Russ Willcutt

Russ Willcutt joined Gardner Business Media as associate editor of Modern Machine Shop in January of 2014. He began his publishing career at his alma mater, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where he produced magazines for the Schools of Engineering, Business, and Medicine, among others. After working as group managing editor for the HealthSouth Corp. he joined Media Solutions Inc., where he was founding editor of Gear Solutions, Wind Systems, and Venture magazines before heading up the Health Care Division for Cahaba Media Group.

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 24. June 2014

Taiwan Machine Tool Industry is Booming

Shelly Liu leads a tour of Gifu Enterprise Co. Ltd.

A recent press trip hosted by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) provided me with an insider’s view of the impressive strides being made within that country’s machine tool industry. Over five days we visited a total of 10 manufacturers of various machines, components and systems, as well as the Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders’ Association (TMBA), where we engaged in a question and answer session with Carl Huang, president. He described the industry’s desire to grow market share within countries such as the United States, Mexico and Canada, among others, and the efforts being made to support this endeavor. This includes formation of the M-Team Alliance, a collaboration between Taiwan’s machine tool manufacturers to help domestic companies boost product quality and international competitiveness. Having toured the manufacturing operations of the following companies, meeting with both executives and engineers, I can attest to the serious intent driving their efforts:

  • Tongtai—special purpose machines, vertical machining centers, lathes, horizontal machining centers (U.S. representative: Absolute Machine Tools,
  • Honor Seiki (Tongtai Group)—vertical lathes, turning centers, grinding machines
  • Asia Pacific Elite Corp. (APEC, Tongtai Group)—high speed five-axis technology, industrial application technology
  • Yeong Chin Machinery Industries Co. Ltd. (YCM)—single- and double-column machining centers, horizontal machining centers, horizontal boring milling machining centers, CNC lathes, control software
  • Quaser Machine Tools Inc.—vertical, horizontal, five-axis, multi-face, five-axis and palletized machining centers
  • Goodway—multi-axis turning centers (five-axis, Swiss-type, twin spindle/twin turret machining centers), vertical and horizontal machining centers
  • Awea Mechantronic Co. Ltd. (Goodway Group)—five-face machining centers, five-axis machining centers, horizontal boring mills, bridge-type machining centers, vertical machining centers, tapping centers
  • Gifu Enterprise Co. Ltd.—automatic tool changers of all configurations
  • Tung Pei Industrial Co. Ltd. (TPI Bearings)—deep groove ball bearings, needle roller bearings, angular contact ball bearings for machine tools
  • Habor Precise Industries Co. Ltd.—machining center cooling systems

(View the slideshow here for a glimpse at what I saw at these facilities.)

Most, if not all, of these companies will be exhibiting at the upcoming IMTS event in Chicago, and the technologies being developed by these enterprises should not be overlooked. The Taiwan machine tool industry is becoming known for its attention to detail and the quality and versatility of its machining centers. Also consider attending the Taiwan International Machine Tool Show (TMTS) Nov. 5-9, 2014, at the Greater Taichung International Expo Center (GTIEC). Learn more at

According to the 2014 World Machine Tool Output & Consumption Survey from Gardner Research, Taiwan is ranked seventh in worldwide production of machine tools; fourth in export; sixteenth in import; and tenth in consumption. Most of the companies I visited on this trip are in major growth mode, building new headquarters and production facilities. Their coordinated efforts are sure to make an impression around the globe in the coming years.

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 29. May 2014

Video: Multi-Axis Quick-Change Workholding

Five-axis and five-sided machining have different workholding requirements for maximizing performance. Big Kaiser recently addressed this issue in one of six educational presentations given as part of its “Breakfast & Learn 2014” event, held during DMG MORI’s Innovation Days. Here you’ll find John Zaya, workholding product manager, discussing different applications for the two processes, the machines on which they are performed, and the best workholding/tooling setups for avoiding chatter and achieving optimal performance. Other presentations included “Deep Hole Boring Solutions,” “Spindle Speeders” and “Managing Tool Data with Presetter Software.”

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 16. May 2014

Additive Manufacturing Energizes Innovation Days

DMG MORI prototype additive machine

DMG MORI’s prototype additive manufacturing machine for large parts was particularly popular during the company’s recent Innovation Days event.

With all the new technologies on display at DMG MORI’s Innovation Days event, held May 6-9 at the company’s location in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, buzz was being generated in quite a number of areas. The gear manufacturing seminars focusing on multitasking machines and processes such as power skiving were particularly well-attended, for instance. But additive manufacturing, and especially the prototype machine for large parts and the Sauer Lasertec line of hybrids (featuring a combination of additive and subtractive machining), seemed to attract the most attention. “Additive manufacturing processes enable complex geometries and workpieces to be produced directly from a solid model and metal powder, without foundry tooling. The unique technology combination of AM (additive manufacturing) by laser metal deposition by means of a powder nozzle and SM (subtractive manufacturing) by milling, turning or grinding also gives the user completely new application and geometry options,” the company says. Daily sessions addressed topics including automation solutions, the digital revolution in manufacturing, and GearMill software, the cornerstone of DMG MORI’s gear milling portfolio.

The Celos user interface—the centerpiece of Innovation Days in Pfronten, Germany, last February—which incorporates smartphone-like graphics while enabling paperless manufacturing, was on prominent display. In addition, the MAX3000 high-speed 30-taper vertical machining center, the CTX Ecoline for entry-level turning, and the latest versions of the NT and NTX series of turn-mill centers for producing complex gear geometries proved popular attractions.

Held in conjunction with the event was Big Kaiser’s Breakfast & Learn 2014 at the company’s headquarters immediately adjacent to DMG MORI, which drew more than 400 attendees over the course of three days. Six highly targeted technical presentations—two per day—kept guests returning each morning. An upcoming blog post will feature a video of the presentation “Multi-Axis Quick-Change Workholding.”

DMG MORI NT turn-mill machining center

DMG MORI’s NT series of turn-mill machining centers are perfect for small- and medium-size batches of gears.


Big Kaiser tooling

A wide selection of Big Kaiser’s tooling, toolholders and finished products were on display during the daily breakfast and technical presentations.

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 13. May 2014

Mobile Metrology

Mark Vance positions the Romer six-axis portable metrology arm above a part to be measured, allowing the laser to read the part’s surface and transfer the data to the computer monitor where a variety of tests and simulations can be run. 

When Clinkenbeard of Rockford, Illinois, decided to invest in a Romer six-axis portable metrology arm in the fall of 2013, they expected it to help ensure the quality of the parts they make for the aerospace, automotive, power generation, military and industrial markets. What they didn’t expect was the host of additional benefits the device would provide. “We’ve identified so many uses for the arm that it paid for itself much more quickly than we’d anticipated,” says Steve Helfer, general manager.

The Romer arm utilizes a 3D laser coordinate system to determine part accuracy. Lightweight, highly flexible and portable, the arm checks parts where they are being machined rather than requiring transport to the CMM lab. In addition, the arm can be used to measure parts of any size, with special software that automatically “knits” partial images of larger parts together onscreen. “You just take a series of images and let the software join them together,” says Kevin Knight, manufacturing engineering manager. “The Romer arm makes measuring both large and small parts equally simple to accomplish.”

The base can attach to magnetic, desktop and freestanding mounting systems. Aerospace-grade carbon fiber tubes and a “zero-G” counterbalance provide easy manipulation of the fully articulated arm, and patented Infinite Rotation allows a full range of movement, which is helpful in tight spaces and when working with complex parts. The ergonomic arm is so well-balanced, in fact, that its pistol grip is said to feel as if it is floating in the user’s hand.

In operation, the user scans the part on the machine, the shop floor or on a worktable. As the red laser reads the object its shape begins to appear on the attached computer monitor, eventually resulting in a 3D image that can be overlaid across the CAD original to check for accuracy. In addition, “color scans” can be run that assign differing tolerances to specific areas of the part, showing a color-coded representation of part accuracy. “Parts that might have once taken weeks to check against drawings can now be measured in a matter of minutes with an incredibly high degree of accuracy,” says Mark Vance, advanced technical specialist.

Mr. Helfer says that Clinkenbeard offers demonstrations to customers who are interested in learning about the technology, and it has even taken the Romer arm in its portable case to conduct on-site testing for other companies in the Rockford area. “Not only have we found more internal applications than we’d anticipated, but also external uses that we hadn’t even considered,” he says.  

Detail of a part being to be scanned for comparison against the original CAD design.


The resulting image of the scanned part, showing the “color coding” feature that represents different tolerances achieved and even “overlays” of scanned images on CAD drawings. 

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 7. April 2014

Searching for Skilled Workers? Here’s Part of the Solution

In recent years, manufacturers have found it increasingly difficult to find trained, skilled employees, especially in the metalworking industry. While there is no one answer to this dilemma, the solution may be found in a multi-pronged approach. One is to make students aware that their perception of manufacturing as a dirty and dangerous industry is outdated, and that a well-run job shop is a clean environment filled with high-tech equipment. Another solution is to provide individuals with disabilities with the tools they’ll need to enter the industrial workforce. In that same vein, employers must be informed that any preconceived notions they may have of massive difficulties associated with accommodating individuals with disabilities in the workplace are behind the times, as well.

My visit to Skills Inc.’s manufacturing/training facility in Auburn—one of four campuses in Washington State—was a revelation on many levels. First, I learned that the company is a not-for-profit entity that was established with the support of Boeing in the late ‘60s. The company now generates nearly 100 percent of its operating revenue, including purchasing its own equipment with little assistance from state and federal grants. In addition, its range of services is impressive. The company manufactures aerospace parts and provides chemical surface finishing. It also offers employee training, certification and job placement, and even technical and business consulting services. Central to both manufacturing and training is staying abreast of the latest technologies, such as Vericut CNC simulation software provided by CGTech. Vericut helps to avoid collisions and correct toolpath errors before programs are even loaded into the machine, the company says, eliminating the need for manual prove-outs and increasing overall process efficiency.

That same sense of efficiency permeates the operation. Based on their strengths, and taking their particular challenge into account, trainees and employees are guided toward positions in which they can succeed. An employee with a physical disability, for instance, may be drawn to positions requiring programming or CNC machine operations. And ergonomics dictate the arrangement of each workstation to suit that person’s particular needs, with all the tools and devices they require carefully arranged and within easy reach.

Every tool that an employee might conceivably require is carefully arranged at each workstation.

Dan Olson, plant manager, has witnessed many success stories. “Nicholas Podszus joined our Aerospace Internship Program (AIP) in September of 2010. When the idea of the program was presented to him by his teacher, he was relieved to hear there was an alternative to the traditional school setting that would still allow him to complete his high school education. Nicholas has always worked well with his hands and didn’t enjoy the long days spent in a classroom environment. As an alternative, he was able to hop on a school bus and spend half of his day at Skills Inc. where he gained exposure to areas in manufacturing such as milling, CNC, and shearing, finish—takedown, packaging, and receiving, etc.—and in an office setting.”

Mr. Podszus graduated from high school and the AIP in June of 2011, and he was one of two students to get a full-time permanent job offer. He has worked as a manual machinist for three years, and he has been promoted to a Level 2 machinist.

HarleyFay Johnson entered the AIP in her senior year of high school. She was able to gain exposure to many areas of the business including aerospace manufacturing, aerospace finish, and even some administrative functions throughout the duration of her time in the program. As a result, she regained control of her education and successfully graduated from high school.

“She was offered a three-month paid internship, where she communicated her desire and aspirations to become a machinist,” Mr. Olson says. “She began her summer by working primarily in the manual machine area, where she excelled. At the conclusion of her internship, she was offered a full-time permanent position as a manual machinist. Today, HarleyFay is also gaining experience and developing her skills in the CNC machine area. She is an example of an ambitious and motivated woman, and we are excited to see her continued growth,” he says.

“You would be hard-pressed to find more dedicated, hardworking individuals than those we train and employ here,” Mr. Olson says. “We take great pride in every single aspect of our operation, from the appearance of our facilities to the quality of our products.”

A clean, uncluttered shop floor denotes employee pride, impresses visiting customers, and makes moving machines and materials easier.  

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