By Scott Walker
President, Mitsui Seiki USA, Inc.

On a bright day full of promise and smiles your new machine tool arrives in a wooden crate the size of a small backyard shed. Two congenial technicians sporting crisp shop coats emblazoned with the builder’s brand carefully unpack and begin the tedious installation process, which includes running the machine through its paces to make sure everything is okay.

Afterwards you shake hands cordially, and they depart. “Good luck!” they say sincerely.

That scenario is the surest way to head for disaster in the worst case, or get less than optimum performance out of your machine in the best case. What’s missing?

What’s missing is the contract the builder most likely offered you way back during the purchase phase, which was to supply at least one, maybe even two, weeks of applications engineering support immediately following installation.

You didn’t think you needed it. After all, you have a smart team yourself, plus you went through test cuts at the builder’s factory, and everything went smoothly there.

“There” is the operative word.

In our own case, “there” is Mitsui Seiki’s assembly areas, closely regulated for optimum temperature control at 20 degrees Celsius, with a tolerance of +/- 0.2 degrees. Stable and rigid machine support during assembly and testing is reached through a specially engineered flooring system. The concrete floors in the machine assembly bays are one meter thick, and are supported by 40-meter deep pilings, spaced every 10 square meters.

This combination of a solid infrastructure and strict environmental controls provides the best conditions for benchmarking our machines’ capabilities before customer installation. These features are geared towards the extraordinary precision requirements of our sophisticated tool line, consisting of 5-axis machining centers, ultraprecision (under 20 microns true positioning capabilities) vertical and horizontal machining centers, jig borers, jig grinders, thread grinders and special purpose machines.

While most of our customer’s factories are as modern as they come, and sometimes our machines are even placed in “clean” R&D labs, it’s still a completely different environment.

Therefore we always strongly suggest signing up for applications support at your site with your parts “soaked” in your environment on the machine table.

To know that you are really getting the most out of your machine, that it’s operating at its optimum level, is to get spindle utilization above 80 percent. That’s the magic number from the builder, from you, and for the group of features that are on the machine.

For example, let’s say the machine is a 5-axis HMC with a trunnion table, pallet loading system, a probing system, a group of gaging macros, and a laser measurement device to check for dimensional features and tool wear.

It has adaptive control, it has advanced intelligence to optimize the process and integrate the whole package of features.

In other words – this bad boy is sophisticated and complex. By having a trained factory technician knowledgeable about the machine and your application(s), together you can work through all the issues that surface when the machine is operating at your site.

Further, by observing the cutting action and all the variables imposing on that, this is the opportune time to determine how to reduce cycle time. The goal is to not only make parts within tolerance; it’s to make them profitably.

Maintaining that 80 percent spindle runtime, at least, and closely monitoring tool life is key.

Because tooling is such an important aspect of machine optimization, I always recommend having your tooling engineer there during this phase, too.

I’ve seen it happen that a tooling expert can make adjustments that allow you to reach farther than your standard length of diameter ratios. A tooling engineer also might provide you with new cutting edges that will last longer or last through specific cuts you are trying to hold such as bores and flats.

So, when that gleaming new piece of equipment is shining on your shop floor, make sure it shines where it really counts – making your parts right, making your parts profitably, and working efficiently toward the ROI.

To accomplish that, you need to invest in support.