Easily expandable machines can help meet a shop’s future milling applications as its business grows.
In the case of horizontal machining centers, retrofitting multiple pallets and larger automatic tool changer capacity in the field can not only expand machining capacity but also reduce setup time, make for longer uninterrupted run times, increase spindle up time and provide lightsout operation.
However, Richard Parenteau, director of applications development at Methods Machine Tools Inc., said that careful examination is required to ensure that the retrofitting option can be easily and economically implemented. He said that while most standard horizontal machining centers include two pallets and the majority of machine tool manufacturers offer multiple pallet solutions – 3,5,8,10, and 12 – that can be field retrofitted, several expensive challenges may be involved in doing so. The challenges can include the time necessary to perform the retrofit and issues concerning software.
It is possible that a machine could be out of production for 7 to 10 days due to sheet metal modifications and custom fitting that need to be performed. And if the multi-pallet software needs upgraded, there could be additional loss in production time. The culprits are typically software availability issues, incompatibility problems due to not obtaining the proper software revision version and loss of current programs when the software is upgraded.
Along with expanding pallets, shops must also add tool capacity to increase the machine’s milling capabilities. At the time a shop invests in a horizontal machining center, Parenteau advised they review the automatic tool changer’s capacity.
A standard two-pallet machine will come with 40 to 60 tools, and this amount is usually not expandable in the field. An expandable system typically starts at 80 to 90 tools and can go to 250 to 300 tools.
Parenteau said there are machine tool builders that make the retrofit option much better and simpler to execute. One example he mentioned was Kiwa-Japan.
That company’s machines, available in North America from Methods Machine Tools, offer 1- to 2-day field retrofits for expanding pallets from 2 to 6 or 8. That is because the Kiwa machines come fully assembled from the factory, so there’s minimal loss of production time.
Automatic tool change field retrofits also take only 1 or 2 days for expanding a machine’s tool capacity from 40 to 60 or 80 to 220 tools. The major difference with Kiwa machines, according to Parenteau, is that they are designed for retrofitting from the initial concept, not as an afterthought.