A Shop’s Secret Weapon

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by Jim Barnes

Unique facing head gives boring mill six axis capability

The Problem: Capacity crunch with new orders

The Solution: Heavy duty table-type horizontal boring mill


The need for a new horizontal boring mill had become pretty apparent at CMI Heavy Industries, St. Catharines, ON. New orders for large components had caused something of a capacity crunch in the plant. The efficiency, precision and rigidity possible with a new machine were on the firm’s wish list.

The tech-savvy family that owns the business, headed by president Pat Rapone, had very specific requirements in mind. Table capacity, height and horizontal travel were key criteria, says vice-president David Rapone. “After that, it was mainly a value proposition, examining the machine’s key aspects, putting together a decision matrix and then choosing the best bang for our buck.”

The machine they ultimately selected, a Fermat WFT-13 CNC, was basically unknown to them at the start of the selection process.

Deep tech roots
The company, once known as Clark Machinery, has a history dating back at least to 1922. Pat Rapone became the sole owner in 2005 and has completed a succession plan to his four sons: David, vice president; Shawn, controller; Brian, senior project manager; and Richard, production manager.

The firm’s primary markets are power generation, steel, construction, oil and gas, nuclear, mining, and pulp and paper. However, it can reach into almost any industry with a requirement for custom-engineered steel components. “We have jobs coming in from industries we have never serviced before,” notes David.

“Our ideal jobs are the ones that other companies don’t want to look at because they are too complicated, or the requirements are too difficult for them from both a technical and quality standpoint. That’s where we’ve seen our growth,” says Shawn.

David Rapone with a fan impeller assembly.Part of CMI’s success lies in its approach to manufacturing. “Part of our value proposition is that we can save our customers money by offering suggestions based on our experience. We’ve seen such a wide variety of industries and components that we can take the knowledge and expertise that we’ve gained over the years and apply it to new designs,” says Shawn.

It’s a substantial operation, with more than 2,000 sq m of shop floor area in a facility that totals about 3,000 sq m. The firm has about 40 staff on two shifts.

The investment has been constant and substantial since Pat took over the business. All the machines in the shop were purchased since 2005. Major mechanical and electrical retrofits have been done on some machines. The firm has an array of machines from small toolroom lathes and mills up to large horizontal boring mills, 12 m between centres. It also has substantial welding and paint finishing capabilities.

CMI already had a short list of machines to consider when the Fermat was brought to their attention during a sales call by TOS America Inc., Milton ON. They went out to see a machine in use in a shop and liked what they saw, says David. “I was impressed with the engineering design of the main components of the machine. It has a boxway design, not a linear guide design. With the rigidity of the machine and the quality of the components that went into it, it was a very well-priced machine.”

The machine could easily last for 40 years of use based on its quality, says Shawn.

The installation
Pat visited the Fermat factory in Brno, Czech Republic, and inspected the machine as it was being built. He was impressed with its size and how robust it was.

The implementation was very methodical. Right from the start, “we knew that machine pretty well, inside and out,” says Shawn.

CMI made space for the machine by taking out an old lathe. They poured new concrete into the floor and installed the machine 16 in. below floor level.

That helps keep the floor clean, since the floor at the base is sloped toward the chip conveyors. As well, they wanted some additional clearance for the crane.

They bypassed any potential hiccups in the installation. “It’s not as easy as you might think. It took a lot of planning,” says David. “We double-checked everything that the contractors did. We caught a few things, but nothing happened during the installation to cause a problem. I don’t think we would do anything differently with that install if we had to do it over again,” says David. The machine was up and running in October, 2013.

Unique technology: facing head
It’s a six axis machine, with a unique facing head that CMI developed providing the sixth axis.

They wanted something different from the heads available on the market. “We integrated a Komet head into our design… We worked with Fanuc North America to make some changes to the ladder logic, to control a U-axis with the spindle,” says David.

“It gives us a bit of a secret weapon,” David says with a laugh. It lets CMI do a lot more operations inside the bore, repeatability of two or three ten-thousandths of an inch.

What’s the prescription for a successful investment? “Know what you want. Get the right machine for the job. An extra hundred thousand dollars up front is nothing in the grand scheme of things,” says Shawn.

“Know your criteria. I think we made the right decision.” SMT

Jim Barnes is a contributing editor. [email protected]

CMI Heavy Industries


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