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Fewer setups for smaller lots.

Fewer setups for smaller lots

Responding to the challenges of tighter tolerances and smaller lots, builders of basic milling machines or milling-oriented machining centers are offering improvements in machine precision, toolchanging ability, control speed and flexibility, and setup time. "To be competitive in the world, you must do as much machining as you possibly can in a single setup," says Maho President Harald Welge.

New demands

As in other metalcutting areas, milling is responding to a need for greater tooling flexibility and automation. "We are focusing on the entire manufacturing process," says Mr Welge. "Milling machines are more adaptable now to cells, using common pallet tracks. From just a few years ago, when they were standalones without toolchangers, we have progressed to the fully productive cell, whether a single mill or multiple mills tied to a common control and workhandling system."

Are higher machining speeds putting new demands on mills? "Yes. We will be showing machines with 20,000-rpm capabilities. Not everyone needs this capability, but a lot are going to higher speeds to get faster production times in aluminum, composites, and other materials."

He warns, though, that to ultimately use high-speed spindles, a milling machine must have inherent accuracy, rigidity, and stability, so it is important to question whether a machine being bought today has these characteristics.

Mr Welge sees a definite competitive push to higher precision--one that's being met by makers of both milling machines and cutting tools. "As cutting-tool capabilities improve, the machine tool must respond with higher horsepower and rigidity. You never rest on your laurels. Continuous product improvement must be an on-going goal. That's why we're spending 7 percent of our sales each year on R&D."

The universal milling approach--vertical and horizontal machining in one machine--is well accepted in Europe, but slow in catching on here. Why? "You don't have to explain it to a European toolmaker. He grew up with it on the majority of machines he was exposed to. This is not the case here. The US machinist/toolmaker grew up with a Bridgeport-type machine; i.e., a philosophy that this is a job for a vertical mill and that is a job for a horizontal mill, as opposed to thinking, `How can I do this part in the least number of setups?"

Is it a difficult educational process to change this basic mindset? "Yes, sometimes we feel like missionaries," Welge replies, "but we're making progress. Universal machines are 80 percent of our business, and we are doing well both here and abroad. We can now approach parts that used to be done traditionally on either vertical machining centers or horizontal machining centers and offer the best of both worlds."

Beware of the buzzword

Mr Welge cautions users to be wary of what he calls "buzzword marketing," terms like chip-to-chip times, 32-bit microprocessors, and 1000-ipm traverse rates. "Ask yourself, `What does all that really do for me?' If you have a 2"-sq part, what good is 1000" of rapid traverse? Many times, producing cost-effective parts at your specific throughput rates has nothing to do with a given machine tool's specs, or even its price."

Thus, spread-sheet approaches--where you evaluate lots of numbers from dozens of different machines--is too simplistic, he feels. "What does all that mean? A world-class manufacturer does not purchase that way. The spread sheet cannot evaluate a move to totally different technology. Nobody remembers how clever you were buying that machine dirt cheap if it is not doing a satisfactory job."

But he is encouraged that corporate pay-back criteria is becoming more rational. "It's getting longer and more realistic."

PHOTO : Harald Welge President Maho Machine Tool Corp Naugatuck, CT
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Title Annotation:milling machines
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:Interview
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Previous Article:Machining centers.
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