Reaping the Rewards of Upgrading to Swiss Lathes
Forty years ago, Rathburn Tool & Manufacturing started as a small job shop with analog drills, presses, and saws and has evolved into a full-service, precision manufacturer with a reputation for producing quality parts with tight tolerances. The journey to where we are today has come through our commitment to continuous improvement of both our equipment and our people.
For many years our CNC machine mix consisted of 50 percent conventional vertical machining centers and 50 percent horizontal turning centers. We looked at purchasing Swiss machines for nearly a decade but didn’t think the timing or project demand was right to make the switch. We made the leap and invested in a Citizen Swiss A32 in 2019 and quickly found that there was more to learn than we had anticipated. It was challenging at first, but we’ve built our company on overcoming challenges.
We found the pain-points focused in two areas. From a technical standpoint, we needed a full understanding of the Swiss multi-spindle functionality. We also needed to understand the codes and relationships that drive the equipment. What they don’t tell you with some new equipment is that the briefing goes quickly and you may or may not grasp everything they say on the first pass. These are complex pieces of equipment, so comprehending and gaining mastery on the machine takes time.
Once we fully understood the dynamics of the A32, the programming was easy. At its foundation, the Swiss still conducts basic turning, with the front spindle and the back spindle able to act independently if programmed that way. In fact, you can use the Swiss as a chucker if it suits your needs. With the right commitment, training, and support, the A32 turned out to be the perfect first step for us into the world of Swiss.
Adding Our Second Swiss
Rathburn decided to invest in a second Citizen Swiss, this one an L32, in 2020 as we built our confidence and needed more capacity thanks to repeat orders. The L32 has a Y-axis on the subspindle, allowing us to perform a wide range of offset drilling and milling that we cannot do on the A32. It also features a swing hook that can go from front to side, which means we can add more cross-drills to the diameter. There are attachments for the hook that add even more flexibility in turning and boring. And the L32 can feature a unique LFV (low-frequency vibration) option that breaks up shavings during deep drilling if needed.
The L32 has taught us quite a bit about understanding the nuances of the integrated bar feeder. Because it functions independently from the machine, the bar feeder has specific codes and more things can go wrong. So, the machinist has more complexity to consider in managing each project even as the machine enables us to do more with it.
Taking Advantage of Upgrades
There are often options to upgrade equipment or add features and it’s a balancing act to decide how and when to make the investment. Our original A32, purchased as a used machine, did not have a conveyor, so we took the opportunity to add one when we purchased our new L32. This has allowed our machinists to spend more time focused on their work and less time cleaning. Additionally, upgrading to JBS flexible guide bushings has given us much more flexibility in the types of materials we can run, including extruded bar stock, which leads to reduced costs and lead times for our customers. We also decided to increase the size of the main spindle and subspindle from the original L32 at 32mm to allow for 38mm material. Even today, we continue to explore the limits of the Swiss, recently producing a 1000-piece lot of valve stem pins requiring a tolerance of .0005”.
Making Room for the Future
Adding Swiss machines caused us to rethink a lot of our tactics operationally. We had to reorganize how we ordered, stored and transported the 12’ bars around the facility. Previously, our bread-and-butter chucker work was cut on the saws and transported in baskets or pallets to the work cell. That didn’t work with the longer stock and the 18-foot-long machines and related inspection areas used to manage the demand.
In the end, it’s all part of Rathburn’s continuous improvement plan. Our customers know we are committed to having the latest equipment to produce the finest precision parts. That hasn’t changed since our founding in 1983. What will change over time is the equipment we use, the space we work in, and the parts we craft. We’ll evolve with the technology and train our teams to stay ahead of the curve. That’s what makes us Rathburn.
Rathburn is Always Looking for Great Team Members!
If you or someone you know is looking for an entry level or skilled CNC machine operator position, Rathburn has positions available now. We offer competitive wages, opportunities for training and advancement, monthly attendance bonuses, tuition reimbursement, medical/dental/vision, vacation and sick pay, paid holidays, and more.
When you join Rathburn, you join a team of dedicated professionals with deep expertise, diverse experience, and a driving passion to succeed together. Resumes are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.