Payoff in Precision City.
Rochester is also job-shop city, and tough turf for the eager entrepreneurs who compete here, like me and my friendly rival, John Gillette, vice president of Gillette Machine & Tool co Inc. Me, I don't live here, I just sniff out a job or two here now and then, but John's shop is well implanted right across from the Rochester airport. He and his dad, Frank, have their roots here, and the tougher the competition, the better they like it. They're as scrappy as they come.
When I visited here last month, I ran into John at the airport and he was all ablaze about a sweet little precision job he had just pulled off. Thanks to a new CNC Superslant bar/chucker he "stole" from Hardinge Brothers and a gutsy young setup man who wanted to push it beyond its limits.
"We've only had this machine for 10 months," he gloated, "and it's damned near paid for itself already with the high-toleranced parts I can take on, and the 1000-piece-and-up jobs I can run untended. And this particular part I'm going to tell you about was truly a bonus, a dividend on our CNC investment.
"You know how it is, Joe, when people get carried away and start sketching daydreams. They draw up a part they would love to have, and send it around to see if anybody out there can actually make it. They spec the print fully expecting to have to back off on areas that push machining technology too far. So in this case, they were really amazed. They got exactly what they wanted!"
"So, slow down and tell me about it," I said as we rode over to his place.
"I'll have to just call this a 'government job,'" he explained, "because we promised confidentiality on the part. This wasn't one of those one- or two-piece jobs where you simply got lucky. Anybody can do that. This was a 135-piece job where you had better have the right machine setup and know what you're doing. You're not going to get lucky 135 times!"
Then he told me about the nearly intolerable tolerances. "The top of the 0.300"-dia stainless-steel part had a conical 30-degree-tapered depression. You checked the part by inserting a glass ball into this taper. The distance from the top of the ball to the base of the part had to be held within 80 millionths of an inch, the part OD had to be concentric to the taper within a tenth of a mil and to size within a tenth, and the base of the part had to be flat to 10 millionths.
"The ball-to-base dimension came off the machine easily to within 80 millionths, but I had to experiment and leave on enough material for lapping the base to 10 millionths flatness. I got a concession from the customer to cut a slight threaded chucking diameter in the bottom of the part so that all machining could be done in one setup."
Lucky, smart, or both?
"It was rather involved," John admitted, "and it got hectic trying to run this whole place at the same time I was supervising a tough job like this. But once the machine took over, my supervision went right to zero. It repeated perfectly for 135 pieces."
And they all passed inspection with flying colors. Every dimension on every piece was checked first by John's people and then by the government inspectors. What they saw they liked so much, they gave him a repeat order shortly thereafter for 30 similar parts.
"When we checked these parts with electronic indicator gages, spinning them on the machine, we found that they were not just within tolerance, they were dead on--equal to our ability to measure!"
So the big question was, "Why so good, John? Was it you, your hot-shot setup man, or was this Superslant more super than anyone should expect?"
"We couldn't really believe this," he replied, "so we mounted an electronic indicator on the machine and turned the part to check it for roundness, and we were amazed that total runout--part and spindle--was only 5 millionths!"
"Not bad, John," I said, "since Hardinge only guarantees 25 millionths spindle runout."
Why he loves NY
So if you're John Gillette, you not only buy American wherever possible, you also try to stick with upstate NY. "We had been running Hardinge machines here for the past 20 years and doing well, but with just automatics, tracer lathes, and manual machines, we simply were no longer competitive with other jobs shops. To get the turning work, we needed an automated, upgraded-accuracy machine that we could run with minimal supervision at night--not an operator, just somebody to load it now and then. Even during the day, the apprentice operator runs the longer jobs and also works on two other machines during machining cycles."
It helps to have good help, and Rochester's got plenty of that. "My setup man (and programmer) is high priced, but he's worth it!" John explained. "He gets the job running and turns it over to his apprentice, who will become a setup man too in a couple of years. He's with the setup man during all the programming, helping him get tooling, cutters, etc, from the tool crib, and this allows the setup man to work even faster."
And it also pays to help the help. "The secret with the CNC Hardinge is the tool crib that I set up beside this machine with all the different grades of carbide, collet sizes, etc, that opens up this machine to its full capabilities, and the 6-ft long, 1-5/8"-dia bar feed I've ordered that will let it run untended."
The family that job shops
together stays together
About this time, John's dad, Frank gillette, joined us, and we got to gabbing about what it's like today in the job-shop game.
"It's feast or famine," John lamented. "When we land a big job, the machines we need run 24 hours a day. (And I do too, until things are working right. I may be here til 3 in the morning.) The rest of the time, some machines may be sitting idle. But I need that versatility. I have to be able to run 5 parts or 5000."
So I turned to the old-timer Frank, who's chairman and co-founder of the company, and asked for his secret of success. He replied, "You gotta be well known. We're into everything--precision machining, production machining, tool-making, machine building--and when one is down, another is up.
"The Rochester business cycles are fairly stable, yet we still see the effects of major economic cycles. 1982 was bad, prior to that was good, and now things are picking up and beginning to get real good. We try hard not to be tied to any one industry or customer. We make no long-term commitments to anybody; we're freelancers."
"What about that old bugaboo for family-owned companies," I asked, "the generation gap, where the young hot-bloods want to expand and the older generation says, 'Hey, slow down, wehre doing fine'?"
"There's no generation gap here," Frank replied. "I'm always ready for advancement, we never stop."
"The big thing is we're not afraid to tackle any job," John added. "We will try just about anything, and normally, we've been very successful.
"On that job I described to you, I couldn't have done it without the setup man I have. I needed somebody with an open mind who's not afraid to go after an impossible tolerance and eget it. If I had had an old-timer with a closed mind, he would have said that part had to be ground, and that's it! I might as well hang up my hat, because then I'm no better than the shop next door who would tell you the same thing. But because my man out there said, 'Sure, John, let's give it a shot,' we did the job. I didn't do it all myself. It was my man and his equipment."
Which is the real bottom line for the all-in-the-family job shop today--tools and teamwork.
If you would like to get a fancy brochure from Gillette Machine & Tool on what they can do for you, circle E27. If you would like information on the Hardinge Superslant (and try your luck at getting a Super-Superslant), circle E28.
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|Title Annotation:||Gillette Machine & Tool Co. Inc. at Rochester, NY|
|Publication:||Tooling & Production|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1984|
|Previous Article:||Finally, some government help.|
|Next Article:||Breaking cast iron's vicious cycle.|