A Critical Machine That Needs Moving Requires More Than Heavy Lifting

When your product is vital to the security and defense of America, there is simply no room for loss of critical capacity in the manufacturing process. Manufacturing engineers at this company were keenly aware of this fact when they were recently faced with consolidating and relocating portions of the arsenal's metalworking operations.

Case Study From: 5/29/2004 Modern Machine Shop

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Large duplex mill

The step-by-step plan that the technicians developed for relocating the large duplex mill at Watervliet Arsenal helped to minimize the interruption to production for this critical piece of equipment.

When your product is vital to the security and defense of America, there is simply no room for loss of critical capacity in the manufacturing process. Manufacturing engineers at Watervliet Arsenal (near Albany, New York) were keenly aware of this fact when they were recently faced with consolidating and relocating portions of the arsenal’s metalworking operations.

Founded in 1813, the company is best known as a manufacturer of cannons. The government installation, which is owned and operated by the U.S. Army, describes itself as America’s oldest and newest manufacturing arsenal. It’s one of the largest metal processing facilities in the Northeast, and the company says it’s America’s sole manufacturing facility for large caliber cannons in volume.

Because of several factors, including the need to streamline its production facilities, the company’s managers determined that they needed to relocate a large, late-1970s vintage duplex bed mill, which translates to two horizontal-spindle milling machines facing one another with central stands for interchangeable tooling. The machine, with a replacement value of more than $2 million, is used for specialized finish machining operations on cannon gun tubes measuring from 20 to 30 feet long. Despite the machine’s age, according to manufacturing engineering group leader John Hockenbury, the duplex mill is one of the arsenal’s most precise and productive machine tools. “By marrying two machines into one unit, the duplex mill allows us to machine both sides of a component while maintaining very good geometric and dimensional quality,” Mr. Hockenbury says.

Faced with relocating a variety of machines and equipment, the arsenal’s government employee staff tackled most of the work using internal resources. But considering the size and complexity of the large duplex mill (the foundation measures 15 feet by 30 feet), Mr. Hockenbury and his colleagues were uneasy about moving the machine without assistance. “The duplex mill is a highly productive machine compared to the more conventional mills that we would have used if we had to divert production,” he explains. “It would have been a high cost factor if we had to run the old machines. So, relocating the machine and getting it back up rapidly was critical to our cost of operations.”

Recognizing this was a particularly challenging task, Mr. Hockenbury and his team contacted Cincinnati Lamb Plus, the service unit of Cincinnati Lamb (Warren, Michigan). Cincinnati Lamb Plus had supplied several machines to Watervliet (though not the duplex mill) in the past, and Cincinnati Lamb Plus’ service team was familiar with the facility and its staff. Given that knowledge, wherewithal and resources, it seemed natural for Watervliet to rely on Cincinnati Lamb Plus to move the machine.

An important stipulation was that the contractor would have to restart the machine and prove that it was in proper operating order. Cincinnati Lamb Plus technicians established a baseline of the machine before it was moved. “We did an extensive job of documenting the machine performance and alignments before moving the machine,” says Greg Stewart, Cincinnati Lamb Plus service manager.

Cincinnati Lamb Plus conducted functional tests in addition to geometrical and alignment checks. It was during these tests when technicians discovered that batteries to supply backup power to the machine control are not permitted in the arsenal, so a complete reload of the executive program after shutdown was required. So, locating the executive tapes and verifying that the machine would function properly after reloading the program were part of the process, according to Mr. Stewart.

During the physical inspection, it was determined that the machine’s bed was not level because it was bent and skewed. “In moving a machine tool, we strive to be at least within the existing tolerances, and maybe even better,” Mr. Stewart says. “By spending a little extra time tweaking the bed, we succeeded in getting the machine in better shape than what it was before we picked it up. Improving the bed leveling positively affected the machine alignments, so when the baseline document was compared after the move, the readings were much better than before.”

According to Mr. Hockenbury, the process went smoothly because of the clear communications between the Cincinnati Lamb Plus staff and Watervliet’s team.

Mr. Hockenbury says the Cincinnati Lamb Plus technicians laid out a detailed implementation plan that they submitted with their proposal.

The fact that Watervliet’s large duplex mill was successfully returned to production without a hitch is reassuring, given the critical capacity it supplies. Although production schedules for its large caliber cannons are usually laid out with long-term planning, the plant must be prepared to respond to surges in requirements.

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