Meet the Colossus: An Inside Look at One of the Largest Five-Axis Machining Centers in the U.S.

A behind-the-scenes tour on the shop floor of Baker Industries begins and ends with the company’s Emco Mecof PowerMill, one of the largest five-axis machining centers in the United States. 

Baker Industries, a subcontract manufacturer that primarily serves the OEM and Tier-One aerospace and automotive sectors, is located on a vast industrial campus housing several complexes in the sleepy Detroit suburb of Macomb, Michigan. But inside one nondescript building on the corner of campus you’ll find a true metal giant—a five-axis horizontal machining center with a build platform large enough to double as a car pad for a fleet of full-size SUVs. 

Baker Industries invested $3.4 million in the  Emco Mecof PowerMill to expand its capacity to serve its customers’ largest machining projects, typically for the aerospace and automotive sectors. The installation took roughly 11 months from beginning to end, starting with the removal of 1. 2 million pounds of concrete and earth to excavate a 45-by-75-by-7-foot pit. The pit was then filled with nearly 2 million pounds of crushed stone and concrete—the latter of which had to be individually sampled per truckload by inspectors to ensure it was the right consistency. 

The reinforced foundation was needed to guarantee stability while the overhead gantry—which itself weighs more than 100,000 pounds—travels along a 52-by-20-by-10-foot work envelope that can handle parts weighing up to 2.6 million pounds. 

Yet, for all of this mass, the machining center giant can achieve almost shocking precision, able to maintain total error of less than 42 microns over the complete 46-foot-long X axis. During my visit, the machine was drilling holes into eight steel plates for an undisclosed aerospace tool, a job that required more than a week to set up and a lot of forethought into how to ensure they were properly stress-relieved before drilling operations began. Four different cutting heads powered by spindle motors that reach up to 18,000 rpm enable the machine to handle operations from roughing to finishing all in one setup.

Check out this time-lapse video that in 60 seconds shows the entire four-month installation process of the PowerMill, and stay tuned for a deeper dive into the challenges and opportunities presented by working with giants.



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