MMS Blog

Multi-Pallet Machines Help Shop Produce Ventilator Components

NRL & Associates is committed to unattended machining. “Most of the machines we set ourselves up with now are multi-pallet machines,” says Jim Smith, president and CEO of the Stevensville, Maryland, manufacturer. These machines include two Yasda PX-30i five-axis machining centers, which each have 33 pallets, and a Yasda H-40i five-axis machine, which has 22 pallets. The company was also planning to add a five-axis FANUC Robodrill Plus-K automation system with 36 pallets from Methods Machine Tools to its fleet in June or July of this year. But when two customers needed NRL’s help to produce components for much-needed ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, Methods and its distributor MTA Co. delivered the machine and automation system months early so it could increase production of these parts as quickly as possible.

NRL & Associates was founded in 1986, and Mr. Smith joined the company that same year. He and two other partners took over the business after the founder passed away in 2006. “We really pushed the growth once we took over in '06,” he says. Between 2006 and 2016, the company doubled in size four times while the owners were paying down the note.

By: George Schuetz 6/23/2020

Introduction to Digital Depth Gage Styles

Introduction to Digital Depth Gage Styles

The first depth gages consisted of a simple scale with a sliding perpendicular beam as the reference. As the need for higher resolution and precision increased, these were largely replaced by Vernier devices and micrometer depth gages. Today, both Verniers and micrometers have been replaced by digital versions of the depth gage, offering long measuring range and versatility.

The most common caliper-style depth gage is based on a 6-inch/150-mm caliper that has a depth rod or bar built in. The end of the caliper can be used as a reference stop, but adding the accessory depth bar fixture to the beam of the caliper can magically extend the capabilities of the run-of-the-mill 6-inch caliper to a fully functioning and perfectly adequate depth gage.

When Cobra Aero first looked into getting a metal 3D printer, it wasn’t obvious that the machine would pay for itself. “When we first did the math, we had to kind of fudge things a bit,” says Sean Hilbert, president. But Mr. Hilbert had the foresight to realize that the best uses for 3D printing might not be immediately apparent. He took a gamble that the company would find enough opportunities with 3D printing to make the investment worthwhile — a hunch that has undeniably paid off.  

Cobra Aero is a drone manufacturer in Hillsdale, Michigan, where it is co-located in a facility with sister company Cobra Moto. Cobra Moto is an OEM of youth motocross bikes, and its expertise in building the small engines needed to power them helped lay the foundation for the drone business. Since its launch, Cobra Aero’s focus has been on producing engines for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as surveillance drones.

Air Casters Keep Shop Floors Damage-Free

Job shops are seeing the benefits of keeping their facilities clean. Appearance matters as more and more customers are visiting for open houses, audits and general tours. In fact, Modern Machine Shop’s latest Top Shops survey results showed that leading shops are more likely than others to have open houses or invite customers to visit. Appearance also matters when trying to attract the next generation of skilled workers.

Machine tool builders are also seeing these benefits. Just like shops that reorganize their facilities as they add new equipment or create machine cells, machine tool builders must quickly move machines in and out of production lines to respond to changing needs. In this case, AgieCharmilles, a division of GF Machining Solutions (GFMS), needed to reorganize the equipment in its showroom to best highlight the machines it builds for the automotive, aerospace and medical industries. “We try to be a one-stop shop for milling machines, EDM and lasering,” says Jesus Ledesma, who is refurbishment and facilities manager for AgieCharmilles in Woodbridge, Illinois.

Greg Volovic, president of machine tool supplier Hurco, gave a challenge to engineering staff members at the company’s Indianapolis headquarters: Within four weeks, adapt a machine tool into a system for making N95 masks for virus protection. It didn't have to be an optimized system — refinement could come later — but he asked for a system that could make the mask (sans straps) complete. The challenge was met, so Hurco is now theoretically self-sufficient for N95 mask production. Capacity allowing, the company can make masks for its customers, employees and distributors. And in developing this capability, the company says its team was witness to one of the perils of offshoring: the way that knowledge gets offshored, too. Paul Gray, PhD, VP of R&D and product development, says one of the project’s challenges was just to re-learn how N95 masks are made. Unable to find procedures for how to make an item now largely produced overseas, team members were left to disassemble existing masks as part of their effort to find out.

They know now. The process they developed uses a Hurco five-axis vertical machining along with an automation system from ProCobots that employs a Universal Robots cobot, plus a heated mold for shaping the mask. The cobot loads a stack of four plies, two polymer outer layers and two spun-fiber filter layers, and these become a mask through a five-minute cycle involving molding, welding and cutting. Manual assembly adds the straps and nose clip.