1. Why is the machine’s base casting design critical?

For a stable machine platform, performance machine tools start with a large, heavy, robust base, usually made from cast iron. This provides superior vibration damping characteristics, suitable for production machining of difficult materials. The machine platform should be designed using finite element analysis (FEA) data to determine rib spacing and size. The base casting should be large enough to fully support all axes at stroke limits. A solid, rigid base casting provides the perfect foundation to support the requirements of medical component manufacturing.

2. What machine features are critical for sustaining production?

One of the most critical features is managing thermal properties. As machines heat up during production, changes in the thermal properties contribute to the growth of the machine. As components such as spindles, ball screws and direct drive motors heat up, they expand. Performance-based machines will actively manage the thermal condition by allowing systems to maintain temperature of the entire structure. They will measure the base casting temperature and maintain components to this temperature, virtually eliminating thermal variation.

3. What should I look for when considering automation?

When selecting a performance-based, production machine tool, it’s important to determine what role automation will play. With an ever-decreasing skilled labor market, manufacturers struggle to maintain production volumes. As these volumes increase, automation is becoming a key component for managing growth. When considering a machine tool platform, analyze how the equipment integrates with automation. I suggest partnering with a manufacturer who supports all types of automation internally, eliminating risks associated with third-party providers.

4. Which machine options facilitate production and automation?

Specific machine options significantly reduce operator intervention and increase spindle utilization. Tool life management allows for tracking tool usage and provides sister tools when a previous tool’s life expires. Spindle load monitoring enables the machine control to monitor the actual load being applied to the tool. A vision broken-tool sensor allows for tool breakage checking outside of the machine area.

5. What is the difference between initial purchase price and actual cost of ownership?

Performance-based machine designs provide robust castings, spindles, and components. When evaluating critical machine tool purchases, evaluate the total cost of ownership vs. the purchase price for the equipment. A commodity-based solution looks attractive at first, with a lower initial purchase price. Performance-based machines may cost more initially, but have a significantly lower annual operating cost throughout their life cycles. This is achieved through improved tool life, reduced operator intervention, and limited or no unplanned downtime due to machine failures. This equates to more available production time and ultimately, more revenue.

Evaluating a machine’s design features and characteristics will provide valuable insight into the true capabilities of a machine tool. Machines with inherent performance features will facilitate consistent, predictable production and will cost less to operate throughout their lives. This equates to more available production time and less operating costs, providing higher profits.