Shop Solutions: Wolcott Design Pitches a Competitive Shutout
Ask Bob Wolcott what matters, and he’ll excitedly talk about his passion for doing jobs he finds interesting, challenging and rewarding; he has always followed that credo in his work. As the president and owner of Wolcott Design Services (Newburg, OR), he oversees the design, analysis and fabrication that his shop provides for racing, technology, outdoor equipment and other industries. From concept to creation, this small shop prides itself on having all of these capabilities under one roof, creating a fluid transition between design and production while offering increased part quality at a reduced cost and lead time.
This is Wolcott’s second time at bat in what has been a doubleheader career. He started out as a Major League pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. After retiring from baseball, he studied mechanical engineering at Oregon State while working an internship at Intel. Running a milling machine initially began as a hobby for Wolcott, but he soon learned that the work he enjoyed doing on his manual machine could be the start of a lucrative business opportunity. He opened Wolcott Design Services while handling contract work for Intel. As the business began to grow, he found himself manufacturing the very parts he was designing for customers like Gerber, PCC Structurals, Bridge City Tool Works and Rothsport Racing.
Today the company has hit its stride making prototype and production parts using both vertical and horizontal machining centers and competing easily with larger shops. “For a small-size company like us to offer the kind of robust manufacturing capabilities and high-performance horizontal and vertical machining centers that you may not even see in some mid-size manufacturing facilities, it shows our dedication in emphasizing quality,” said Wolcott.
Wolcott operates his shop on his own land, which means he has low overhead and routinely passes that cost saving along to his customers. The company had been using three vertical machining centers to produce its parts, but as business grew, Wolcott found himself in a situation where he needed to add more capacity and flexibility without adding more floor space.
“We needed more speed than our vertical machining centers could provide—faster processing, quicker changeovers and improved workflow management,” said Wolcott. “It was too time-consuming to take down a big production job in order to squeeze in a smaller prototype job. We knew that a horizontal machining center could offer more parts per fixture, offline setups, higher-volume tool magazines and consolidated operations with multiface machining. By employing these capabilities, we would be able to run production parts and prototypes in the same setup while preventing spindle downtime.”
Wolcott chose the a51nx horizontal machining center from Makino Inc. (Mason, OH) for his operation. “The 40-taper spindle is extremely rigid and robust and has allowed us to expand our versatility and the variety of parts that we produce. The 14,000-rpm spindle gives us the range of speed necessary to machine a variety of materials and features. Whether we are hogging out material or producing a pristine finish, the a51nx provides the power and torque we need to produce parts from start to finish in a single setup and the expanded axis travels that can accommodate larger parts,” Wolcott said.
Because the machine can handle more parts per fixture and doesn’t need frequent changeovers, it is always cutting. Its automatic pallet changer and high-capacity tool magazine help Wolcott boost spindle utilization by loading parts and tools outside of the work zone without interrupting the machining process. The company has also improved its manual labor efficiency by allowing one person to operate both the a51nx and a neighboring vertical machining center—a task that was not previously possible with two verticals.
“We appreciate that we don’t have to interrupt the machining process on the a51nx,” said Wolcott. “We get up to 85% spindle utilization, allowing us to move lots of work through the machine. Producing batches of 10,000 parts is easy for us now and, because of that, we are pursuing more high-volume jobs.
“When we first began to offer production capabilities, 80% of our business was in prototype parts,” said Wolcott. “Today none of that work has left the shop floor; however, prototype parts now only make up 30% of our business.”
The company needed a cost-effective solution that would provide a much closer level of quality to that of the a51nx. Wolcott chose to replace one of his previous vertical machining centers with the Makino PS95. “Business is booming, and to meet these demands, we needed something economical that could take some of the load off of the a51nx, and that would produce the same parts quickly without any loss of quality,” said Wolcott.
Wolcott ran a comparison between his current equipment and the PS95 with its 14,000-rpm, 33.5-hp (25-kW) CAT spindle. On the first run, with no changes to the program, the new machine beat the existing machine by eight minutes. The next time the part was run, feeds and speeds were increased to an optimal level for the PS95, and the part was completed 30 minutes faster. On a separate part, Wolcott achieved metal removal rates that were four times faster than those accomplished on his previous machine.
“That speed makes a real difference. For instance, the extra 30 minutes saved allows me to complete one more part per day,” said Wolcott. “On a $200 part, with the same number of employees using the same floor space, time savings can produce an extra $1000 more profit per week. That kind of savings quickly justifies the investment in a high-performance machine.”
Besides enjoying the increased speeds, Wolcott has experienced improved quality—with repeatability as tight as 0.0001" (0.003 mm) on the PS95. When doing work on the previous vertical machining centers, the company had to manually polish the parts to achieve desired finishes—doubling cycle time. On the Makino machines, parts come out in half the time as on the previous machines and require minimal hand work. ME
For more information from Makino Inc., go to www.makino.com, or phone 513-573-7200; for more information from Wolcott Design Services, go to www.wolcottdesignservices.com, or phone 541-231-7479.
This article was first published in the August 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.