Conroe Machine in Conroe, Texas, is doing what most machine shops only dream of doing – hard turning a family of parts around the clock in an unmanned cell that operates a "self controlled" process. The shop is proving that unmanned machining is not an impossible dream; it’s achievable for any shop ready to trust its automation objectives to talented, though young experts, and to exploit new technology like Renishaw's programmable Equator gauge.

The turning cell, with software and programming developed by CNC programmer James Wardell and robotics technician Jeff Buck, integrates a Fanuc robot with the Equator gauging system using Renishaw EZ-IO software to provide comprehensive communication for 100-percent part inspection and auto-compensation of a twin-spindle Okuma 2SP-250 lathe.  The cell also boxes and palletizes finished parts.According to Conroe Machine sources, the cell paid for itself in a remarkably short period of just 18 days.

The same automation team later developed an unmanned cell for part measurement/sorting. for a customer, this time combining two Equators, a Fanuc robot, a vision system, and multiple lanes of low-profile conveyor. In each application, the Equator demonstrates the value of programmable comparative inspection by quickly measuring a family of bearing races, doing it cost effectively -- and without fixturing or other complications for a shop floor environment.

As a manufacturer, Conroe Machine is a relatively young too, founded in 2000 by Murray "Tippy" Touchette, with the expressed objective to produce parts with the best manufacturing technology available. The company has grown to about 150 employees and operates now in a climate-controlled 65,000-square-foot plant. While it is a general-purpose shop, Conroe’s location near Houston means that a high volume of business comes from customers operating in the oil-and-gas industry, principally involving drilling components. One of the jobs running continuously at the shop is manufacturing of thrust bearing races for downhole mud motors. These parts are produced by the thousands every week, around the clock.