A Productive Journey
Wisconsin job shop expands its small part capabilities with a new CNC machining center from Kent USA
Every shop faces the same situation at one point or another. The machine tools are either too large and slow to be competitive on smaller parts, or too small and underpowered for the larger ones. This was the case recently at Journeyman Machine and Supply Co. Inc., when shop supervisor Andy Hass and the company’s owners agreed that it was time to think small.
“In the past, we’ve always traded in our old machines and replaced them with new ones of comparable size and capabilities,” said Hass. “This time, though, we felt it made more sense to invest in a smaller, faster machine for the parts we’ve been struggling to produce on our 50-taper machining centers. Thanks to the higher spindle speeds and coolant through the spindle, it was definitely the right move for us.”
The Heart of Fox Valley
Journeyman Machine sits in a nondescript L-shaped building roughly two miles southwest of Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wisc. It’s been there a long time. In 1976, founder Mike Lambeseder decided to open a small machine shop to serve the area’s railroad industry. He and a few others there made replacement parts, repaired equipment for the local farmers, and gradually took on an increasing amount of production work until the day Lambeseder retired and sold the business to its current owner and president Jason Davies.
Together with co-owner Ken Wagner, the two have continued to build their business to its current 19-employee, 10,500 sq. ft. capacity, earning a reputation along the way as a down-to-earth, customer-oriented job shop offering outstanding quality and competitive prices. The company services an entirely new customer base today than it did more than 40 years ago, however. The production work has largely dried up, and Journeyman Machine produces an eclectic mix of prototype and low-volume parts, fixtures, and other tooling for the marine industry, machine tool builders, food and beverage customers, and custom machinery manufacturers.
Hass has been there through most of it. He came on board in 1986, shortly after Journeyman Machine bought its first CNC machine tool, and notes that the company has evolved greatly since then. He’s watched as machinery riggers hauled the shop’s old Gisholt turret lathes and Kearney & Trecker mills out the shipping door, replacing them with a handful each of large to medium-sized CNC lathes and vertical machining centers. And even though the shop already had a 40-taper, 24 x 16-inch VMC, it was primarily used for secondary operations and light milling work; a faster, more capable 40-taper machine was needed.
“We reached out to Jeff Luth at Luth Machinery Sales up in Chilton,” Hass said. “He’s been in the machine tool business since the ‘70s and knows all the people, all the major brands; in fact, I’m pretty sure we bought practically every piece of CNC equipment in this place through him, so we trust his judgment. When he recommended we visit a nearby shop to look at a Kent USA, we, of course, said, ‘Let’s go.’”
It was a successful visit. Journeyman Machine took delivery of its Kent USA KVR-4020A vertical machining center in November of 2018. The 40 x 20-inch machine has a 15-HP, 10,000 RPM chilled spindle, 24-tool double-arm ATC, FANUC 0i-MF control, and according to Hass, came “out of the box” with some very nice features. “We have the belt-style chip conveyor, a 1000-psi ChipBlaster, tool length measurement, a fully-loaded control with 400-program storage and 200-block lookahead—we were really happy with the package he put together, as well as the price.”
Attention to Detail
The new technology has been a game-changer in a number of ways, he said. Using the high-pressure coolant-through together with solid carbide drills, Hass said the KVR makes holes “about as fast as a punch press.” He’s been milling a lot of steel and stainless steel since he got the new machine, but is looking forward to running a repeat 80-piece aluminum job next week, and anticipates the 10,000-RPM spindle, faster rapids, and 1.3-second tool changes will reduce the cycle time by at least 30%. “We bought the machine specifically for this kind of higher-volume work, but I can tell you we’ve done some pretty heavy milling since we got it, on a wide range of materials, and it does a really good job,” he added.
Metal removal capability and machine accuracy are great, but Hass said he’s been equally impressed with the little things that Kent USA included with the machine. The KVR comes standard with coolant washdown and air hose connections upfront for operator convenience. The communication cables were neatly routed, as was the electrical connection, making the machine hookup “about a half-hour job.” The 4th-axis prewire, automatic oil skimmer, dual-LED work lights, and other machine features made the KVR installation easy, and its use since then both pleasurable and predictable.
“We were quite impressed with all the little bells and whistles they included—even the leveling pads and screws were designed for ease of use,” Hass said. “We wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one, and actually just received a proposal for a KVR-1580 Heavy Duty Box Way Vertical Machining Center to replace one of our old 50-taper machines. It’s very competitive in this part of Wisconsin. A lot of steel gets delivered every day to the various industrial parks around here, which is why it’s so important to keep updating our equipment. I expect that Kent USA will be a part of that for a long time to come.”
All photos courtesy Journeyman Machine