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Making Tools to Make Machining Simple

Feb. 2, 2023
An aerospace job shop uses three ANCA grinding machines plus ANCA design and program software to go from design to blank to tool – all in less than an hour.

“A friend in Connecticut told me about a CNC machine in his shop that was simple, easy to program and set-up, run and verify tools of all types,” recalled Brendan Slabe, an Ohio machine shop owner. “It was an ANCA grinder.

“I mentioned it to my toolroom supervisor, John Walker, who had no CNC experience but had great curiosity, being a master toolmaker,” Slabe continued. Walker investigated the grinder as an option for producing some very challenging variable helix endmills that the shop was buying from a tool supplier.

“He came back to me a changed man,” Slabe concluded, explaining that his co-worker realized that the endmill could be sampled on the ANCA grinding machine “in less time than it takes for a coffee break…and it’s right, the very first time.”

Now, a few years later, Slabe Machine can produce all the tooling used on over 150 machines at the production job shop on its 150+ machine tools.

“Our robotically fed ANCA tool grinders manufacture all the drills, endmills, and custom carbide tools used by all our machines – and thus eliminates the inefficient and costly process of quoting and procuring tools. Our Belair vertical drag hones then can selectively and precisely hone and/or polish the edges of any tool or machine component, enabling us to be completely self-sufficient for all our tooling and grinding needs.

“Our Chevalier double-disc fine grinders can grind/lap flat parts and tools down to sub-micron tolerances.

“The ANCA FX7 is the most technologically advanced CNC tool grinder on the market today – its flexibility, spindle power, and full robotic automation allow the FX7 Linear to create, reconfigure, or regrind any tool with exacting precision and incredible speed,” according to Brendan Slabe.

Slabe Machine is operating three ANCA grinders now. “In a phrase, it is complexity made simple. Because ANCA builds its machine almost entirely in-house, including the CNC and the software used, we can take a job and produce the tools in far less time than in the past when we relied on outside tooling suppliers.”

He offered examples like complex flanges, helical shapes, challenging end geometries and more, where prototype tools can be produced faster, allowing the part to be sampled and delivered to the customer in record times. This, Slabe noted, “is a real door opener for us and ANCA assistance is a big part of that process.

“I consider them true manufacturing partners, similar to the three machine tool dealers from whom we buy most of our high-end machines to make the parts.”

Slabe Machine has focused on aerospace since its inception in 1939, but today it also produces parts for power generation, ordnance, and medical products, often involving materials that are very hard to machine.

“Our company has been doing business with ANCA for about six years,” according to Walker, the tool room supervisor. “We have three ANCA FX7 machines making endmills for production on our 150 + machine tools, all in-house at Slabe Machine. We make job-specific special endmills as needed, saving thousands of dollars making them ourselves.

“The ANCA FX7 has excellent software,” Walker continued, “easy to program for specific needs, so changing programs from tool to tool is quick and easy. The ANCA runs flawlessly day after day, and we also run lights-out, which is outstanding about the FX7. You can set-up before your shift is over and run tooling at night unattended. It has a FANUC robot-loading system that loads tools, grinds them, and unloads them, all day and night.”

Walker offered that the ANCA training facility in Wixom, Mich., is “second to none. Those folks are very professional and courteous,” he said, in particular praising the regional sales manager Robert Straker and trainer Dan Morris.

“We specialize in manufacturing a wide variety of precision components for gas turbine engine and fuel system components,” Brendan Slabe summarized. “Our customer base consists of the world’s largest aerospace OEMs, to whom we supply everything from complex external components used on all commercial turbofans to internal, ‘hot-section’ augmentor and turbo combustor details, used in virtually all military engines in service today.”