Technology Solutions

CNC Horizontal Machining Center Helps Townsend Machine Stay Competitive

“Embracing change is the only way for small businesses like ours to remain a viable force. To do so, we have to be observant, flexible and willing to invest in the latest machining technologies.”

The Townsend family of Chesterfield, N.J., has relied on the family farm as a source of prosperity for several generations. However, through the mid-20th century, the market for small family farms slowly lost profitability. To supplement their income as a result of dwindling farm revenue, the Townsend family added a small machine shop to the land. Little did they know that nearly 50 years later, the precision milling done in their machine shop—now known as Townsend Machine Inc.—would define their family just as the farm had done generations earlier.

“Throughout life I’ve seen several dynamic periods in our family business, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to never get too comfortable,” says Bart Townsend Sr., president and founder of Townsend Machine. “Embracing change is the only way for small businesses like ours to remain a viable force. To do so, we have to be observant, flexible and willing to invest in the latest precision milling technologies.

“When I opened shop in 1962, work typically involved die/mold applications for farm equipment using manual machinery. Business was good, but the real money was going to production facilities using CNC machinery. I knew then that I had two choices: invest in CNC capabilities and diversify my markets or check out. For me, the choice was easy.”

Today, Townsend Machine still operates from the family farm, performing part production and die/mold machining for a variety of markets, including water treatment, pump and aerospace. The shop’s day-to-day operations are primarily handled by Bart Townsend Jr., vice president of Townsend Machine.

“While we’re willing to take on simple jobs, there’s no question that the future of our business lies in the production of complex, fast turnaround parts with high-performance machinery like our Makino a51,” says Bart Jr. “The a51 was our first CNC horizontal machining center, and through this investment we’ve in-sourced gun-drilling applications while dramatically improving part quality and cycle times on jobs previously produced on our vertical machining centers.”

Investment Returns Business

For several years, Townsend Machine out-sourced five gun-drilling applications; however, rising costs soon justified an internal investment in these capabilities.

“A gun-drilling machine was too application-specific for us to see a quick return on our investment given the diversity of our applications,” says Bill Goldy, Townsend Machine’s shop foreman. “We needed a machine with gun-drilling capabilities that could also expand our capacity for standard part production. When another reputable shop told us they were using Makino CNC horizontal machining center for gun drilling, we decided to do some research.

“Makino’s sales staff assured us that their a51 CNC horizontal machining center was more than capable for our gun-drilling and production needs. However, our gun-drill supplier told us we were crazy and said we’d never be able to use a horizontal machining center. I think our work today is proof enough that we’re not only gun drilling on the a51, but achieving faster cycle times and higher quality as well through our precision milling.”

The majority of Townsend Machine’s gun-drilling applications resembles standard plumbing pipes, but their functionality in aircraft construction requires precision milling tolerances as tight as ±0.002 inch.

“These parts can range up to 22 inches long, requiring the use of a 14-inch gun drill on both sides of the part to complete a hole,” says Goldy. “Standard machining centers encounter issues of uneven blends and hole inaccuracies when using longer tools, but with the rigidity of the a51’s precision milling spindle, our parts look like a single drill was used. These results have been repeatable in a variety of materials, including aluminum and 17-4 stainless steel.”

“While the a51 wasn’t made specifically for gun drilling, it does it quite well,” says Bart Jr. “Those who doubted the possibility are all coming back to us to see it for themselves.”

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Since installing the a51, Townsend Machine has also reported greater throughput, reduced manual labor and cycle-time reductions of up to 70 percent in jobs transferred from their vertical machining centers.

“In terms of productivity, our vertical machining centers can’t compare to the a51,” says Rodney Stayton, operator and programmer for the a51. “With the pallet changer, the machine is never waiting on setups or programming. It’s always cutting. In some applications, I’m producing three parts with improved quality in the same time it took to produce a single part on our verticals.”

Townsend Machine optimizes cycle time and throughput for several jobs at a time by using tombstone fixtures in the a51. The machine’s compact, rigid spindle design also offers flexible tooling options, enabling operators to program several operations in a single setup.

One aerospace application recently transferred to the a51 required machining on all four faces with a deep-hole bore and pocket at opposing ends. The a51 and fixture allowed increased part accessibility, reducing the cycle time and number of setups by 50 percent.

“Everything about this machine is fast, especially the tool change,” says Stayton. “If you blink, you miss it. The spindle travels back to the tool-change door, swaps tools and returns to the cut in less than a second.”

Another timesaving characteristic of the a51 has been its chip-removal capability. The design of the a51’s wide center trough with rear discharge lift-up chip conveyer facilitates high-volume chip evacuation during high-feed cutting operations. A 26-gpm base coolant rinses out the machine for manual labor-free chip removal.

“Excess chips would frequently find their way back into the work zone when using verticals, resulting in rapid tool wear and gouging of the part,” says Goldy. “The improved chip removal of the a51 provides better part quality and longer tool life, especially in deep pocket and drilling applications.”

Townsend Machine’s operators also commented on the additional timesaving and quality improvements when dealing with machine offsets.

“In order to keep a repeatable performance on the verticals, we had to verify and adjust machine offsets each time the program stopped,” says Stayton. “The programming of the a51 does that for us, delivering precision milling capabilities and repeatable performance each time, with no manual offset adjustments.”

Assured Quality

According to Bart Jr., the rigidity of the a51 has given Townsend Machine a degree of confidence they had never before experienced from a machine. The machine performs up to spec regardless of the part complexity or material hardness.

“Applications transferred to the a51 are primarily high-accuracy aerospace applications, requiring a variety of precision milling capabilities such as boring, deep pockets and tight-tolerance angular center-line positioning,” says Gary Conover, Townsend Machine’s quality assurance technician.

“The tolerances required in these applications leave a thin line between satisfied customers and several wasted hours producing scrap. The proven accuracy and repeatability of the a51 ensures a standard of quality that continuously exceeds our customers’ requirements.

“An aerospace locking mechanism we recently transferred to the a51 previously encountered high scrap rates on our verticals due to inaccurate center-line positioning of a 15-degree bore. Since the transfer, we’re producing no scrap, while achieving plus or minus 0.002-inch tolerance center-line positioning and repeatability within plus or minus 0.0005 inch.”

Townsend Machine has won six additional jobs as a result of their investment in the a51 CNC horizontal machining center, including a job they were previously denied when quoting with past equipment. The application featured two counter bores on either end of the part requiring a ±0.001-inch positioning tolerance along the part center lines.

In the company’s first bid, center-line tolerances varied anywhere from 0.001 inch to 0.005 inch due to movement of the part between setups. The part is now being produced in a single setup on the a51, with positioning tolerances of 0.0005 inch or less.

“Even in applications with simple feature tolerances, the a51 differentiates us from the competition through superior surface finishes and tool blends,” says Goldy. “Surface quality is always the first feature customers see, so making a positive first impression gives us an advantage from the start.”

Going Outside the Box

“The most valuable asset to this shop is our experienced staff, and to sharpen their skills I try to challenge them every day,” says Bart Jr. “Our operators are outside-of-the-box thinkers, developing machining solutions that go beyond anything you’d find in an instructional manual. I encourage that creativity as something that sets us apart from other shops. It’s exactly why our customers come to us for unique perspectives on their design and production considerations.

“The opportunity to encourage this creativity was one of the key reasons we purchased a CNC horizontal machining center—and the a51 specifically. Its operational versatility and expansive fixturing options give our operators a completely different perspective on their jobs. In the most literal sense, we’ve turned their heads sideways.”

Operators of the a51 are using every portion and angle of their fixtures to maximize productivity. According to Stayton, working with the a51 has been a fun and exciting challenge offering near-limitless options.

“With some machines, shops run into limitations, so they test fixtures, tooling and all other factors only to find out that it’s the machine that’s holding them back, and that’s when they know they’ve reached a dead end,” says Stayton. “I haven’t seen that on the a51. I’m constantly finding new variables I can tweak to get optimal results, and there’s still a lot more I have left to learn.”

Future Opportunities

“Machine tool technologies are constantly improving and with each major shift there have been dramatic transformations to our business and capabilities,” says Bart Sr. “The a51 is a transformational technology for this shop, not unlike our first CNC machining center. It’s sent us a clear message that high-performance CNC horizontal machining center are the future for our business.”

The company’s investment in an a51 demonstrated the opportunities available to bring in new capabilities and improve on current applications for an accelerated return on investment.

“An investment in 5-axis capabilities has become a growing consideration based on increasing demand for aerospace, medical and other complex, contoured parts,” says Bart Jr. “Based on the accuracy, throughput and reliability we’ve seen from the a51, Makino will certainly be our first consideration.”

Townsend Machine Inc.
Chesterfield, NJ
Phone: (609) 298-0400