economical, and we were able to easily get both built to our specs, with tax, and delivered for less than our budget. The milling version will cost us a tad bit more, but it is still a bargain when you consider the possibilities. Don’t get me wrong it is still a capital investment, but the ROI is insanely fast. Remember, we are getting an extra full shift of work out of each one every day. No breaks, no sick days, just 100% hard working robots. Our team loves working with OB1 and Robeka, they are part of the family. I really mean it when I say work with. Collaboration robotics is no joke. You can be right next to them and if they don’t contact anyone they go right along with their own business.” OB7 collaborative robots are fully compliant with 102018-1 safety requirements. Cal-Draulics doesn’t have to worry about a cage taking up valuable space, or anyone getting injured because safety sensors are built into every joint of the OB7.

Jose would like to tell you all about the amazing support he gets from Productive Robotics, but other than the occasional question that they answer instantly Cal-Draulics hasn’t had need for after sales support. “We’ve had zero down time on either system and the maintenance is nothing,” details Jose. “Wipe em down and let em run. That said, Productive Robotics are a great company to partner with. We’ve had probably 6 different organizations come to see the robots in action. Almost everyone who has visited has purchased one. Mr. Lee at Corona High School just ordered one for their STEM Academy, and Glendale College came here, saw it, bought one. This is a product you must see to believe. I would have a hard time selling them over the phone but give me a few minutes in person and you will sell yourself on the cobot. You will wish you owned a machine shop just to buy one. You think I’m joking but wait for your hands on demo. The beauty of this system is I can let you touch it and experience its features without worry of messing things up. You go into all these shops for the magazine, but has anyone ever let you program or run anything? Probably not, right? I will train you to program Robeka and you will share in my excitement, guaranteed.” Editor’s Note: No kidding, in under 5 minutes Jose had me confidently transfer a part from inside the Okuma and set it on one side of the table, release it, pick it back up and relocate it to another location. All by moving the arm and pressing a waypoint button. I might need my own OB1 to make coffee while writing CNC West Magazine articles.

Once the door is closed the machine is restarted by pressing the button. The parts are then dropped or placed into a grid system on the table. The process is then repeated. Each cobot delivers a fully unmanned shift 6 days a week.

Everything has changed in ten years but the core competency of Cal-Draulics. They are a 100% aerospace tier one supplier to the biggest and best in the business. They design, build to print, machine, assemble, and test hydraulic type valves and systems. “Every part we make we assemble and test,” explains Jose. “We typically don’t take on projects that only requires the machining aspect of the part. Our all under one roof process is what sets us apart. Doug always says the reason we hundred percent test is there’s no convenient place in the sky to pull over if something goes wrong.” The average part size is about 1” in diameter and between 1” and 3” long.  Cal-Draulics can easily go smaller or larger thanks to their little and BAO. Almost everything starts on a lathe and finishes on the lapper or hone before assembly and testing. 

Along with new machines and robots, Cal-Draulics has added employees. They were able to navigate the pandemic without any layoffs and have focused on hiring competent young people throughout the organization. “We work closely with a few of the local schools like Norco College Apprenticeship Program and the Corona High School Stem Academy (see CNC West Aerospace Issue February/March 2020 for information on Corona High’s program.) As an example, you will meet Lizette Martinez; she came right from high school and works in our quality lab. She graduated four years ago, and we met her in Mr. Lee’s class. We support as many neighborhood grassroots courses as we can. That might be through internships, direct hires, or even hosting field trips. Doug and Jeanette will work here forever, but they know the importance of fresh talent injected into the industry to keep things going for years to come. Our staff is a balanced blend of youth and experience.”

Automation as part of their continuous improvement has help keep pricing stable and customers happy, but Jose is quick to point out Doug and Jeanette’s willingness to listen as a big part of Cal-Draulics’ ongoing success. “We are lucky that we have great bosses who let us throw out some crazy notions,” laughs Jose. “Many of them get put into practice, but not all. There is of course a pile of ideas filed under shattered dreams, but overall, they are open to suggestions from everyone on how we can advance as a company. We are making parts better, faster, adding new product lines, and growing sales thanks to our efficiency.” Jose started at Cal-Draulics 16 years ago as a match fitter. He would get through his work so he could go over and help on the more exciting CNC machines. He couldn’t wait to let me put my hands on the cobots.  He radiated enthusiasm as we chatted. If Doug and Jeanette will be here till their 90, I’d wager so will Jose. Everyone talks about company culture, but it’s the real deal at Cal-Draulics, no wonder everyone wants to work here past retirement age.

Left – OB1 waits in ready as the first article is being completed. On this run he will stop every five parts and alert the operator to check a specific feature before continuing. Right – Liz Martinez was a student in Corona High’s STEM Academy. She credits Mr. Lee and the fourth year engineering project for giving her a skill set that she uses every day in the QC lab.