Turning to automation

Turning to automation

Loader and lathe keep clutch production from slipping.

Loader and lathe keep clutch production from slipping.

By Charles Bates
senior editor

A Fortune lathe with gantry loader does the work of two machines and two operators at Boninfante Performance Clutch Parts.

The VT's compact footprint makes it a perfect candidate for automation.

To reduce backlash, friction, and vibration, Fortune eliminates drive belts and gears from the VT's feed-drive mechanisms by direct coupling of servomotors to ballscrews.


Most shops, especially those with under 20 employees, can't afford to waste the time and talent of their machinists on loading and unloading parts. So they often turn to automation-like gantry loaders. Such systems not only eliminate the drudgery of manual parts handling but can also improve overall part manufacturing. This is exactly what happened at Boninfante Performance Racing Clutch Parts in Yeadon, Pa.

The company makes clutches for all types of drag racing and has one automated lathe with a gantry loader doing the work of two machines and two operators. The basically unattended system reduces the number of operations and shortens cycle times for one of the company's high-production parts. An added benefit is that it frees up the two other machines and operators to work on new parts to further expand Boninfante's product line.

Boninfante's automated system is from Fortune International Machine,

Somerset, N.J. It includes the company's VT-plus-20 chucker-type lathe, which is well suited for automation. According to Bill Foust of York Penn Machinery Co., the Fortune distributor handling Boninfante, a VT's physical size is ideal for cellular manufacturing when coupled with gantry-type loading devices, barfeed units, or robotics. Required floorspace is about 7 X 5 ft.

Fortune's material-handling division manufactures the company's gantry systems. Having the loader and machine tool built by the same company saves customers like Boninfante from having to deal with up to three different suppliers — one for the machine tool, one for automation, and a systems integrator.

With the VT and gantry loader, Boninfante machines center-drive clutch hubs. The parts are basically the same except for size variations, and batches number around 10,000 for each size. According to Rob Boninfante in the shop's R&D department, changing over the Fortune for different sizes of parts takes just minutes.

The shop cuts part slugs on a bandsaw and stores them in the lathe's 15-station pallet pool. From there, the gantry shuttles them over the machine, through an upper door, and to the waiting chuck.

For the first operation, the machine turns one side of the hub and bores a hole in it. Total first-operation time is 1.5 min faster with the Fortune system as compared to the previous two-machine process. The VT's speed and gantry loader shave off 30 sec, while an insert-type drill from Iscar saves an additional minute on the hole-boring operation. The VT's speed and rigidity make it possible to use such a tool.

To reduce backlash, friction, and vibration, Fortune eliminates drive belts and gears from the VT's feeddrive mechanisms by directly coupling servomotors to ballscrews. The result is rapid traverse rates up to 944.9 in./min.

The second hub operation runs faster than the first because there's no drilling — just machining the opposite side of the part. The second operation previously required Boninfante machinists to transfer parts from the first lathe over to another across from it.

"One guy spends about an hour each day setting up the Fortune system. We turn it on at 6:00 a.m., and it runs until 10:00 p.m. — just about two shifts unattended," says Rob Boninfante. "Basically we load the gantry and inspect the finished parts, and we are planning on integrating inspection into the system."

According to his father and company president Nick Boninfante, the Fortune system could easily produce a year's worth of hubs in six months. The old system ran all year to fill quotas.

At the track

(From left to right) Bill Foust of York Penn Machinery, along with Rob, Nick, and Nick Jr. Boninfante, stand near the company's Fortune lathe with gantry loader.


Nick Boninfante is not only the president of Boninfante Performance Clutch Parts but also owns the Raybestos Funny Car team. His son Nick Boninfante Jr. is the crew chief for NHRA top-fuel funny car racer Bob Gilbertson. Fortune International Machine is also sponsoring the car along with Boninfante.

Boninfante supplies about 87% of drag racing with disk and floater plates. After getting the cinder disks from Raybestos, Boninfante modifies, assembles, and checks them. In addition to its lathe, the shop plans to outfit a tractor trailer with Fortune equipment for going to races and servicing the products it sells.

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