Traditional Parts And Beyond!

Buzz Lightyear, the helpful space commander in Disney's Toy Story series, confidently states, "To infinity and beyond!" That statement's power and energy (and the persistent hopefulness on Buzz's part) sum up for me what is happening in the screw machine industry. The driving force? That ubiquitous silicon chip, wh

Buzz Lightyear, the helpful space commander in Disney's Toy Story series, confidently states, "To infinity and beyond!" That statement's power and energy (and the persistent hopefulness on Buzz's part) sum up for me what is happening in the screw machine industry. The driving force? That ubiquitous silicon chip, which through countless iterations applied to our industry, has culminated in new, high speed Swiss-style CNC automatics.

The primary benefit derived from CNC technology, relative to our industry, is the ability to attract the different, more readily available skill sets required to operate the new machines versus cutting cams, a waning art. Shops can apply these machines that can perform complex operations and completely machine a part in one setup. CNC machines are inherently more flexible, permitting quick job changeover and making even short runs productive and profitable for shops.

Sometimes shop owners or manufacturing engineers are reluctant to make the transition from cam machines to CNCs, but it seems that when they start to realize the benefits, they've already placed a purchase order for the next machine.

If anything was causing the screw machine industry to lag behind the general machining market, which grasped onto CNC two decades ago, it was the speed issue. Speed has now been addressed and resolved, and this is a significant reason why we're seeing this spike of CNC machine conversion in our industry segment.

For example, 5 years ago we developed a system capable of controlling ten axes simultaneously for our single-spindle Swiss automatics. Tornos has grown this technology to control up to 23 axes on our multispindle automatics. Providing a platform that is generic to our products and that can be adapted to a number of different machine styles has given us a tremendous boost in installations. This platform allows users to machine extremely complex workpieces that are not considered the typical long, thin Swiss-style parts. In successfully producing these complex parts, we have grown our customer base into areas beyond traditional Swiss-style consumers.

In the multispindle world the computer revolution has been slower, mainly because of the cost of CNC technology spread across five-, six- or eight-spindle machines. However, with the availability of lower cost electronics, ballscrews and controls capable of operating machines with 16, 18 and 23 axes, this technology is here.

Currently all the multispindle manufacturers offer both cam and CNC versions of their machines. That will be changing in the ensuing years, as the cost to manufacture a cam multispindle with all of its mechanical components is extremely expensive. Today, when a builder replaces those components with electronics and ballscrews, there is only a small price premium to cover that technology difference. Subsequently, I foresee CNC multispindle automatics overtaking the cam automatics in 5 to 10 years. There are still thousands of cam multis out in the market, and they will continue to make piece parts in high volume and open tolerance applications. But, if a shop is forced to run smaller lot quantities with tighter tolerances and needs quicker job changeovers, the answer is a CNC multispindle automatic.

It is an exciting time to be in the screw machine industry, as the technology to produce these parts is evolving. We at Tornos are grateful to be a supplier of technology that's not just unique to be unique, but that is truly helping our customers grow. And it's growth in many ways: by helping them expand into new markets, by helping them think in advanced technology terms and methods, by helping them be more profitable, and by helping them, and the industry as a whole, progress beyond the current scope. Perhaps even, "to infinity and beyond!"