Reduce, reuse, recycle is a sound environmental practice, one that applies equally well to soda cans, Styrofoam egg crates, and . . . tractor engines? That’s what the employees of CNH Industrial Reman think. Since 2009, the Springfield, Missouri, company has prevented more than 20,000 tons of tired engines, worn out drivelines, leaky hydraulic systems, and end-of-life fuel pumps from going to the landfill. In fact, on a busy day, CNH Reman processes 70,000 pounds of core returns that would otherwise have been scrapped.
Of course, the folks at CNH Industrial Reman vehemently reject the word recycling, and most even cringe at rebuild. “Rebuilding is not the same as remanufacturing,” says general manager Tom Hilmes. “The products we make here are as good as new, and in some cases, even better.”
In their 250,000-square-foot facility, the employees at CNH Industrial Reman work on a wide variety of remanufacturing activities. Excluding the vehicle chassis and interior, virtually every component of CNH Industrial equipment can be remanufactured. Cores are disassembled, cleaned, and verified, then repaired, re-machined, assembled, and tested for original OEM performance.
Starting with just 9 employees, the company has since grown to 250, and plans to add more. In less than 6 years, revenue has nearly tripled, and the company now carries more than 3000 part numbers in its remanufactured products catalog.
At least part of this success is due to an “open book” management approach, which Hilmes says encourages employees to “Think, Act, and Participate.”
For example, each employee receives basic financial training, so they can understand how the business works, and how their actions can impact the numbers. This supports the “Think” part of Hilmes’ aphorism. They are provided with clear production and quality metrics by which to measure themselves and their peers, giving them the opportunity to “Act” when targets are not achieved. And finally, employees are encouraged to “Participate” in company growth, and are supported through career advancement and individual development initiatives, ultimately leading them to a better quality of life.
The results are impressive. What starts out as greasy, mud-caked, and often broken, tractor and backhoe components leaves CNH Industrial Reman weeks later as remanufactured replacement parts, saving customers 20 to 40 percent of the cost of new factory-direct replacements. Their slogan is Reborn in America, and they take it seriously.
They’re also serious about their own equipment. In contrast to the sad alternator cores and rusty water pumps pouring onto the receiving dock every day, CNH Industrial Reman’s production floor is clean and well organized. Humidity is maintained at a constant 55 percent to prevent corrosion of cast iron components, and the shop houses an eclectic yet high-tech mix of modern machine tools, computerized assembly areas, an inspection lab rivaling that of most aerospace facilities, and even a Class 6 clean room.
CNH Industrial Reman has been a Haas user since March of 2012. Starting with a Haas VF-5 vertical machining center, the equipment list has since expanded to include a VF-2YT, a pair of ST-30SS CNC lathes and, most recently, a VF-6/40 VMC equipped with 4-axis capability.
Production supervisor Robert Randolph explains that 4-axis machining is new to them. “We try to automate wherever possible,” he says. “In this case, we wanted to begin remanufacturing some large transmission splines, but without a new machine, we were faced with indexing them manually. And the additional 14" of X-axis travel on the VF-6 also lets us process some parts that don’t fit on the other equipment.”
They picked a tough part for the new machine. In order to return the worn shafts to original specifications, they are first ground down below the spline root diameter, then built up to an oversize condition with weld stock; this leaves a tough, irregular surface with a hardness of 60 HRC. A V-shaped cutter – in a grade and geometry that Randolph is keeping close to his vest – is then used to machine each spline. “That’s the secret sauce,” he says. “We spent 18 months exploring different cutter options with a number of suppliers before finding one that worked.”
Transmission splines aren’t the only challenging work flowing across CNH Reman’s Haas equipment. The smallest machining center, the VF-2YT, is part of a cell devoted to connecting rod remanufacturing. Here, the rod and cap are bolted together, tightened to the correct operating torque, and placed into a fixture. A Renishaw probing system then checks the bores on either end of the assembly for size and position, and the program is adjusted accordingly. Unlike many connecting rod assemblies, the ones remanufactured at CNH Industrial Reman are not honed. Randolph explains that boring produces more accurate center-to-center positioning of the bores, and eliminates any issues with bend or twist.
Each of CNH Industrial Reman’s machining centers was ordered with Haas Automation’s Wireless Intuitive Probing System, and the company has made good use of that technology. Automatic input of tool dimensions and part locations is accomplished using the macro programs that come standard with the system, and in several instances, Randolph and his team developed their own custom probing routines.
One of these is on the VF-5, which is also equipped with quick-change workholding pallets. Here an operator can load a transmission housing or engine block, push cycle start and the machine does the rest, automatically measuring part features and updating the NC program based on actual dimensions. This allows for surprising productivity, especially considering the onesie-twosie nature of CNH Industrial Reman’s part mix. “The probing system really shines for us,” Randolph says. “Setups take around 15 minutes, and most of that is spent on machine cleanup.”
They’re also quite happy with the accuracy and repeatability of the Haas machines. For example, the bores on the housings just mentioned are “rough” milled with a 1" solid carbide endmill before taking a final pass with a boring head. According to Randolph, the holes are round within 0.0003" before the boring pass. “The VF-5 was one of our first machines. It was holding a few tenths when we got it, and it’s still holding a few tenths today,” he says. “These are very accurate, repeatable machines. We simply don’t run into any hiccups.”
Even if you’re less than faithful about hauling the recycling down to the curb every Tuesday, you have to admire the mission of CNH Industrial Reman and its people. Through their activities, literally thousands of tons of worn-out equipment gains a second life. This promotes sustainability and preserves valuable resources. The remanufacturing process also brings benefits to CNH Industrial corporate, in that product failure modes are identified post mortem, giving design engineers a clear path to continuous improvement.
Lastly, it provides farmers, construction companies, and equipment dealers a chance to extend the life of their products. As Tom Hilmes explains, without the option to remanufacture a tractor or front-end loader that’s now out of production, owners would be forced to purchase replacement equipment at a much higher cost. While this might be good for OEMs, none would argue it’s tough on entrepreneurs struggling to stay afloat.
“Some product lines would cease to exist without remanufacturing,” Hilmes points out. “Capital equipment would reach end-of-life far sooner, and otherwise viable machinery would be scrapped due to the failure of a critical component that cannot be replaced. Remanufacturing reduces total cost of ownership for everyone. Simply put, it’s the lifeblood of farming.”