Retrofitting Roadmap

Jan. 1, 2004
A machine-analysis program lets shops better plan and pay for future machine tool retrofits.

A machine-analysis program lets shops better plan and pay for future machine tool retrofits.

G&L Service Technician Steve Yanke inspects an HMC's control and electrical panels during MAP testing.

In this retrofit of a traveling-column boring mill, a G&L technician makes adjustments to the machine gibs.

MAP inspection and testing of a horizontal boring mill.

G&L's John D'amato adjusts linear scales on a floor-type horizontal boring mill.

A G&L control retrofit breathed new life into LBNL's boring mill, which now machines more accurately.

New tax credits and attractive financing packages are giving shops good reason to retrofit/rebuild their metalworking equipment, according to Giddings & Lewis Machine Tools, Fond du Lac, Wis. Over the past year, the company has coupled such economic incentives with a powerful machine-analysis program (MAP) that lets shops predict machine tool problems, accurately budget upgrades, and schedule downtime.

"Shops have been given incentives to invest in new machine tools," says Steve Sadowski, G&L's manager of sales, CNC. "But what many may not know is that such capital-equipment upgrades include retrofits.

We're not talking about simple repairs, because you don't get the same depreciation benefits you would by buying a complete retrofit package."

G&L is also working with finance companies to give shops the option to purchase retrofits or lease them. "End users can structure a lease to make a minimal payment at the end — as low as $1 — and the equipment is theirs," explains Sadowski. "It's financially advantageous because shops use the depreciation law to finance their retrofit and write it off quickly. It's also a simple way to bring that cost in line with today's business and prepare for tomorrow."

Although other retrofitters offer similar financial incentives, says Sadowski, what sets G&L apart is the breadth of its resources — which include MAP. "As the OEM, we have the parts and prints, expertise, and service to determine what's wrong with a machine and do the repairs," he remarks. "And MAP lets us put all our assets into a complete package."

MAP encompasses all G& L machine tools, including those of G&L-acquired companies such as Bickford, Kearney & Trecker, and Gray. Users pay a flat rate of $5,995 to bring in a service technician who performs a complete machine analysis. Typically, the job takes four days.

With MAP, G&L inspects all key mechanical and electrical systems, including ways, power tracks, gibs, spindles, drive belts, couplings, lube pressures, and over-travel limits. Technicians also test and evaluate the performance of heat exchangers, safety devices, coolant systems, and refrigeration units as well as auxiliary devices like tool and pallet changers, hydraulic systems, and probes.

As for the control, G&L ensures not only that it's functional but also that it has no obsolescence issues. "Shops still have tape-drive systems on their machines or other components that are no longer available. And often, they don't realize an item is obsolete until it fails," says Sadowski. "Certainly, we notify customers when components are being retired, but MAP lets us address specific machines and controls."

Besides old controls, MAP uncovers a host of other problems. Two of the more common are worn gib surfaces and drives and motors that have reached the end of their service life.

Once G&L completes its analysis, it provides a detailed inspection report and service recommendation. "The customer gets a snapshot of his equipment — where it is functionally and what needs to be done to prevent a major breakdown," comments Sadowski. At this point, it's up to the end user whether to handle the retrofit in-house or have G&L put together a quote.

"Using MAP, the end user can now plan for the future and budget accordingly," says Sadowski. "He can gather information and prices on our upgrade packages, mechanical repairs, control retrofits, and drive/motor packages to determine where he can go with his machine and how much it will cost. He can also schedule his downtime rather than just have it happen."

On the road with MAP
A facility that has taken advantage of MAP is Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a U.S. Dept. of Energy lab managed by the University of California. Its Machine Tool Repair and Maintenance Shop, which repairs, modifies, and upgrades most machine tools at LBNL, recently upgraded a circa-1978 G&L horizontal boring mill.

"G&L gave us a heads up that it was retiring the machine's CNC800 control," recalls Paul Knopp, tool re-pair engineer. "That gave us time to appropriate funding through the government to do a control retrofit."

Although LBNL could have used another vendor for the retrofit, Knopp chose G&L based on a compelling visit to a local end user. "This company had used G&L's services," he says. "What I saw convinced me that this was the company for upgrading this $1 million machine."

G&L's reliability sold him, says Knopp. "The scary thing about retrofits is that they can go really wrong. We've had to discard machines because of bad performance on a vendor's part. You don't want companies that claim they can do a job, do it halfway, and then just walk away. And this happens."

The boring mill is well maintained, so it didn't require extensive retrofitting, says Knopp. "I've worked on that machine for 20 years — I run ballbar analysis on it every other year, and I do laser alignments. We do the scheduled preventive maintenance. We level it and make all the hydraulic and electronic adjustments. G&L's MAP work showed that the machine was in good shape, so we focused on the control retrofit and some electrical wiring to auxiliary equipment."

LBNL and G&L scheduled the control upgrade, which gave Knopp a chance to do preventive maintenance and level the machine beforehand. "I did a ballbar of the machine with our old control so I knew exactly how the machine would perform. And I can certify G&L's work," he states.

LBNL's machinists and programmers also reviewed the particulars of the new NumeriPath 8000 CNC before the retrofit was finished. In fact, the in-house programmer learned to write CNC routines before the control was installed.

The retrofit went smoothly, taking a few days less than the three weeks scheduled. And LBNL was back making quality parts the day G&L finished. Knopp reports that the mill is not only more accurate, but the control gives him self-diagnostic features he didn't have before.

The retrofit has also given LBNL a work platform to build upon. "With the new control and electronics, I now have the capability to switch my old DC drive motors over to AC without changing the control," explains Knopp. "Or if I added a new spindle drive, the control could work with it. Essentially, I've brought in the framework to add future options."

The Route To Higher Productivity

G&L offers fully compatible control retrofits that improve machine performance, increase reliability, and enhance programming capabilities.

Replacing controls lets shops speed processing times, improve contouring capabilities, and reduce cycle times on older machine tools. "Rather than spending money to maintain an old control, shops can purchase a state-of-the art control with better performance, reliability, and productivity," states G&L's Steve Sadowski.

Currently, the company supplies five control-retrofit packages, including the G&L NumeriPath 8000, which replaces retired CNC800 controls, and the NumeriPath 8000B, which replaces retired 8000A controls. Both control retrofits are part-program compatible. The company also offers Siemens' 840D and Di controls and Fanuc's 160i CNC. All packages include detailed documentation and prints, so end users can do control retrofits in-house, if desired, rather than call in G&L technicians.

According to Sadowski, compatibility is a key benefit of G&L control-retrofit packages. "Other retrofitters adapt controls, drives, and motors rather than delivering a completely compatible package," he comments. "Our controls plug into existing sockets and connectors and interface with everything currently on the machine. They're also designed to re-use existing programs for a compatible upgrade."

In addition to its control packages, G&L offers shaft and mount-compatible digital servo and spindle drive-and-motor packages to boost machine reliability and performance. "Compatibility here is also important," Sadowski says, "because our legacy machines are built on inch specs. Other companies may adapt metric motors using mounting plates, bushings, and shaft extensions, but these create points of weakness. Our inch-mount and inch-shaft-compatible AC digital drives and motors ensure 100% compatibility and eliminate failure points.

This gives our customers a huge gain from an installation standpoint while also improving productivity."

Sadowski says G&L can package a new control with cable, drives, motors, and an operator station, if needed. "We offer standard operator stations as well as network-ready operator stations with a full-NT front end. Shops can easily run nontraditional operations at the machine and transfer files over a network, thereby decreasing the time needed to load tape or send a program over a serial port," he explains.