Modern Machine Shop

SEP 2017

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mmsonline.com September 2017 MMS 79 FEATURE E ven before 12-year-old Brian Ickler first climbed into the driver's seat of his father's custom buggy in the southern California desert, he knew he'd have a future in racing. More than 20 years later, however, Mr. Ickler spends more time in front of a machine tool CNC than behind the wheel of a racecar. It's been that way since 2014, when he began making engine components that his former NASCAR competitors regularly push to the break- ing point (and beyond) in their perpetual quest to shave fractions of a second from each lap. Changing focus hasn't meant compromising ambition. Beginning as a hobbyist before going into the manufacturing business full-time, this driver-turned-shop-owner has watched Ickler Manufacturing grow from 4,500 square feet to 14,000 square feet and from one CNC machine tool to seven in less than four years. Production revolves mostly around two five-axis models that per form both angled 3+2 operations and full simultaneous contouring, while the five-person staff helps keep all equipment (and the business in general) running as efficiently as possible. Rapid growth has prompted the shop to set its sights even higher. More than 90 percent of the work now consists of components that propel people not around a track, but through the clouds. Prepared for Takeoff Although motorsports are a natural focus for a shop owned by a former NASCAR driver, five-axis machining and an emphasis on process planning have opened the door to new aerospace work. BY M AT T DA N FO R D Essential elements of Ickler Manufacturing's "pre- flight checklist" for aerospace machining include a sizeable five-axis machine tool, dovetail workholding, slim shrink-fit toolholders, high-end cutting tools and the latest CAM software tool paths. These quick-turnaround aerospace and defense prototypes are similar in many ways to the motor- sports parts that have driven most of the Moores- ville, North Carolina, company's growth. Similar enough, in fact, that if there's a "preflight check- list" for an effective aerospace machining process, Ickler Manufacturing looks to have checked off all necessary elements before even entering that market. "They're jewels, too," Mr. Ickler says about the kinds of motorsports parts that have fueled most of the shop's success. "They not only have to function; they have to be beautiful. Doing what we're doing now, I'm glad we didn't start off making anything crude. It would've been a lot harder." What has changed is everything surrounding the machining, he says. Lead times are tighter, at one or two weeks compared to five or six, leaving less time for programming and setup. There's a lot more programming to do, too, because a single program doesn't go as far. Unlike the automotive work, the new prototype jobs call for only a few par ts at most, so machines spend more time cutting distinct parts than duplicates. Contending with more parts and more programs also requires robust process documentation, particularly for sensitive aerospace and defense work. On that last point, Mr. Ickler is the first to admit that significant challenges lie ahead. Adding a dedicated qualit y lab and achieving AS910 0 certification, for example, will be essential for a truly secure foothold in the aerospace sector. Still, he insists that Ickler Manufacturing is more than ready. After all, working for NASCAR and Indycar

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