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 28. July 2014

Dollars and Sense

One way to save money on the shop floor is simply to use common sense. You may not realize it, but all the tiny delays add up to a ton of lost time, as do habits formed over the years that have gone unquestioned.    

Allan Arch, president of Southern Gear & Machine in Miami, Florida, began looking more closely at his own operations recently. Here are just a few of the changes he’s made:

  • After cutting his own barstock for years, Mr. Arch mentioned to his supplier what a time-consuming process it was. “Even though we had two saws running, it was basically a non-stop operation to get all of the barstock cut,” he says. His supplier offered to deliver the materials pre-cut. “They have saws that can handle a job that would take us all day in a matter of minutes. We’d just gotten used to the way things were and had never thought to ask if there were a better way.”

Southern Gear’s supplier can pre-cut barstock for a fraction of the cost, and in minutes rather than the hours required by the company’s own saws. 

  • Despite efforts to keep it orderly, the company’s tool crib had gotten messy over the years, so Mr. Arch and his colleagues developed an assignment for two of their summer interns. “As soon as they arrived they had a project to tackle,” he explains. “We showed them what we had, told them what we wanted and gave them all the resources they needed.” The result is a neat, color-coded storage area where it’s not only easy for workers to find the supplies they need, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to keep straight. “We literally saved months of lost time in the first few weeks that we had this new system in place,” Mr. Arch says.

Assigning interns to tackle revamping the company’s tool crib resulted in great experience for the students and an orderly system for the company.

  • Even better than an organized tool crib is a management system that makes tooling available to machine operators on the shop floor. New models do not require access cards, instead allowing users to obtain the tools they need by entering a password on a removable touchscreen. Southern Gear chose two Matrix Series 5 units—a “mini” and a “maxi”—from Ingersoll Cutting Tools for different areas of operation. “These devices bring the tools to the manufacturing area where workers can get to them easily while at the same time helping us monitor our stock levels, calculate CPU and estimate tool life.”

Tool management systems such as this provide much more than storage and convenience, also tracking stock levels and even tool wear. 

Read more about Southern Gear’s approach to streamlining operations in the August issue of Gear Production, a supplement to Modern Machine Shop magazine. 

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. 

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