Retrofitting Toolroom Leads To Success For St. Louis Manufacturer

This supplier of tooling to such companies as Boeing and GE Jet Aircraft, explains why he won't go without retrofitting his machines.

Passing the 50-year milestone in business, winning the Malcolm Baldrige Quality award as well as obtaining ISO 9000 certification on your first try—all since 1994—must mean you are doing something right. Wainwright Industries is one of those companies doing something right.

Over 250 employees strong, the company, which is located just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, is enjoying the fruits of its success. An established contract stamping and tool and die manufacturer specializing in drawn motor housings to the automotive industry, Wainwright is doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of its customers.

And that carries through from even the very first step in their manufacturing process: the toolroom. At Wainwright, the toolroom currently incorporates ten Bridgeport mills and three lathes used periodically throughout three shifts. The company has 23 toolmakers employed here to build the tools that support the pressroom where the stamping dies are run. Those tools must be accurate from the very start.

Through early 1990, the Wainwright toolroom machines operated adequately with leadscrew dials, direct mechanical rotary dials and other brands of digitals to mark the accuracy of the equipment, though at times, proved laborious as they didn't hold their accuracy for long and required constant adjustment.

In 1993, Wainwright decided to retrofit one toolroom Bridgeport with a Heidenhain digital readout (DRO) and glass scale linear encoders to better monitor their accuracy. The results were good.

"Our initial measurement systems were old and failing regularly," explained Wainwright tooling manager Les Wendell. "And lucky for us, we had recently installed a Heidenhain Retrokit on one of the mills in place of a mechanical rotary dial and it was working great." Mr. Wendell decided to standardize all their machines with the Retrokits, including kits for five mills and the three lathes.

The kit itself consists of two glass scale linear encoders, a DRO, brackets and mounting hardware.

"The Retrokits have proven extremely durable against coolant and chips. The glass encoders have a lip on them that is great at keeping chips out. They are reliable because they don't just get contaminated, and their quality was exceptional," explained Mr. Wendell. "Also, we found the DRO to be very efficient. Its functions are easy to use and simple to program. Also, the price of these kits is quite attractive. Overall, the whole thing is also very easy to handle, especially noticed when we had to take the original retrofit off a machine and move it to another."

Now that the retrofit has been complete and in use for a few years, Mr. Wendell wouldn't have the machine equipped with any other system. "In fact, we recently added two new Bridgeport mills and we insisted that they be delivered to us with the Heidenhain system already on it," he said.

Mr. Wendell wants to be sure his toolroom is up for the job. As a supplier of tooling to Robert Bosch, Delphi, United Technologies, Boeing, GE Jet Aircraft, and more, there is no room for error. And that is the goal at Wainwright.

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