When pundits and publications talk about American manufacturing, they’re usually focused on huge companies: the Big Three auto manufacturers, whether major tech companies are reshoring, or how aerospace and renewable energy could create more jobs.
These big names can create some catchy headlines, but the majority of manufacturers in the U.S. aren’t international corporations or global conglomerates. They’re small or midsize companies, such as Lincoln Park Boring Co. in Romulus, Michigan.
These midsize manufacturers have very different concerns than their larger contemporaries. While they’re just as focused on quality, they also have to place a higher priority on cost efficiency. It’s essential that smaller manufacturers make the most out of each employee’s efforts and each dollar spent.
This is why CNC (computer numerical control) retrofits and remanufacturing can provide an excellent solution for small and midsize machine shops. Automation provides advantages for throughput, precision, and employee comfort, while turning to a retrofit rather than a brand-new machine can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.
These benefits were recently demonstrated when Lincoln Park Boring contracted Konecranes Machine Tool Service (MTS) to remanufacture one of their horizontal floor-type boring mills.
The resulting machine will deliver a range of improved capabilities, including an automated option that will improve efficiency while preserving the company’s impeccable reputation for accuracy.
Quality That Sells Itself
“I always explain to people, ‘We make the parts for the machines that make the parts’” says Rick Yesue, President of Lincoln Park Boring. “We work on items like machine bases, columns, frames, and tables for some of the industry’s most reputable OEMs and machine tool builders.”
This business, which was founded by Yesue’s father and is now owned and actively operated by him and his siblings Gary and Nancy, has been running for 57 years and counting, with a customer base that spans across the United States and into Europe.
“Aerospace, automotive, locomotive, mining – you name it, we’ve got experience with it,” continued Yesue. Though known primarily for its large, heavy machining, the company also offers capabilities for smaller work. Services include vertical and horizontal machining, vertical turning and polishing, Blanchard grinding, assembly, and laser inspection.
Regardless of the size or scope of the project, quality remains paramount. “We’re a small company,” continued Yesue, “We don’t even really have salesmen, so we rely on the quality of the work to sell itself.” Much of their business comes from repeat customers or referrals from past customers, so high satisfaction and word-of-mouth are crucial to Lincoln Park Boring’s viability.
“We initially approached Konecranes MTS about one of our horizontal floor-type boring mills,” explained Yesue, “This is a machine model from the late ‘50s that we’ve been using since 1970, and it’s been very good to us, but by 2012 we were really struggling to find replacement parts for it. In addition, this was a manual machine, and so it required a tremendous amount of skill and labor from the operator.”
Konecranes MTS was recommended to Yesue by a long-time contact in the industry, James D. Foust, Large Machine Product Manager at VMC Technologies, Inc. On the strength of this recommendation, Lincoln Park Boring invited Konecranes MTS to make a proposal.
The Argument for Automation
“We really jumped at the chance to take on this project,” explained Harold Schoch, Director of Sales at Konecranes MTS. “Lincoln Park Boring has such a strong reputation with machine tool builders and OEMs. We knew that this would be a great opportunity to engage in a real partnership and leverage the customer’s expertise to their advantage.”
After listening to Lincoln Park Boring’s concerns, Konecranes MTS proposed a CNC control retrofit using a FANUC 0i-MD CNC system. “One of the reasons that machines like this are such good candidates for a retrofit is because of their enormous size,” explained Schoch. “The machine is already seasoned, cured cast-iron, so it has great dampening characteristics and stability needed for machining large components. A machine of this size, with this work envelope, would be incredibly expensive to purchase brand-new. With a CNC retrofit and state-of-the-art technology used in the remanufacturing process you’re looking at a very reasonable value that will still be competitive with any of the new machines of similar size on the market today.”
Automation was a huge part of the benefits of the new control. As mentioned above, the manual nature of the work on the mill was very labor-intensive.
“The operator has to set these large parts up, move the machine into position, and then conduct a large number of redundant checks throughout the process to ensure that the setup hasn’t changed,” explained Schoch, “From a throughput standpoint, all this extra work also means that it takes more time to machine each part. With this retrofit, Lincoln Park Boring will have a state-of-the-art CNC with AC digital servo motors, drives and external scales that will position all the slides very accurately.”
“The control they offered us was pretty unique,” agreed Yesue. “It will allow us to switch between manually operating the machine and letting the machine run automatically. For most of our projects on this mill, we are only working on one or two parts. When we’re able to automate some of the steps, we can be much more efficient with our time.”
“The FANUC 0i-MD also allows us to save all the information from a job, so when we get a similar part, we can simply alter the existing programs and get to work much faster,” he continued. “This should reduce our time on a number of parts. In addition, once the mill is up and running again, we’re going to have a lot more flexibility as to which machines can work on which jobs. So if we get a rush on something, or a customer requests something very specific, we’ve got choices as to how to get it done in the space we have available.”
In addition, since the control came from FANUC, it included extra value. “Going with a FANUC America CNC system gives them reliability that is unparalleled in the industry,” explained Schoch, “Not only does the 0i-MD have the best MTBF available (52 years), FANUC also provides lifetime maintenance for their CNCs to maximize the customers investment security and minimize their total cost of ownership. This means FANUC supports their products for their entire production life, as long as you have the equipment in production. There is no other control manufacturer in the industry that provides that type of trusted commitment.”
Since Lincoln Park Boring is a precision machine shop, they were able to make a number of the components involved in the remanufacture of their Cincinnati Gilbert HBM themselves such as the manufacture of a new saddle and precision machining of the column ways.
Because of Lincoln Park Boring’s extensive experience in machining with installing and aligning precision ways for a variety of machine tool OEMs, their team assumed this responsibility on the Cincinnati Gilbert X-axis beds.
Additionally, Konecranes MTS provided the design and drawings for Lincoln Park Boring to manufacture the servo motor mounts and ball screw support bearing housings.
“With this remanufacture and control retrofit, the sum of all the components really was greater than the whole,” said Schoch, “We generated the mechanical design and mechanical drawings, and Lincoln Park Boring produced many of the vital parts. Their input and expertise were invaluable to the success of the installation. Gary and Rick Yesue have been in the industry for decades, and it shows; they asked a lot of illuminating questions and pushed our team to produce the perfect solution.”
For Lincoln Park Boring, producing these components themselves not only contributed to their confidence in the project, but significantly reduced the related costs.
The retrofit is due to be completed by the end of September, beginning of October and the CNC-capable boring mill is set to serve an important role in Lincoln Park Boring’s shop. “Our reputation is built on quality,” said Yesue, “Part of that commitment to quality is staying at the forefront of the industry and keeping up-to-date with what’s happening in the market. This newly refitted mill brings us to the cutting edge of available technology, and will help us to serve our customers more quickly and accurately.”
Working with Lincoln Park Boring was also eye-opening for Konecranes MTS. “I work with customers of all sizes,” summarized Schoch, “and when I’m involved with some of the larger companies, it can be easy to zero in on their concerns and assume that they apply to the entire industry. But 80% of the manufacturing in this country is done by companies the size of Lincoln Park Boring. As a machine tool services company, it’s essential for us to keep in mind the driving and motivating interests of these smaller customers. We’ve got to keep our eye on the target.”
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense