KAM Manufacturing Brings Racing DNA to Hybrid Manufacturing
Category: Manufacturing Technology • Aug 17, 2020
By Chuck Schroeder, IMTS Media Representative/Owner – Insight Marketing
As the full-time driver for the #2 Team Penske Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series, Brad Keselowski is already part of one legendary team. He is one of just four people to win both the Cup Series and the Xfinity Series championships. Now he’s creating a winning team of his own as founder of Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (KAM), a contract manufacturer that aims to redefine hybrid manufacturing.
Started in 2018, KAM is no little side venture. Keselowski invested millions of his own dollars, researches new technology, and micromanages important activities. He relentlessly instills a need for speed, excellence, and quality throughout the operation, which includes about 30 people and a 70,000-sq.-ft. facility.
“Quite simply, in the motorsports environment, if you don’t have excellence, you don’t win. If you go long enough without a win, you lose your job. It is the deepest of fires in which to set yourself,” says Keselowski.
To produce excellence, a motorsports team constantly tunes the vehicle. The entire team meets weekly to discuss changes and push the car to its limits.
KAM takes that speed-to-market attitude of a NASCAR team and makes it available to the external marketplace through its hybrid manufacturing capabilities—and Keselowski means something more than the mere combining of additive and subtractive processes. “Hybrid for us is really about having an entire vertical chain,” he says. “We consider all of the digital thread to be part of what the customer should expect to receive from us when we deliver a product.”
Metal AM Foundation
KAM has metal additive manufacturing (AM) systems from SLM, EOS, and GE Concept Laser and material capabilities that include aluminum, titanium, maraging steel, stainless steel, and INCONEL®. An in-house metallurgical lab further supports metal AM.
Subtractive capabilities include a wide array of Mazak CNCs representing vertical and horizontal mills, including the five-axis i-800 and seven-axis technology INTEGREX i-300S. KAM also has a GF Machining Solutions EDM system (electrical discharge machines of the “die sinker” type create complex cavity shapes in tool and die applications).
“We have a dream. We want to have 100 machines in this facility. This will be a mix of additive, subtractive, and other technologies driven by customer demand,” says Keselowski.
The emphasis on metal AM resulted from a conversation Keselowski had with Joe Hoffman, a former Penske teammate who is now COO of his own company, Fibreworks Composites, Morrisville, North Carolina.
“I asked Joe, ‘How’s business—would you do it all over again?’ He looked at me and said, ‘No. If I could change one thing, I would have gone into metal 3D printing, not composites,’” says Keselowski. “Seeing how successful he was, that completely caught me off guard.”
With that input, Keselowski researched hybrid manufacturing, advanced engineering, and simulation services because “it fit really everything I was looking at, from rapid prototyping to full production to CNC machining, but also cutting-edge technology with metal printing,” he says. “All those things combined started the business model for what is now KAM.”
The KAM Approach
As a fully vertical solutions company, KAM builds products in ways that couldn’t be built before. As an example, Keselowski shared an intake manifold designed to boost the performance of a McLaren 2014 MP4-12C supercar. The McLaren originally featured a plastic manifold, but that material could not withstand the higher pressure needed to create the new target performance—something in excess of 600 HP.
Because of the manifold’s advanced internal geometries, it could not be CNC machined in its entirety. Casting was out of the question because the low volume was cost prohibitive and the internal pathways would have been difficult to cast. KAM 3D printed the manifold using a combination 6061 aluminum for the exterior and INCONEL 625 for the critical parts, assembled the pieces and CNC machined essential surfaces to exact tolerances.
“This was a part that, quite honestly, could not have been made any other way,” says Keselowski. He notes that because the strengths and weaknesses of AM and subtractive processes differ, “We feel it’s important to have both of those in the same facility. We’re truly optimizing the processes from the very highest level of engineering all the way down through manufacturing.” Not only are both capabilities in the same facility, the AM, CNC, and design teams work side-by-side to maximize collaboration.
Metal AM magazine chronicled the manifold success in a February 7, 2020, story, interviewing Safa Yousef, lead engineer for ACME Hi-Performance Laboratories, who commissioned the manifold.
“We were able to create these super complex shapes and pieces into actual solid parts. They’ll perform the way we need them to perform,” says Yousef. “The exterior shape that we needed to achieve was possible with 3D printing, but we could also optimize the interior shape.”
Yousef notes that when it comes to part design, KAM “can take it from a sketch off of a napkin and go to full-blown finished production…. That’s what’s great about working with these guys.”
KAM’s computer-aided engineering services combine an entire suite of analysis and simulation tools, and its software lineup includes Siemens NX™, SOLIDWORKS®, Autodesk® Fusion 360®, Rhinoceros® 3D, Autodesk Netfabb® Ultimate and Materialise® Magics.
“We like this hybrid environment where we can do advanced simulation up front,” says Keselowski. “We can find the most optimal configuration, and how we build it will depend on that configuration. We’re not trying to make everything look like an additive part. We realize that additive is just one tool in the bag. Our hybrid approach means we’ll use the best technologies to deliver for the customer.”
While a hybrid approach provides design freedom on the front end, it also creates burdens on the back end when KAM proves to customers that it’s delivering a quality product, which “can be a real choking point” for AM providers. To address that issue, the KAM’s metrology/QC department includes an X-Ray/CT scanner from Pinnacle X-Ray Solutions.
“It’s the only way to dimensionally check internal features,” says Keselowski, who tours 10 to 20 factories and suppliers every year to vet technology that improves production quality and speed.
Failing to Improve
KAM aims to be a world leader in the serial production of hybrid manufactured parts. To get there, Keselowski recognizes that the first part won’t always be the best part.
“If we’re perfect all the time, we’re not innovating and we’re not trying enough new strategies. We have to have failures and we must learn from them, because if you’re not engineering advanced products, you’re going to get beat,” he says.
However, failure is strictly an internal event. For example, failure means printing two design iterations instead of one and learning which customers can accept the rougher AM texture on non-critical part surfaces.
“We’re going to continuously fail to improve, but we’re going to continue to push the envelope,” says Keselowski. One way to accomplish that is by attending IMTS, “the most critical trade show that KAM goes to.”
Benefits of attending include the ability to send the entire team at once because IMTS offers technologies that appeal to team members with AM, design, subtractive, digital, and other focus areas.
“What we get out of IMTS is the ability to see future technology,” says Keselowski.