ADOPTING A NUCLEAR OPTION
This Wisconsin job shop adapted to the changing economy by increasing its presence in the nuclear energy market and adding wind energy customers with the help of an advanced horizontal boring mill.
To survive in the changing economic landscape of U.S. manufacturing, many job shops have been forced to follow an unofficial mantra of the Marine Corps – improvise, adapt, overcome. Lindquist Machine Corporation (Green Bay, WI) has done just that with the help of a MAG FT 3500 horizontal boring mill that helped shift its focus to producing a variety of large, specialized parts for the nuclear energy market, and taking on new business in wind energy.
Lindquist is a 63-year-old manufacturer providing turn-key, full-service custom machine building services for the automation, converting, food processing, packaging, paper, pharmaceutical, plastics, printing and machine tool industries. The company looked to secure work in alternative energy when the U.S. economy slowed at the end of 2008.
Nuclear power supplies approximately 80 percent of the electricity in France, and the U.S., Japan and France produce 57 percent of the world’s nuclear energy. “We started doing some wind energy work and we got into nuclear energy because it is not solely driven by U.S. economic conditions,” said Mark Kaiser, the president and chief operating officer of Lindquist. “Now we’re heavy into the nuclear work and we’re adding work in wind energy as well.” Lindquist got its first nuclear part order in January 2009 and it shipped last summer.
Prior to acquiring the FT 3500, an older model horizontal boring machine was being used to produce the large nuclear energy parts. But the work called for a faster, more accurate machine, with minimum X travel of 9 m (30 ft) and 3 m (10 ft) of Y travel. Ernie Remondini, the vice president of lean manufacturing, knew that if Lindquist was going to continue to expand its nuclear work, the plant would need to upgrade the existing machine.
“We realized we needed to enhance our technology and capability, so we developed our ‘wish list’ and began our search,” explained Remondini. “We narrowed the field to three candidates and selected the MAG machine because it exceeded all the criteria and had higher torque, higher feed rates and a larger tool magazine. It was also the only machine of the three made here in the U.S., and we liked the proximity of the MAG plant being located in nearby Fond du Lac, WI.”
MAG takes a modular approach to machine building, allowing customers to configure a horizontal boring machine specifically to their needs for maximized productivity. Two available platforms, the floor type FT and the ram-style FTR, can be fitted with a choice of travels, headstocks, spindle diameters and power, controls, coolant systems, workholding and tool magazines. Lindquist ordered its FT 3500 with 10 m (32.8 ft) X axis, 3.1 m (10.2 ft) Y axis, 1250 mm (49.1 in) Z travel, a 60-tool magazine and a live spindle with contouring head.
Lindquist uses the special-geared AC digital drives on this advanced horizontal boring mill to maintain the high torque and stiffness needed to cut the 400 stainless steel required for nuclear energy parts, and its 20 m/min (787 ipm) rapid traverse rates and rotary table option to cut cycle times. The versatility of the FT 3500, with a traveling column design that allows virtually unlimited X-axis travel for processing large and long workpieces or multiple batch parts, has also allowed Lindquist to increase work in wind energy, producing gear boxes, pitch linkage assemblies and main shafts.
Machine versatility was also an important factor in the decision to purchase the FT 3500: the drilling, tapping and boring capabilities of the FT 3500 HBM allow Lindquist to “adapt” to the needs of its customers. “We’re a unique shop in that we will machine, fabricate, weld, paint and assemble complete machines and sub-assemblies,” noted Kaiser. “We’re not a production shop. Many of the parts we make are small batch or one-off, so we need to have the flexibility to machine whatever parts our customers need.”
To produce the parts for nuclear energy facilities, Lindquist had to go through the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) nuclear accreditation process known as N-stamp. This internationally-recognized qualification indicates that the shop is producing commercial nuclear-grade components in accordance with the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Nuclear Codes and Standards. In addition to meeting the requirements for producing nuclear energy parts, Lindquist is ISO-9001:2008 certified.
The parts Lindquist produces for nuclear energy include frames, large castings and fabricated bases that are more than 9 m (30 ft) long, 4.3 m (14 ft) tall and weigh more than 13.6 t (15 tons). Tolerances for these parts are ±0.0008 in over 100 in. The FT 3500 has exceptional rigidity and durability due to its cross-ribbed construction, wide way spreads on column and runway, and steel runway fabrication. These features add structural integrity to resist deflection and minimize vibrations, providing a rigid cutting platform and allowing for heavy metal removal while maintaining positioning accuracies of 0.015 mm (0.0006 in) and repeatability of 0.008 mm (0.0003 in).
This horizontal boring mill includes exclusive spindle growth compensation. The Z-axis thermal compensation software dynamically offsets spindle growth to maintain tight accuracies. “The accuracy of the FT 3500 is also helping us to get more wind energy work,” added Remondini. “The previous machine couldn’t hold the required tolerances and the new machine is much faster. We’ve doubled our capacity with this new machine which helps us get more work in both nuclear and wind.”
In a time when many shops are struggling, the investment Lindquist made in the FT 3500 HBM has allowed it to expand the services it offers and the industries it serves, overcoming the economic downturn and actually increasing business. “Our order backlog is the highest it’s been in three years,” smiled Kaiser.