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Shop Buys First CNC Lathe In 1983, Rest Is History


Axly Tool (Bad Axe, MI) is on a roll. In 1983, the company purchased its first Okuma CNC lathe.

At the time, Al Rochefort ran an old Warner & Swasey turret lathe for Axly Tool, a small contract machining company with 15 employees. Management recognized the simple fact that if Axly Tool wanted to improve machining accuracy, increase production, and be able to quote on closer tolerance jobs, it would have to get into CNC machining.

Turret lathe operator Rochefort was told that it was his job to find the best machine for them.

“I was at a loss,” Rochefort recalled. “I had never purchased any machine tool. I was a lathe operator. I thought about it overnight and the next day I went to work and found three machine tool trade publications at the plant aOne of the many Okuma machining cells that Gemini Group companies, CKS and Axly Tool, use to produce high-precision contract machined parts.nd went through them that night, page-by-page, looking at the articles and the advertisements. I decided to call three major machine tool companies to have a representative call on me and talk about our needs.”

Of the three companies, Okuma was the only company that showed up. Fast forward to today: 111 machines later Axly Tool is still buying Okuma and has just installed the latest, a CNC ID grinder, for its Briney Toolholder division. “I remember we were doing about $20,000 month in sales and the new machine cost $123,000. My boss told me if I couldn’t make it run and take advantage of the accuracy and productivity, I was personally going to own it!” said Rochefort.

“Needless to say, we’re a much bigger company today, and Okuma has been a big part of our success. We’re now part of the Gemini Group and a leading contract machining company, the second largest extrusion die manufacturer in the world and a plastic injection molder,” said Rochefort. “We operate Briney Tooling Systems, one of the only toolholder companies that continue to produce 100% of their toolholders here in North America.”

Rochefort is now the technical director for the Gemini Group, a far cry from being a turret lathe operator back in 1983.

John Bernardi from Gosiger, the Dayton, OH, machine tool distributor for Okuma and the one who has sold Gemini every one of their Okuma’s said: “It has been awe-inspiring to watch this company grow. The loyalty between customer and supplier has worked both ways. But Gemini’s ability to see the big picture and make timely investments to take advantage of advanced machining technology to improve machining accuracy and productivity is the real key.

“When I sold the first LC-30 CNC lathe to them in 1983, it eliminated six Warner & Swasey turret lathes. They immediately purchased a second LB-15 in 1984. In 1987 Gemini purchased the first four of five LB-25 CNC lathes that came to America. As the type and level of machining work has evolved, Gemini added more lathes, more machining centers, milling machines and OD and ID grinders both single and multi-spindle machines, even double column ones. LB-15s, LB-25s, LC-30s and 40s, GI-20s,” said Bernardi.
One of the first Okuma GI-20N ID grinders Axly Tool bought is still in operation today making Briney toolholders.
“When you walk through our plants you can see the evolution of the Okuma machines, too…mostly from the changes in their logos,” said Rochefort. “We know the Okuma’s are a lot of machine, sometimes with 100 options or more, when we’re actually only using 10, but it gives us future options too. If you can believe it, we still have one of the original LB-15 lathes. It’s been refurbished a couple of times, but it’s still making toolholder components.

“Gosiger, our machine tool distributor, has a close relationship with an exclusive Okuma rebuilder so that has always been an option for us. We’ve always found that the Okuma’s are very durable machines, easy to get 20 years of service out of them and some of them 30 years.”

Axly Tool also takes advantage of Gosiger’s training programs. “Gosiger has a great facility in Farmington Hills, MI, where they have a full complement of Okuma machines. Because we have Okuma machines scattered throughout all our plants, our service people are interchangeable both for mechanical and controls issues which simplifies our service needs,” said Rochefort.

“It has been a wonderful relationship for over 32 years now,” Rochefort said. “I’m confident it will carry on long after John Bernardi and I are finally retired. But we can both feel satisfied that we did our best to bring the right machining technology at the right time to meet the company’s needs, and that appears to have already been proven over and over again.”

For more information from Okuma America Corp, go to, or phone 704-588-7000; for information from Gosiger, go to, or phone 877-288-1538; for information from Axly Tool Gemini Group Metals Segment, go to, or phone 989-269-9558. 


This article was first published in the April 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read "Shop Buys First CNC Lathe in 1982, Rest is History" as a PDF.

Published Date : 4/1/2016

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