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Time machine

Inside manufacturing 2017-06-26 Chuck Thompson Daniel Månsson

Fit a planer mill built in 1958 with modern tool holders and mills? Why not? The American company Peninsula Iron Works bridged some six decades of technology when it retrofitted its old planer mill, in the process creating a historic return on investment.

​By company standards, Peninsula Iron Works’ 30-foot (nine-metre) Cincinnati planer mill is a youngster. Although it dates from 1958, the shop it sits in is much older. The plant was built in Portland, Oregon, in 1917 to serve as a war factory to aid British naval effort during World War I. Continuing its wartime role during World War II, the shop was used to cast some 1.5 million hand grenade casings. Meanwhile, the building is located directly beneath one of Portland’s pre-eminent engineering landmarks ¬– St John’s Bridge, with its 40-storey-high Gothic cathedral spires. The bridge was opened in 1931 to span the Willamette River, which runs through Portland.

Yet amid all this tradition, the vintage planer mill has assumed pride of place in the Peninsula Iron Works (PIW) shop for making a new kind of history. Converted to CNC in 2004, it has since been retrofitted to operate with a Sandvik Coromant Capto C10 interface. James Johnson, president and co-owner, explains that the shop needed a high-speed, rigid solution for a number of jobs on its evolving task list, which includes work for heavy industry clients in aerospace, hydroelectric, oil and gas, steel mills, mining and aggregate processing.

“I wanted a 3,200-r/min, 24-hour-a-day duty cycle,” Johnson says. “We wanted the Capto C10 on this machine because it has much greater structural integrity than the milling head we had on here before. It’s pretty much run non-stop since we put it on.”

​Spindles on machines the size and age of this Cincinnati planer mill typically run at a maximum 1,000 r/min, too slow for smaller-diameter tools to work effectively. The Coromant Capto C10 spindle system runs at a maximum 4,000 r/min. Older machines also lack the ability to deliver coolant through the spindle to the tool tip. This Sandvik Coromant Capto system removes such limitations from a machine of any vintage.

Change is something PIW has always embraced. The new planer milling head is a prototype, and Johnson believes it may spark others. PIW’s in-house Electric Machine Control Systems (EMCS), a subsidiary company that specializes in retrofitting machinery, did the conversion of the machine to CNC and built the all-new Coromant Capto C10 milling head. During the design and manufacturing processes, EMCS worked closely with Sandvik Coromant engineers to produce the milling head and guarantee it would perform to PIW’s expectations.

“Our relationship with Sandvik Coromant is a close partnership, in fact we meet with our local Sandvik Coromant Sales Engineer, Jeff Romine, on a regular basis to discuss the best tools for our applications," says PIW manager Mark Pongracz. “Ninety percent of the tools in this shop are Sandvik Coromant. The Capto system has become the standard interface for all multi-task machine tool builders, and our choice as well, since it performs exceptionally in turning as well as milling.”

EMCS also wanted a platform it could rely on to handle the torque required for jobs such as those involving aerospace titanium milling. Although PIW doesn’t regularly machine titanium, its customers that do so stand to benefit from this spindle technology and milling head. “The pull force you generate with a Capto C10 won’t damage your spindle or your tool, but allows the two pieces to perform as if they were one,” Pongracz explains. “Sandvik provided all the engineering support to EMCS to build PIW the C10 interface into their milling head.”

​Next to the retrofitted Cincinnati mill is a 1968 Betts vertical turning lathe with a 20 foot (6 meter) diameter table.  This machine has also been retrofitted with the latest technology, but this time with Sandvik Coromant Capto turning blocks,  so that it can utilize the latest in cutting tool technology.  The machine is turning the outside diameter of a 90,000 pound (41,000 kilogram) trunnion wheel for the nearby Broadway Bridge.

Peninsula Iron Works remains a privately held, family owned company. “That means we need to be as efficient as we can,“ says Pongracz. “Being profitable is not an option for us - it is a necessity. Our survival depends on it.”

This is where the rare retrofit of the 1958 machine truly pays off. History is fine, but Johnson estimates that replacing the old warhorse would cost 4 to 5 million US dollars. “We couldn’t go to market for that,” he says. “We’d have to charge 300 to 400 dollars an hour.”

Saving money makes everyone happy. But the smiles get bigger when you consider the original price of the 1958 Cincinnati – a whopping USD 100,000, according to Johnson’s estimate. With the help of a unique Capto C10 retrofit, that has brought about a return on investment that is up to date in any age.

​Coromant Capto system

There is a lot to be impressed with in the Coromant Capto ISO Standard coupling system. Much of it comes down to the tapered polygon shank design. Because of the unique shape, the coupling locks tightly, giving it exceptionally high torque transmission. It also makes the system fast and easy to use.

“The training for Coromant Capto takes two minutes, and it’s impossible to mis-install,” says Mark Backus, a Sandvik Coromant machine integration product specialist. “The result is a lot less machine down time.”

The tool’s simultaneous face and taper contact improve accuracy and strength in all applications, allowing for a significantly higher pull force applied by a machine tool’s drawbar system.

The modular design and six sizes – from C3 to C10 – offer solutions for nearly every need. That’s why companies like Portland, Oregon-based Peninsula Iron Works rely on it and other Sandvik Coromant products almost exclusively.

“No one else has the selection of cutting tools for turning, drilling and milling we need,” says company manager Mark Pongracz.

A family business

Peninsula Iron Works President James Johnson is as much a part of the scenery here as the plant’s machines are. His grandfather, George C Johnson, bought into the business in 1946, and by age 10 James Johnson was pushing a broom across the same floors he oversees today. Now he and his brother David run the company.

At 50, James doesn’t smoke as many cigars as he once did – “I’m down to one a month,” he says – but he’s still an old-school traditionalist with an intimate knowledge of every part of the business he runs. “The biggest change in the industry in my lifetime is automation,” he says.



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