High speed machining is making a big impact on the metalworking industry, but there’s another technology that’s just as important: multi-tasking. The ability to produce complex parts in fewer operations means shops can decrease customer lead-times while increasing product margins.
Rick Ware, vice president of marketing for the Advantec Division of Mazak Corp., Florence, KY, says there’s a tremendous amount of activity right now surrounding multi-tasking machines, especially in the aerospace market. “The private sector in Canada, the US and even Mexico is going crazy. Companies like Gulfstream and GKN Aerospace are producing new products, and much of that work requires 5-axis equipment.”
That means aerospace suppliers are making seat brackets for the G650 business jet, fuel distribution valves and titanium turbine blades for jet engines, and a host of other demanding components. Some of these are truly monstrous in size. “One of the projects Mazak has been involved with recently is the machining of jet engine housings. Here you’re looking at parts 8 to 10 ft [2.4 to 3 m] in diameter.”
Despite being large enough to accommodate the family car, machines doing aerospace work such as this must offer high accuracy. Multi-tasking machines, with their ability to machine multiple sides of a workpiece in a single operation, offer just that, eliminating the tolerance stack up suffered when tumbling parts across multiple fixtures as seen in traditional machining operations.
Ware says aerospace work is a different ballgame. “You’re cutting a lot of titanium, high alloy steels and so on. You need a machine with good spindle torque across a wide speed range, and extremely rigid machine construction.” Above all, you need good people. Multi-tasking machines come equipped with five or more axes, pallet changers, large tool magazines, and can mill, drill, turn, hob and bore in the same machine, often simultaneously. “There’s a lot of capability there, and you need the right programming staff to make the most of it.”