Fernwood Machine, in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, is a small, nine-man job shop that has served the aircraft, medical, automotive, paper and box industries, and others for more than 20 years. Working primarily in quantities of 50 to 100 pieces, they produce parts for commercial aircraft, design and build machinery, manufacture or machine diesel parts and perform grinding and other general fabrication. For the medical industry they do plasma spray tooling and diamond grinding of coatings for gages, as well as manufacturing small parts for small, portable X-ray machines used for pipelines.
According to Fernwood Vice President Charlie Jones, "We're a one-stop shop. We do it all." And they use it all, too--everything from plastics to stainless steel, titanium, Inconel, and more.
For the last year, Mr. Jones and his staff have been using MILLPWR, a two-axis control/three-axis readout by Acu-Rite Inc., of Jamestown, New York, on a Bridgeport mill for everything from simple prototype work to more complex parts. As a result, they have experienced more than a two-fold increase in efficiency and productivity over previously used manual operations. "MILLPWR is so easy to program, we use it for all types of jobs. We've only got one MILLPWR now, but we could use three of them," according to Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones states that one of the reasons behind his decision to purchase this system was that an architect friend of his wanted 1/2-inch aluminum letters for his office door. Not wanting to spend the time it would take to mill the letters manually in his shop, Mr. Jones took the request to another friend with a competitive unit. The second friend wasn't able to mill the letters on the higher-priced competitive unit. To do so would have been nearly as time-consuming and costly as milling them on a manual machine. Mr. Jones decided there had to be a better way.
"When I got the MILLPWR, I made the friend with the competitive unit a sign with 1/2-inch aluminum letters. It took about ten minutes to program and another ten minutes to cut."
This system is a two-axis control/three-axis readout designed for the vertical knee mill market. It has the flexibility to operate as a two-axis control or as a three-axis readout for applications that do not require automated table movement. Simple to program, yet offering a host of powerful functions, this system is said to provide a versatile, cost-effective solution to increase the efficiency and productivity of the vertical knee mill by reducing set-up, scrap and other non-productive machining time.
Fernwood saves in both set-up and programming times. Mr. Jones explains it this way, "Say I've got to cut an unusual little window in a plate. I can throw a plate on my machine with the MILLPWR control and strap it down in a matter of five minutes, program it in just as much time, and be done with the whole job in a half hour. That same job would take a couple of hours on a manual mill because it would require setting up a rotary table for the angles."
Another example of the time savings benefit from using the system's features is a wall unit Mr. Jones did for an electrical instrumentation panel that included squares, rounds, bolt holes, and rectangles. "We did it in three hours... The same part took a day or two previously on the manual machine."
While this system offers three-axis readout capabilities, Fernwood Machine's operators use the two-axis control 98 percent of the time. Because it is said to be so easy to learn, Mr. Jones and his machine operator picked it up in no time.
Mr. Jones prefers to make the first piece himself and let his operators do the rest. He often takes advantage of the many standard features this system provides, such as the engrave feature and milling routines, including bolt holes, circular or rectangular pockets, and more. And he always uses the Graphic Preview feature to make sure the program is right before he runs the part. The calculator function has enabled Fernwood Machine to reduce scrap by significantly reducing the chance for human error when doing the math. "It's definitely more accurate. Once the part is programmed, the last piece comes out just like the first." Reproducible part quality is just one of the many benefits of the system.
Mr. Jones also likes the Explode feature, which allows the operator to view programming steps such as bolt holes, repeats, rotates and mirror images in more detail. "I use it on some aircraft parts when they only need 29 out of 30 holes. It's very easy to use. You just hit the button." Without the Explode feature, the operator would have to either manually try to skip that step or rewrite each line of information, which can be very time-consuming with long programs.