Davenport: A 10-Year Update

Fooling yourself that the old machine doesn't cost anything except parts is, in my opinion, a mistake.

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I watched while Davenport Machine Tool Company was spiraling down after the peak in 1979 knowing that I could do nothing to prevent it. After my father, Earl W. Brinkman, retired, a new owner brought in caretaker managers. The company languished. Finally, after a failed attempt to recreate Davenport into a CNC camless machine, they gave up.

In early 2002, I heard that Davenport Industries was shut down, and I saw my chance to step in. With Andy Laniak, my C.E.O., we put together a plan to buy the assets of the company and turn it around. In 2003, we submitted the winning bid.

The company was in a shambles, to put it mildly. Parts that my father had tooled to maximum efficiency to keep costs and prices down were suddenly outrageously priced. So much so, that half a dozen secondary market producers started making spares. This, coupled with very poor morale, led to decreasing sales of both machines and parts and eventually the bankruptcy.

When we came in, the plant was filthy, the machine tools were in disrepair, and the customer base had eroded to a fraction of what it had once been. Like eating an elephant, we attacked it one bite at a time. We cleaned, repaired, inspected and eliminated bad inventory, abandoned the CNC project and started the most important part—re-engineering the machine and tolerances that had been long neglected.

For example, a part could be plus or minus 0.005 inch or plus or minus 0.0005 inch measured from a fractional datum point. Chaos ruled on the assembly floor, and many parts that were held to close tolerances still had to be fit in assembly. This, of course, affected the customers who bought parts expecting them to fit and having to rework them to get them into their machine.

Not today. The most difficult task for us was to overcome the reputation of the old Davenport for high prices, poor quality and bad attitude. In the last decade, we have done that, I think.

Being near a great engineering school, such as RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), we had a team of young engineers going over the drawings from the inside out, conforming tolerances, tightening some and loosening others. In addition, we eliminated many unnecessary operations in manufacturing, got the feeds and speeds up to modern standards and instituted an ISO-quality system to ensure the parts were 100 percent right. All this resulted in our being able to lower prices while satisfying customer expectations that parts coming from what we now called “The New Davenport” would be top quality at a fair price.

While making all these changes, we added many improvements to the machine, some major and some minor, but all directed to performance improvement. With the development of the HP (high precision) head, we are able to hold 0.0005 inch with a form tool leaving the traditionally necessary shave tool position available for something else. The positive pressure lube system along with the hard coated revolving head and Class 9 bearings makes this a rigid, smooth and low-maintenance head capable of doing things that a comparable six-spindle machine cannot do. Even more versatile is the Servo B with back tapping on the pick-off, infinite spindle orientation, and variable speeds independent of the Model B gearbox.

When I took over Davenport, I knew it could be fixed. I believe we are now building a competitive machine tool. I am confident that the Davenport will continue to be a viable machine for decades to come.

Having said that, let me make a pitch for buying new machines. Too many shops are running old, worn out machines that have been fully depreciated on the books, generating no depreciation cash flow. I call this eating your seed corn. Fooling yourself that the old machine doesn’t cost anything except parts is, in my opinion, a mistake.

The new machines are more capable, they are easier to maintain, hold closer tolerances, are more productive and very competitive in the world market. If you have any doubts as to whether or not a part can be made on a Davenport, contact us. I wish I could be around in 2103 to see if my prediction—“The New Davenport, another 100 Years”—comes true.