A precision-engineered building for demonstrating precision machinery and making test cuts for high precision parts is the latest customer benefit being offered by Methods Machine Tools, Inc. which calls the center the first of its kind in North America.
Creation of the Methods Precision Center in Acton, Mass., began two years ago to provide customers a U.S.-based facility for performing tight-tolerance test cuts on machines to ensure their parts will meet specs. Officially opened for business June 5, the center will act as a proving ground for customers making high-value parts for aerospace, medical, die/mold and other industries.
The primary focus of the center is the state-of-the-art 4,000-square-foot lab accessible via airlock entry. The room is expandable to 6,000 square feet by enclosing the demo area that already has four isolation pads installed. The facility eliminates environmental effects on processing with continuous climate control and vibration-defeating construction. Customers testing their parts on one of the 10 available isolation pads (not counting a pair of systems for measuring the parts produced) will be assured that they are seeing the results of just the machine and the process.
And, those machines—including by Yasda, Nakamura-Tome, FANUC, and KIWA—happen to be some of the most precise in the world. But showcasing their abilities properly to Methods’ customers is where the new precision center comes in.
“A lot of people don’t understand how much impact the environment and the foundation (of a facility) have in how a machine performs”, explained Jerry Rex, President and CEO of Methods Machine Tools, Inc. (Sudbury, Mass.). “We have customers who will drive forklifts by, or they have presses near the machines that they’re trying to do accurate work on.”
Michael Martin, director of product performance, Methods Machine Tools, Inc. explained the facility’s complex continuous climate-control system to about 100 event attendees.
The system, which involved extensive consultation with HVAC experts, is a “ballet” of pumps, furnaces, chillers, boilers and fans that maintain the temperature within plus or minus one degree of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Martin explained. The room is simultaneously heated and cooled with water containing glycol, with air pressure and humidity also monitored and maintained. The computer-controlled system fully exchanges air in the lab every three minutes, with air drawn into the room through ceiling vents and mixed with existing air by several overhead fans before being drawn back out by floor vents.
The room is also equipped with a gasketed fabric garage-type door that opens and closes in three seconds and bows outward slightly because the room is pressurized. This is to ensure that machines can be moved in and out of the precision room to cause minimal disruptions to the environment. In fact, Martin noted, the pressure is kept between 0.2 and 0.4 inches of water column. All ceiling tiles are likewise secured with gaskets.
All components and operating conditions of the environmental control system were viewable via a screen that Martin navigated during the tours. Temperature sensors on all four walls of the lab provide constant feedback. The system is backed up by a generator to ensure environmental conditions are maintained in the event of a power outage.
In addition, each component of the system has a duplicate in anticipation of doubling the facility, which Methods purchased 20 years ago from a lumber company.
Just as much design work went into the concrete floor — specifically, the 3-foot “pads” on which each machine rests. The pads, made of 5,000 PSI concrete reinforced with .0625-inch rebar both vertically and horizontally, are isolated from the rest of the floor by material that ensures no vibration is transferred to any machine by another machine or, perhaps, a forklift.
In fact, the original foundation of the facility was removed entirely before the new one was installed. Each of the 10 vibration-proof machine pads required five cement trucks to pour. In total, 66 cement trucks, each carrying about 10 cubic yards of material, were used in the renovation.
Ultimately, the new Methods Precision Center allows Methods to demonstrate and educate customers that “in order to assure that you have that same repeatable accuracy and precision when you go back to your (shop), you need this as a foundation,” Rex said. “We’ll give them a free installation plan that will tell them the requirement of the foundation of the machine, and also the room.” He stressed that not every manufacturer will need exactly the level of stringent temperature control to translate the results of their test cuts to actual production.
To build its center, Methods worked with Yasda, which has a similar but smaller space, and Corning, a Methods customer that has a highly advanced R&D center.
The increasing need for precision machining in multiple industries was highlighted by James Florio, strategy and digital initiatives leader for GE Aviation, during introductory remarks at the grand opening.
At GE Aviation, which is 22 percent of GE’s portfolio, the commercial business will grow from a 36,000-engine fleet to 47,000 engines by 2025, Florio estimated. Today, 2,200 aircraft feature GE engines, he said, which means “every two seconds, an aircraft takes off powered by GE Aviation.” On the military side, GE Aviation powers two-thirds of U.S. fighter jets and two-thirds of U.S. helicopters and will expand from a 26,000-engine fleet to 33,000 in 2025.
To meet those demands, GE Aviation recently purchased four machines from Methods, as well as a turnkey EDM/CMM/robot process for a New Hampshire facility. “It was described as one of the best large turnkey investments we ever had,” Florio noted. “The success of our investment in the future is creating those turnkey solutions that can be plugged into lean manufacturing lines that collect the right data and can be serviced regularly. This facility sets you up for success.”
But Rex emphasized that the machines Methods is showcasing are not just for medical or aerospace parts. “Die molds, silicon molds and molds for LED headlamps for example, require the utmost precision to make. When you think about the aesthetics and the optics, if it’s not perfect when you form the part out of plastic or glass or another material, it will be blurry. Safety glasses and other plastic injection molded parts likewise require “perfect” molds with mirror-like finishes, said Rex.
“Proving out their precision parts at the new Methods center also helps machine customers avoid extra benchwork like polishing and other post-processing tasks to compensate for insufficiently machined components,” Rex added.
Customers who wish to test their parts at the Methods Precision Center can simply contact their favorite distributor or one of Methods’ eight U.S. offices. Methods will provide an engineering expert to assess whether the part must be produced in the precision lab or the demonstration room, the latter which is controlled to plus or minus five degrees.
To honor Methods’ Japanese machine partners and celebrate the Precision Center Grand Opening, a traditional Kagami biraki ceremony was held, in which a large sake barrel was broken with wooden mallets.