Multiple Solutions, Custom Tooling, And Your Precision Machining Shop

June 12, 2013

I remember the first time that I sat down to work on quadratic equations and discovered that there was more than one possible solution to the equation …

Yep Two solutions! Which one is right?

Yep! Two solutions! Which one is right?

How many of us realize that every day in our businesses, we are solving equations that have more than one solution?

How many of us realize that we have a choice between solutions, and that lowest price doesn’t necessarily mean lowest cost to us?

At Horn Technology Days, I attended a session on Customer Specific Tool Solutions presented by Todd Hayes.

Todd started his presentation with a challenge to the assumption that ROI is just about dollars.

As Todd put it:

“ROI is not just about dollars. Increase my tool life. Increase my machine operating time, increase my accuracy (especially on features tied to another!) reduce my time in cut by simultaneous machining. Give me my weekend back. Let me run lights out.”

This rang true with me.

When I produced  steel for machine shops, the purchasing agent was always looking at lowest price per pound- for the steel.

I told him that what he should be looking at is the lowest cost to produce the part. Steel price was just one part of that cost. The cost to machine it was another.

Todd was talking about creating special tools to solve problems in production

  • Maybe to make another tool position or two  available in an already crowded machine.
  • Or to get better control of the chip and finish.
  • Better accuracy, especially between different features.
  • Less time to setup or replace the tool.  
Yes the tool is more expensive but...

Yes the tool is more expensive but…

(click on photo to enlarge in separate window)

For short runs, the cost of a special tool is prohibitive. But not all of us are quoting short runs. But how many of us are still using short run thinking?

How many of us are solving for lowest tool price rather than optimum output?

  • What if the custom tool (or special steel grade) saved me several changes per day on several machines?
  • How much more machine operating time will I gain?
  • How much utilities will I save by not needing all the CFM of compressed air that we all over use when we change a tool?
  • How much  will I save because I have eliminated variability and or better controlled the chip so I do not have to inspect for chip weld and out of spec surface finishes?

I am not exhorting you to go out and buy specialist tools for every job. Just like I was not asking my customers to buy the premium machining grades of steel for every job.

I am asking you to recognize and challenge your assumptions about how you decide to purchase, just as I had to recognize and challenge my assumptions that there was only a single “solution” to those equations I faced in class that day.

Lowest price on purchases, or lowest cost of production?

Two solutions- you get to choose one.

Quadratic equation courtesy

Metrology’s Role in Reverse Engineering

July 7, 2011

With many OEM’s out of business or the details of their designs lost or out of reach due to closings, downsizing, and consolidation, many replacement parts are needed for which drawings are unavailable.

Critical components deserve better than calipers and a hand mike, especially when they provide essential functionality to aerospace, automotive, or automated systems.

PMPA Technical Member FARO Technologies provides this case study on use of their Faro Arm Platinum for shop floor measurement and data acquisition to reduce time to measure the parts and to assure key characteristics (like blended radii) are captured.

Headquartered in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Astro Machine ( serves top regional and national companies like GE, Hershey, DuPont, Bayer, and the U.S. government. They serve industries such as aerospace, general manufacturing, medical, pharmaceutical, food processing, and energy.


Each of Astro Machine’s different applications presents unique challenges, but their work in reverse engineering obsolete OEM parts was a particular challenge. These parts range in size from 1” cubes through 48” cubes and larger. Previously, AMW used older methods such as hand gages, calipers, micrometers, and protractors. These options proved to be ineffective since many of these OEM parts are very complicated, with an array of blended radiuses and compound angles. Manual tools, even when used carefully, resulted in “hit or miss” accuracy.


AMW searched for a better solution for their metrology needs. They considered a conventional fixed CMM, but found a more versatile solution matched their needs: the 8-foot FaroArm® Platinum. This tool serves both in-process and final inspection functions, as well as reverse engineering. It can be taken directly onto the assembly floor and secured to custom machine assemblies while manufacturing is still in-process. This provides an integral inspection device that can aid in alignment and part position during various stages of assembly.

Any inconsistencies associated with manual reverse engineering have been eliminated and AMW’s work is now totally accurate, while increasing productivity. What previously took hours of work has been reduced to approximately one-tenth the time. Many of the parts they reverse engineered manually in the past are now being done again so as to bring the accuracy up to their new “FARO standards.”


The greatest value to Astro Machine with the FaroArm has been the massive time reduction in reverse engineering obsolete OEM parts. In many cases, the time has been reduced ten fold. “Prior to our FARO solution, it was not uncommon for our more sophisticated parts to take 8 to 50 hours to reverse engineer,” says Designer Dan Hughes. “This time has now been reduced to 30 minutes to 5 hours.” A reduction in time is a reduction in cost, which makes AMW even more valuable to their customers.

Astro Machine invests heavily in its technology, and advancements are the cornerstone of their continuous improvement strategies. Not surprisingly then, the FaroArm was well accepted. The implementation process was very easy and the learning curve was extremely simple with the user friendly software. AMW uses their FaroArm on a regular basis for inspection purposes and at the outset of projects for reverse engineering. With the gained versatility of the FaroArm, no part is outside their capabilities.

Here is link to Faro Case Study