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Breathing New Life Into Old Iron

Retrofitting those old knee mills and lathes is now faster, easier and less expensive than ever, plus you get other big-time operating advantages.

When Old Becomes New: For about $10,000, the total retrofit of a basic 3-axis knee mill (top) with a basic yet powerful CNC package (bottom) can match the post-processor capability of a 5-axis machining center and provide higher performance, more usability and far greater accuracy. (first view)
When Old Becomes New: For about $10,000, the total retrofit of a basic 3-axis knee mill (top) with a basic yet powerful CNC package (bottom) can match the post-processor capability of a 5-axis machining center and provide higher performance, more usability and far greater accuracy. (second view)

When is a machine tool so old that you can’t retrofit it in a cost-effective and sensible manner?

The answer to that question has changed dramatically over the years. In ancient times, by which I mean the 1970s, when handwheel-operated machine tools were being replaced by the “space age” technology of NC tape drives for path control and digital readouts (DROs), you had some considerable advantages to be realized even though the cost of a retrofit often approached that of a new machine.



For a time back then, the only viable retrofits were on large gantry mills, massive forming presses and other machine tools that had so much iron it made it possible to justify a $100,000 retrofit because a new machine of that type was priced over a $1 million. Finally, as encoder, drive and positioning technologies evolved, it began to make sense to do a retrofit just for the accuracy upsides, despite the high cost.

Today, with the recent advancements in CNC technology and human machine interface (HMI) communication, several factors are at work when assessing this question and determining the best answer for your shop or production department. Let’s browse through some of these factors as we take a look at a shop owner’s wish list for the New Year.

Imagine you could have the same look-and-feel on all the CNC machine tools on your shop floor, from the most basic knee mill or old lathe to the highest-level 5-axis machining center or forming/welding/sawing line. Suppose the post-processor was the same for all the controls used in your shop, making part programs easy to transport from machine to machine. Envision all of your part programs transferred with the same USB stick.

Imagine all of the command keys being in nearly the same position on every machine tool in the shop, making cross-training faster so that your operators could run multiple machines and be more productive every day. Think about better back-up and networking of data, onboard tutorials, service manuals plus set-up screen assistance that is accessible at the touch of a button or two.

Envision troubleshooting help where all of the machine data and diagnostic tools were resident in the control of every machine tool in the shop?

That’s quite a wish list, one perfectly suited for any shop competing for business in tough markets.

Before you start to imagine how large the investment would be to do all of these things, consider that you can now get all of these big boy toys on a little baby version of a CNC installed on your most basic 3-axis knee mill in the building for about $10,000. Think about that for a moment.

You can have all these competitive advantages installed by your local dealer or a qualified retrofit integrator and supported by a three-year warranty backed by the vendor. That’s right. A powerful, economical and total control retrofit for all of the old 2-axis and 3-axis machine tools in your shop. How many of you have a few of those?

With the retrofit you can get higher performance, more usability and far greater accuracy on your old NC equipment – all for a price you simply can’t afford to pass up. Your operators can then run the latest 5-axis machines and the retrofit oldies with the same ease, making your shop more productive, flexible and responsive to any of the market conditions you encounter.

Think this on through. You’ll realize even more benefits to your operation than those being detailed here. Because CNC technology is not out of reach for any shop anymore, it has become the new way of the world for all metal cutting and fabricating shops, as well as the largest production departments at automotive, aerospace, medical, oil and gas and other major OEMs.

The suppliers of CNC technology all around you are doing some amazing things to bring the highest degree of accuracy, speed, data and tool management to your shop, whether it involves new machines that are being purchased or this totally imaginable retrofit concept. Check it out.

A final note to the dealers and integrators: Imagine you can carry such a package in inventory for immediate installation and quick-turn profit to your operation. It’s a new day for you, too.



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