Who Says Drilling is Boring?


Certainly not the 13 executives Wood & Wood Products spoke with about important trends in the industry


BY BARRETT KILMER



 


Point-to-point boring machines are typically thought of as too slow for production work and multiple-spindle machines are typically thought of as too inflexible for multi-function tasks. So there's not much to talk about, right?


Wrong. Recent efforts on the part of manufacturers address the perceived shortcomings of each of these machines. Whether it is through improvements in bar code technology or increased machine integration, today's machinery makers are continually searching for ways to improve their clients' manufacturing capabilities.


Wood & Wood Products polled 13 leaders in the drilling and boring industry to uncover the hottest trends in the market. The recent developments pointed out by these officials challenge some notions people may have about point-to-point and multiple-spindle boring machines.


'Feedthrough' Point-To-Points
"The future is feed-through point-to-point," said Mark Joel, president of Allwood Machinery Inc., Greensboro, NC, who added that improved computer programming was another important advancement.


"I've been seeing Windows NT-controlled machine in five-axis point-to-points", Joel said, "and high-production throughfeed point-to-points able to do up to 4,000 to 5,000 panels per shift. The state-of-the-art in point-to-point isn't in these 'onesie' and 'twosie' machines that do one or two panels at a time, it's in high-speed point-to-point boring centers that automatically set up everything. Panels just run through and get drilled."


Joel also said he sees reduced materials handling as an important factor. "Machines that do horizontal and vertical boring, dowel inserting, etc., with material handling in a self-contained unit -- all controlled through Windows NT programming, bar code reading, anything you want -- are the future."


Speed and Flexibility





'More flexibility is demanded of the software in terms of what it can do and how it can be utilized in a broader sense with bar code reading and shop floor control.'

-- Gary Kaminski,
Biesse America

 Gary Kaminski, vice president of sales and marketing for Charlotte, NC-based Biesse America, likewise cited emphasis on improving the computer aspect of boring machinery as a prominent trend.

"More flexibility is demanded of the software in terms of what it can do and how it can be utilized in a broader sense with bar code reading and shop floor control," Kaminski said.


In addition, Kaminski noted changes in mechanical structure, as well as an emphasis on making point-to-points faster and more flexible. "We're starting to see a move toward a change in typical structures out there, which is more of single post and beam cantilever designed machine. That has gotten quite common in its design characteristics across the range of machines that we see from most companies. And also, I see some specialized equipment that will add more flexibility to doing larger quantities of work, still utilizing the philosophy of the CNC equipment."


Rethinking the Manufacturing Process
"Sometimes we're hard pressed to get some of the newest technology here in the United States," said Mike Hawkins, dealer sales and marketing manager for IMA-America. "New technology can be hard to spread."


 





'Sometimes we're hard pressed to get some of the newest technology here in the United States.'

--Mike Hawkins,
IMA-America

 Hawkins said that European woodworkers have rethought the manufacturing process and added a high level of efficiency to their operations. "Whether you're boring holes on a point-to-point, on a throughfeed machine or a stationary borer, you're still punching holes," he said. "What really gets to be new is when you start thinking about the part process as a whole. Whatever needs to be done to that part is done by a series of machines as it goes down a line. Point-to-points are not just stand-alone machines. They are part of an integrated system.

"There is a company in Florida that has a system like that that's running and doing a great job. They have taken that concept as well as automatic assembly and done the whole system where you have four or five guys putting 700 to 800 boxes together per day rather than 25 guys in several different areas doing different functions to the part. I won't say that technology hasn't gotten here -- it has -- but there's only a certain segment of the market over here that can realize it and use it. It's taking a while, but it'll get here."


The Industrial Age Makes Room for the Information Age
Kelly Downey, national sales manager for apps -- The Industrial Div. of Holz-Her, Charlotte, NC, also pointed to improved computerization as the leading edge in improving the efficiency of drilling and boring machines.





'More and more, we don't just sell a machine, we sell two of them and the necessary software to link them together.'

-- Kelley Downey,
apps -- The Industrial Div. of Holz-Her


"The focus now is on how fast can you get information and how accurate that information is," Downey said. "Bar code labeling systems allow you to network for the office to the shop floor using design packages such as Cabnetware or Pattern Systems. No programming at the machines is necessary; operators simply scan the bar code label and run the part."


Downey said he also notices a trend toward smaller shops making the commitment to point-to-point technology and computer-aided integration. "The biggest growth as a percentage is occurring in the smaller shops. Larger ones that bought systems a number of years ago are upgrading by piecemeal," he said. "The smaller shops that are just getting into it now are buying entire systems. More and more, we don't just sell a machine, we sell two of them and the necessary software to link them together."


User-Friendliness





'We, like many others, are working on faster machines. Speed is not just traveling speed, but improvements in ramp speeds and ramp deceleration.'

-- Gianni Cavassa,
CMS North America


"We, like many others, are working on faster machines. Speed is not just travelling speed, but improvements in ramp speeds and ramp deceleration," said Gianni Cavassa, vice president in charge of marketing and sales for Greensboro, NC-based CMS North America. "Another thing is software to make it more user-friendly, easier to program and interface with all the various packages that are available in the industry such as Pattern Systems, Cabinet Vision, Cabnetware, etc."

Cavassa pointed out another important development that has come about as a result of the increased computerization. "More and more customers are used to flexibility from their machinery, so whenever a machine breaks down, the level of their frustration reaches the roof very soon. They rely on the suppliers to provide that technical expertise over the phone," he said, to solve problems quickly.


Rethinking Boring and the Machining Center
Kevin Walsh, sales manager for Richard T. Byrnes, West Chester, PA, said he has noticed a trend toward separate horizontal drilling and inserting machinery being used in conjunction with machining centers.





'I see a lot of smaller customers going with machining centers that hadn't in the past -- two-, three-, four-man shops are now going to that type of equipment.'

-- Kevin Walsh,
Richard T. Byrnes


"We are seeing a large influx of people that have machining centers now going the next step and putting in horizontal drilling and inserting on a separate automatic machine that is also CNC-controlled," Walsh said. "The two machines in conjunction can, for the most part, speed up the process of the machining center, because horizontal drilling is the extremely slow part of that machine. I also see a lot of smaller customers going with machining centers that hadn't in the past -- two-, three-, four-man shops are now going to that type of equipment."


As far as nuts-and-bolts changes, Walsh said he sees "more and more of the middle- and large-sized customers are going to a little bit larger table areas in order to accomplish more work at one time on their workpieces.


"We're seeing a lot more people wanting to speed up the software end of things, as well, and have some sort of a bar coding or fast setup of the machine to utilize machine time more."


Faster Tool Changes
"One of the biggest things for us has been on-board tool changing," said Steve Davis, area manager for the Morbidelli line at Tekna Advanced Technologies, Duluth, GA.





'The ability to change tools on the fly or while the machine is doing secondary operations, whether it be drilling or using a secondary router, has enabled us to give a lot more flexibility to the customer.'

-- Steve Davis,
Tekna

 "The ability to change tools on the fly or while the machine is doing secondary operations, whether it be drilling or using a secondary router, has enabled us to give a lot more flexibility to the customer because run times are decreased."

Davis also regarded increased table size as a significant trend, remarking that "instead of 10- or 10 1/2-foot machines people are going to 12- or 14-ft machines now. They are willing to pay the price to be able to run larger parts."


Davis went on to indicate that bar coding has finally begun to help users realize some of the potential that has been talked about in recent years. "It's always been a buzzword, at least in the past couple of years," he said. "And a lot of people are really starting to utilize that now."


Multiple Tasking
"What I've seen on machines recently is that they are becoming more and more capable of doing true multiple tasks," said Greg Hammersley, Weeke product manager for Stiles Machinery, Grand Rapids, MI.





'While they've always had a good complement of horizontal and vertical drilling and grooving capabilities, now the router is coming on strong as a definite major component required for the capability on the machine.'

-- Greg Hammersley,
Stiles Machinery

 "This is not only for panel processing, but for even more advanced applications that you might typically see on a CNC router. I have seen heavier router motors, more use of aggregates which allows you to do angled drilling or routing, horizontal routing, that kind of thing. While they've always had a good complement of horizontal and vertical drilling and grooving capabilities, now the router is coming on strong as a definite major component required for the capability on the machine."

Another thing that Hammersley pointed out is requests for automation in setup and automation in handling of parts as they come to and go through the machines. "There are a lot of things that can be done in the software that help an operator to set up things such as the manufacturing work cell that we've promoted quite heavily," Hammersley said. "The system, which point-to-point is a part of, uses a single software package to run a part through the entire factory. It scans a bar code which specifies machine, tooling, etc. It really helps out -- both the big guys and the smaller shops."


Woodworkers Want Windows
"The market continues to emphasize innovation along the lines of the Windows platform with control," said John Park, general manager for Delmac Machinery Group, Greensboro, NC, "to take advantage of the processing speeds and the 32 bit structure of Windows 95 and eventually Windows 98. The addition of CD-ROM to the machines for the user interface is also important. We see increased emphasis on reduced instruction set control, which is essentially a method of communication with the machine that removes the need, for example, for a wire for every electro valve. For example, the use of one cable that can send tremendous amounts of information is an improvement over using a lot of cables to control all the valves on the machine. That makes things easier from a cabling and troubleshooting standpoint.


 





'The market continues to emphasize innovation along the lines of the Windows platform to take advantage of the processing speeds and the 32 bit structure of Windows 95 and eventually Windows 98.'

-- John Park,
Delmac Machinery Group

 Park said he also sees improvements in bar code technology as beneficial to the industry.

"We introduced at IWF two-dimensional bar code, which is similar to what a lot of the more sophisticated scanners are reading today," Park said. "Now we can imbed a complete program and routing information about a product in the bar code. For the user that means they don't have to worry about networking the office pc to the machine."


"The software innovation curve is a lot steeper than the mechanical curve," Park added. "But in response to market demand for more horsepower and greater speed and flexibility, there has been a general trend toward fixed-arm machines, where you hang the head on a fixed arm and the head runs back and forth. We're using rack-and pinion with Alpha gear boxes because of the faster processing speeds. The machine heads are moving at over 100 meters per minute (328 feet per minute). To maintain and control those kinds of speeds, you cannot use the ball screw, you have to use rack-and-pinion."


 





Multi-Spindles Becoming More Flexible

Changes in drilling and boring machinery are not limited to the point-to-point machines. Makers of feed-through and stationary multiple-spindle borers are addressing some of the perceived limitations their machinery has, as well. Industry leaders are concentrating on increased flexibility to shorten downtime during changeovers by increasing computerization and speeding up tool changes. Some have noticed customers taking another look at multiple-spindles after having drifted toward point-to-points in recent years.





'The fact is that some companies are finding that point-to-points are not the cure to all ills.'

-- Riccardo Azzoni,
Atlantic Machinery


Riccardo Azzoni, president of Atlantic Machinery, New Milford, CT, is one of those who said he notices some customers reconsidering whether point-to-points are the right machines for their manufacturing needs.


"The fact that some companies are finding that point-to-points are not the cure to all ills, as I call it," Azzoni said. "They're great machines when you have to do multiple functions on a panel, but they're fairly slow when it comes to repetitive work. I'm not talking about thousands. I mean when you have 50 parts or more with the same pattern it's up to four times faster to put them through a throughfeed drill than to try to do it on a point-to-point.


"I also think there are smaller, less expensive throughfeeds on the market than a number of years ago that enable people to spend less money with the same quality and the same speed of operation."


Jon Elvrum, director of distribution and sales for Ritter Mfg., Antioch, CA, echoed Azzoni's ideas about point-to-points vs. multiple-spindle machines.





'There's more to it than people believe. The think everything they're going to buy is going to make their life simple. It does make it simpler, but it requires you to attend to the requirements of the process.'

-- Jon Elvrum,
Ritter Mfg.


"The presumption is that the CNC machine will do it all, but the fact is that it doesn't. Multiple-spindle machines, for example, will put 46 holes in a panel in 6 seconds. There's not a CNC machine in the world that can keep up with that. That does not mean that people do not need CNC, that means people need to be rational about what they're buying a CNC for."


Elvrum also makes a distinction between two types of multiple-spindle drilling operations. "One is called system drilling, where the hardware is the real driver for the positioning of the holes, in which case a certain kind of accuracy is demanded. Then there's what we call line drilling, where all you have to do is have the holes in the right plane up and down and they can be anywhere they need to be, side to side. People doing face frames for adjustable shelving don't have a coefficient of interest that's worth them spending the kind of money for higher-priced machines that guarantee the accuracy that's required for the placement of all kinds of hardware.


"Both types are done with drills that are set up in a line. But let's say, for example, you're doing system drilling and you're drilling in a product that has laminated surface such as Nevamar. When you drill into that product, unless that panel is fully supported, it will flex and when it flexes that transfers to an inaccuracy because the holes are not being drilled at a right angle to the panel.


"There's more to it than people believe. They think everything they're going to buy is going to make their life simple. It does make it simpler, but it requires you to attend to the requirements of the process."


"People have been looking for a way to do vertical drilling of small panels, such as drawer parts, on multiple-spindle machines," said Gary Wells, president of Tritec Assoc. Inc. "They want that for a couple of reasons. First, they can free-up the point-to-points to work on what they do best. Second, machining centers are not set up to do those smaller parts. They are slow and relatively inaccurate, because don't have the solid vacuum tables that multiple-spindle machines do. They have a series of movable vacuum pods that are good for holding larger panels, but not smaller ones."


Wells also noticed trends toward faster overall speeds, self diagnosis, user friendliness and increased NC-control of drilling, gluing and inserting machines. "Closed glue systems, which run clean and do not need to be cleaned constantly, are increasingly important," Wells added.


"Sales of boring machines have been up consistently over the past three years," said Andre Masse, sales and marketing coordinator for Doucet Machineries Inc. of Daveluyville, QUE, Canada. "Renewed interest in the technology can be attributed to many factors, among which simplified setups is not the least important.


"With the advent of CNC machines, multiple-spindle boring machines were often confined to dedicated, high-volume applications. While speed was the main advantage of these machines over their programmable counterparts, setups proved to be time consuming. In addition, with the traditional method of mounting spindles on arms, exact positioning is sometimes difficult to achieve."


Masse said he has has seen the development of dovetail beams which can be mounted on multiple-spindle vertical boring machines. "Spindles can be set to their precise drilling position, anywhere along the beam's axis," Masse said. "When boring needs to be done on more that one axis, dovetail cross-arms can be mounted onto the main beam, permitting the installations of spindles on this later dovetail."


"We have seen a new type of equipment developed to address some of the new technologies that are available from a mechanical standpoint for throughfeed type drilling machines," said Gary Kaminski, vice president of sales and marketing for Biesse America. "A lot of the multiple-spindle machines are being used in the RTA industry where they're looking for faster set-up times and machines that aren't necessarily strictly computer-controlled, but do have some computer interface ability to help them do quick setups. Things like quick change chuck systems, more precision in movement of the heads in terms of setting them, being able to organize them are important."


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