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September 8, 1998

6 Min Read
Teaching old dogs new tricks

Gregory Slyman, president of Richard O. Schulz Co. (Elmwood Park, IL), offers these words of wisdom: "Just because something is brand new doesn't mean it's better." In addition to building everything from small components to molds weighing more than 100,000 lb and providing special machining operations for customers around the world, Richard O. Schulz also retrofits its own machine tools and up to 20 machine tools a year for customers. Slyman has found retrofitting older machine tools with newer technologies is a good way for "old line" tool and die companies like his own, which has been in business for 50 years, to adapt to these changing times. "Also," Slyman says, "when we retrofit the older, heavier machines and use them in combination with new machines, we offer our customers more choices and an expanded range of capabilities from a single source."

Slyman says fitting older machine tools with retrofits like CNC control technology and high-speed spindles allows the machines to cut faster, 50 to 60 percent deeper, and smarter, leaving a cleaner finish. Without any mechanical updating, CNC controls, coupled with new servodrive and motor systems plus a full electrical upgrade when necessary, can make older machines operate even faster than they did when they were new. Today's 5000 rpm spindles, unlike the 1000 rpm spindles of yesteryear, enable machines to cut at 200 to 400 inches/minute or more.

Also, the newer technologies, by making machines run faster, allow them to make smoother cuts. For example, larger machine tools can provide closer rough machining and skip some semi-finishing operations, like rough machining to +.030 inch then finishing from that point. Additionally, far less time is needed to manually remove scallops and hand finish surfaces. One machine can be used for more different operations, rather than using two or three of the lighter, newer machines, which may lack the rigidity and strength to take larger, deeper cuts. Toolbuilders can get away from EDM burning operations and limit polishing.

Best Of Both Worlds

Retrofit packages are used for almost every requirement at Richard O. Schulz, including gundrilling. "When the retrofit upgrade is added to the fact that the older machine tools are engineered and built so well, the tool builder offers the customer every advantage for machining every size part." Slyman believes if older machines are retrofitted every 5 to 10 years, they then become brand new machines each time while still preserving their original strength and rigidity. Smoother operation and better control upgrades added to the robust design of older machine tools is, to Slyman, a "best of both worlds" scenario.

Yet, rather than an either/or position, Slyman advocates combining retrofit machine tools with newer machine tools. In this way, he says, tooling customers can receive all the advantages of automation, sophistication, capacity, strength, rigidity, and speed. What's more, the leadtime for a retrofit package is usually 12 weeks, as opposed to a six to nine month wait for a new machine. So, customer needs will be met on time. Customers also receive another major benefit: better prices.

When retrofitting, only those portions of the machine that are worn or obsolete are replaced or updated. The basic machine, already paid for, continues to be used, saving considerable costs over purchasing all new equipment. Less overhead can translate into much more competitive pricing. "It would simply be too expensive today to purchase a machine that can manage the wear and tear of larger tooling the older machines are capable of doing," Slyman concludes. "Customers should always come first. But that doesn't always have to happen through spending enormous sums of money on machine tools." It's your customers who benefit by you teaching your old dogs new tricks.

What others say

Gregory Slyman, president of Richard O. Schulz Co., says his company is not alone in realizing the many benefits of retrofitting older machine tools and offers the following anecdotes from others:

  • On speed and control: Matchless Machine & Tool Co. (Martinsville, IN) retrofitted 1967, '72, '73, and '81 vintage Hillyer machining centers and heavier-duty Droop & Rein machines with new CNC controls and servodrive/motor systems. The machines performed up to three times faster. Cutting a particular section of a tool that used to take about seven to eight hours is now being done in two hours. Gary Etter, president, told Slyman, "An added competitive advantage of the retrofit machines over the new ones is choice of controls. With new machines, you'll generally get three controls. With retrofitting, you can mix and match your needs."

    On accuracy: Ed Flynn, a senior manufacturing engineer at General Motors Corp., told Slyman machining on larger, older, upgraded machines improves the accuracy of his tooling. Cores are positioned more accurately in the ejector. "It all depends upon the position of the cores inside the ejectors and the relation of the ejector to the cover. If all this is correct, we have a good die. We rarely, if ever, have a problem with core positioning in the dies when the older machines are used." Richard O. Schulz uses laser calibration, which Flynn agrees verifies accuracy, especially on Flynn's large dies, which are 8 to 10 feet in length. Flynn also agrees with Slyman that it's best to have a combination of newer machines and upgraded old ones. "Then you have the right machine tool for every job. Some jobs require large, rigid machines, others require smaller components. The company that has both is more flexible and customer oriented."On competitive costing: Etter told Slyman he receives all the benefits of a new machine tool at 1/8 the cost when he retrofits. "Retrofitting my machines allows me to be much more competitive in my bids." A new machine cost him $1.5 million. He can retrofit for $162,000. This gives him less overhead and more money, which translates into a competitive advantage.

Rand Miller, a tool engineer with Northern Automotive Systems (West Salem, WI), requires small- to medium-sized tooling for automotive interior components. "Using retrofit equipment is cost effective because there is less overhead," Miller says. "Therefore, suppliers who use this equipment can offer more competitive prices." Mike Florian, tooling engineer for Plano Molding (Plano, IL) concurs. He purchases large tooling for molding recreational fishing products. Florian says, "Our criteria for selecting a supplier we like is quality, timeliness, and a fair price. Tool builders using a combination of old and new machine tools can definitely meet all three criteria." Slyman says even Jay Corman, a technical product specialist for distributor Arthur Machinery Inc. (Elk Grove Village, IL), concedes "the use of retrofitted older machines could derive a lower shop rate."

Contact information
Richard O. Schulz Co.
Elmwood Park, IL
Gregory Slyman
Phone: (708) 453-3421
Fax: (708) 453-3252
Website: http://www.roschulz.com

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