Accidental Inspiration

The basic concept of the inverted vertical is to flip the traditional VTL design 180 degrees.


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The basic concept of the inverted vertical is to flip the traditional VTL design 180 degrees. This enables the spindle to do double duty as a part loader/unloader.

Walt Disney was quoted as saying, “It all started with a mouse.” In the case of the inverted vertical machine, it apparently all started with a seating arrangement. On a visit to Emag’s North American headquarters for this story, I sat down with then president, Gary Hulihan, who told me the story of how the pick-up lathe came to be.

“For years Emag was a player in Europe, making horizontal production lathes,” he begins. “In the line at that time was a twin-spindle model that had horizontal spindles mounted side by side. These were loaded and unloaded externally, like similar machines today. The story goes that our big boss in Germany, Norbert Hebbrüggen, was sitting at his desk and talking to our colleague who runs the French operation for Emag, Jean Paul Nodier.

“So you have Norbert on one side of the desk and Jean Paul on the other. Jean Paul says, ‘We need a vertical machine in our product lineup.’ Norbert asks, ‘What do you mean?’ and Jean Paul defends the idea because it would fill a gap in the company’s production turning line. Jean Paul proceeds to draw a basic sketch of a typical VTL with the main spindle in the base and a tool carrier over head.

“Norbert, who was sitting opposite Jean Paul, looks at the drawing (which was upside down to him) and tells Jean Paul he has a great idea. 'In fact, it’s a fantastic idea, and I don't know why nobody ever thought of it before,' Norbert says. And that was the spark for the idea of the inverted-spindle design.”

However, it begs the question: What if they had been sitting side by side?