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Sawing/Cutting

A firm grip

By Lynn Stanley

Above: F-1 Firearms incorporates advanced modern weapon design features into its AR-15 automatic and semi-automatic rifle systems.

Manufacturer brings cut work in-house, reduces scrap and saves time with cost-effective band saw

October 2015 - It’s not a sound one expects to hear in a manufacturing facility—the report of a rifle above the din of production equipment. At F-1 Firearms LLC the loud, sharp cracks of rifle shots are heard daily from a firing range tucked below its production floor. The Spring, Texas, company manufactures tactical weapons and components for military and law enforcement as well as semi-automatic sporting/hunting rifles for commercial use. F-1 Firearms also provides private-label manufacturing services for OEMs and FFL (Federal Firearms License) Class 7 manufacturers.

The company was founded in 2012 to incorporate advanced modern weapon design features into semi-automatic and automatic rifle systems. The first prototypes, made with exotic alloys such as aluminum and stainless steel, were evaluated and tested in 2013. Performance exceeded MIL (military) specifications. 

Upper and lower receiver sets which house the mechanical parts of a gun; hand guards that attach to the front of a firearm to grip the weapon; and two models of AR-15 rifles comprise the bulk of F-1 Firearms’ output.

FFJ 1015 sawing image1

Bulk cutting

Slicing through raw material such as aluminum billets and hollowed out round bar stock is the first step in a manufacturing process that takes roughly a week to produce a test-ready rifle. The company was outsourcing its cut work, but the use of local suppliers could sometimes make it challenging for F-1 Firearms to control its inventory. If precut material was not available, the manufacturer used its own waterjet machine to produce the bulk cuts it needed, but that work “consumed a great deal of time since the operator could only cut one billet at a time,” says Production Manager Jacob Ward. As its shelves emptied of stock, F-1 Firearms had to perform another round of bulk cuts to keep material flowing to subsequent processing, assembly and finishing operations. 

Inventory building

Sawing raw material on the manufacturer’s existing equipment proved equally challenging. “We had to use saw horses to support the material being fed into the saw,” says Ward. “Cut quality could be troublesome because of the saw’s tendency to travel. If we needed to cut different materials, different blades were required.”

To improve operational costs and keep the stocking requirements from bottlenecking the firearm maker’s growing output, it sought out a new sawing system and eventually chose Behringer Saws Inc.’s HBE Dynamic Series horizontal band saw.

“We knew F-1 Firearms wanted to increase output and improve efficiency without sacrificing cut quality,” says Matt Medeiros, regional sales manager for Morgantown, Pennsylvania-based Behringer, which builds high-performance automatic band saws and circular cold saws for diverse applications. 

“The HBE321A is a cost-effective, everyday workhorse that has been engineered with innovative performance features,” says Medeiros, and Behringer customized the unit. “We equipped this band saw with vertical and portal clamping to allow F-1 Firearms to cut multiple billets at one time.”

FFJ 1015 sawing image2

The machine, which began cutting material in early 2015, helps F-1 Firearms meet current monthly production demands and has the capacity to support future growth. 

“We keep material in stock because we don’t want to have to pause or stop production,” notes Ward. Aluminum billets are cut from 12-ft.-long stock into 8-in.-long pieces that can range from 1.75 in. to 4.5 in. thick. “On the waterjet it would take 10 minutes to cut one 8-in. block,” Ward continues. “The Behringer saw has reduced that processing time by about 80 percent. We’re able to stack pieces and cut six to eight pieces at a time. We can also cut different materials with the same blade.”

Intuitive accuracy

A servo-driven ball screw design powers the HBE’s cutting pressure control system, which automatically adjusts blade pressure to maintain precise balance between pressure and feed rate for improved cutting quality and faster cutting rates. An electrically powered ball screw-driven material feed gripper maintains material position for greater accuracy. 

“Accuracy is critical for F-1 Firearms because of the tight tolerances we have to meet,” says Ward. “Once we input the proper data for length, the HBE automatically adjusts for the other variables and gives us an accuracy rating of ± 0.005 in. The automatic blade tension eliminates bow and deflection to provide straight cuts, which are crucial for F-1 Firearms. 

“We’re very quality driven at each phase of the process,” he continues. “The saw is intuitive. It senses the right amount of cutting pressure to apply and automatically adjusts to variable cutting conditions.”

The real test for F-1 Firearms is the saw’s ability to perform interrupted cutting. “We cut 17-in.-long extrusions out of hollow, round stock for hand guards every day,” Ward explains. “This type of cutting usually causes faster blade wear and it can even damage a blade. With the HBE we have cut hundreds of these extrusions and the original blade is still good.” 

FFJ 1015 sawing image3

Making it count

The cutting pressure control system helps prolong blade life. “We don’t have to worry about blade longevity,” continues Ward. “We get more cuts per blade and it leaves a nice finish as well.”

The company may consider adding a carbide-tipped blade for daily bulk cutting when the saw reaches full production capacity—capacity supported in part by efficiencies F-1 Firearms has gained with its new saw. 

“We have significantly reduced scrap with the new saw,” notes Ward. “Previously we had to cut a 9-in. block to get an 8-in. piece. We’ve eliminated the need for that with the HBE. Recouping material means we save money. Also, cutting too much material can wear on tooling.”

Safety is as important to F-1 Firearms as realized cost savings. “Our other saw had an open configuration,” Ward says. “The HBE is enclosed with safety guards. It has also been designed to sense an overload and shut down to save both the operator and the saw blade.”

A cast iron dual-column construction gives the HBE a rigidity that eliminates operating stress and vibration while enhancing blade tension. “We get minimal vibration and noise,” Ward says. “What I like about cutting aluminum on the HBE is how quiet the process is. It’s like cutting through butter.”

Easy to clean and maintain, Ward notes that since the arrival of the HBE the manufacturer rarely uses the old band saw. “The HBE gives us the option of manual or automated operations,” he says. “That means if I need to cut something quick, I can do that manually or I can program the saw for a bigger, volume job—a feature that has allowed us to recapture time we used to spend measuring each piece individually.” FFJ

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