MMS Blog

If you would’ve visited Able Tool before 2003, you never would’ve pegged the Cincinnati-area machine shop as one actively investing in the latest manufacturing technology. Back then, a quick glance around the shop would show mostly toolroom-style equipment. However, that began to change when Paul Hayes took over as company president. For the business to thrive, he knew the operation would have to take a quantum leap by adopting much more advanced technology. Today, Able Tool’s shop floor consists of four- and five-axis machining centers and large horizontals and wire EDM. On-machine spindle and tool probes have reduced setup time on that equipment and enables in-process inspection for more effective process control.

The company’s commitment to adopting new technology didn’t end there. About six years ago, Mr. Hayes decided to take additive manufacturing from a concept he’d researched to a process he could possibly apply on his shop floor, ultimately moving quickly from 3D printing plastic parts to printing metal parts. To be certain, there’s a case to be made for printing each type of material, depending on the application, he says. In both cases, though, Mr. Hayes believes additive technology has helped his company better serve its customers by reducing the number of steps it takes to move from design to produced part. “Really, it’s just another arrow in our quiver, so to speak, to make things as efficient and cost effective as possible,” he says.

A Shop Where a Machine Loads Itself

Every day, test engineers at Krefeld, Germany-based Deutsche Edelstahlwerke Specialty Steel (DEW) determine the quality of the steel it produces by way of tensile and notched-bar impact tests. With a length of 55 mm and a square cross section of 10 by 10 mm, the standardized test specimens are rather unspectacular from a machining perspective. And yet their production requires one operator to manually load about 2,500 individual samples each month.

"It takes around 15 minutes to produce a set of three specimens on our Doosan DNM 400 VMC once the job is set up," explains Christian Richter, team coordinator material testing at DEW. "Two machining operations (op. 10 and op. 20) in two setups are necessary to machine each part. Although it takes little more than one minute to manually re-clamp the parts from op. 10 work to op. 20, the operator has little time to tend more than just the one machine.”

Tridan Engineering, based in the UK, relied on Renishaw machine tool probes to align complex castings as part of a motorsport machining contract for Ricardo Performance Products. For a project that normally would’ve taken about two months to complete, the turnaround time on the first batch of parts was compressed to 17 days without any compromise in the quality standards demanded by the client.

Part of the Langham Industries Group, Tridan was established in 1968 to provide a total outsourcing partnership and machining service to international customers. The company currently employs around 60 people and is approved to both AS9100 and ISO:14001 certifications. Sectors served include aerospace, military, automotive, motorsport, medical and marine.
The machine shop has CNC grinding and sliding-headstock turning capabilities as well as a tooling department. Its 14 CNC machining centers include Mazak Variaxis i-600 five-axis machines and HCN500 HMCs. The latter are configured with twin pallets and 80-station tool carousels.

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010, the United States imposed many new regulations on deep-ocean drilling that necessitated the regular replacement of blowout preventers (BOPs), which are designed to prevent future spills. To reduce the cost, oil companies turn to remanufacturers for getting used BOPs back up to specification. One such remanufacturer is National Oilwell Varco (NOV), an international manufacturing company dedicated to the oil industry.

To bring a BOP back up to spec, the company welds it with Inconel, then machines the seams back down. To machine off the excess material, the company performs an interrupted turning operation, slowly lowering the cutting tool to the workpiece and cutting away the irregular Inconel seam.

I might be dating myself a bit here, but back in the 1980s, there was a belief among machinists like myself that robots were for repetitive work. They were for big companies (with deep pockets) entrenched in automation and efficiency. We pictured car assembly plants with continuous streams of parts moving along an automated line, with robots painting, bonding and assembling different makes and models. The whole thing looked and sounded expensive, exclusive and complicated, and most of us wrote robots off then and there.

Today, things are just a bit different. (You know I’m being sarcastic.)