Not All CNC Machines Are Created Equal
The Allis-Chalmers Company was one of the pioneers of the American industrial age. The company made everything from giant turbines for power plants to the more familiar orange farm tractors. Its steam, gas, and electrical engines—which powered flour mills, steel mills, and many other industrial applications—had and still have a loyal following. What are the characteristics of brands that garner loyal customers for life?
At Okuma, this is the type of question we ask ourselves every day as we constantly seek to evolve our CNC machine tools, services, and, most of all, our relationships. Over the last 125+ years, we’ve been fortunate to have developed long-standing relationships with customers and distributors alike. Their valued input has helped us understand what we’re doing right and what we can do better. The following are some of the key findings we’ve uncovered.
It’s More than a Machine Tool. It’s a Relationship.
We invest time and effort into building, protecting, and fostering relationships with our customers and distributors. For example, we like to visit our customers’ shops and attempt to understand their operations and unique challenges. These aren’t just social calls; we walk the facility to get a better idea of how the working environment has changed since our last visit, understand what parts they’re currently producing, and solve their machining challenges. Are they getting everything they possibly can out of the machines, controls, and automation? These shop visits are also an opportunity to talk about future plans and how best to prepare.
Retaining current customers—and earning new ones—is supported by the unique, comprehensive relationships we have with our distributors. This isn’t an accident. We are extremely particular about our distributor network and entrust them to advise and locally support our mutual customers while also fulfilling our mission of passionately pursuing customers for life. We devote a lot of time to developing these relationships by working hand-in-hand and complementing each other’s resources and relationships to solve issues before they escalate into problems. Customers know they can always call Okuma if they need but for the most part, they work directly with the Okuma distributor within their local region.
Our Single Source CNC Machine Design Philosophy
Today, Okuma remains one of the industry’s only single source CNC OEMs. We design, build, and support every component, relay, and system on every Okuma machine tool. The ‘one-stop-shop’ mentality deeply resonates with both our customers and distributors. It ensures that all components work together holistically, eliminating the cost, downtime, and frustration that occurs when multiple component providers are involved. This fact, coupled with machine quality, is one of the reasons that we continue life-long relationships with customers.
Triple Threat: Dynamic Quality, Stability, and Reliability
The long-term productivity and total cost of ownership of a machine tool are determined more by its structural integrity than perhaps anything else. Its ability to stand up to years and even decades of heavy use affects every facet, from your scrap rate and maintenance costs to operator satisfaction and energy costs. Structural integrity can be viewed as both the quality of the initial design and build as well as the machine’s ability to dynamically adjust to its environment.
When speaking with customers and distributors, the longevity and durability of Okuma’s machines are mentioned repeatedly. There are a number of design and build features that set Okuma machines apart, including proprietary structural design and die-cast bases which mitigate vibration and provide stability during long, high-speed production runs. All of these increase the machine’s lifespan.
Machine stability refers to both the weight and balance of the machine. When evaluating specifications, one immediate indicator of quality and longevity is a machine tool’s total weight. The impact of a machine’s weight is far more significant than most think. The heavier the machine, the greater its resistance to the consistent wear and tear of daily operation. For example, the high centrifugal forces on a lathe exert tremendous force, which can generate vibrations throughout the machine. A lathe with a solid cast iron frame and bed is able to absorb the energy far better and for much longer than one made of lighter weight material.
Dynamic stability is also critical in mitigating harmonic vibrations. As you machine a part on a lathe, the rotation of the spindle can create vibrations. As the resonance builds, the vibrations harmonize to create a standing wave which can produce chatter as the tool moves across the workpiece. Traditionally, to correct this harmonic vibration, the operator manually adjusted the spindle speed up or down in an effort to eliminate the chatter.
Nearly thirty years ago, Okuma introduced a technology known as harmonic spindle speed control that is now standard on Okuma lathes. Harmonic spindle speed control enables the machine to automatically control the spindle speed and minimize chatter while keeping the spindle within an optimal RPM range. The operator inputs the desired RPM variation by percentage, maximum, and minimum RPM levels, and the elapsed time over which the RPM will change. As the machine runs, the harmonic spindle speed control constantly adjusts the RPMs within the acceptable range so that the spindle vibrations are unable to harmonize and amplify.
One more example of Okuma’s holistic design and build process is the onboard thermal management system, known as Thermo-Friendly Concept. As a machine operates, thermal energy builds up in its various components. Over time, heat can alter the internal machine environment, affecting dimensional accuracy, extending machine warm-up periods, and requiring more manual offset adjustments during each shift.
Okuma machines are specifically designed to allow thermal growth along the linear axes only. For example, spindles and turrets move axially at the same angle so when they grow due to heat, they grow along the same plane. Similarly, Okuma mills feature bridge-type designs with “box-build” structures instead of C-frames. That’s because C-frames unpredictably twist and grow at odd angles, making it impossible to accurately compensate for thermal deformation. As a result, the machine’s thermal stability holds tolerances under heat or temperature changes.
While there are monitors and add-on systems that enable operators to monitor and, in some cases, mitigate some of the effects of thermal growth, mitigating the issue is ideally part of the machine’s design phase. Predictable thermal growth must be accounted for at the outset. Okuma’s proprietary thermal management technology is yet another of our differentiators.
Close Your Eyes and Fall Back – Rest Assured with Okuma
Walk into our North American headquarters in Charlotte, NC, and you’ll see a sign over the front door that reads: “We Passionately Pursue A Customer For Life.” It’s not just a feel-good tagline but also a challenge to each employee and distributor and a promise to every customer we encounter. We want more—for ourselves, customers, and distributors.
If you’ve owned an Okuma, worked with Okuma, or partnered with Okuma and a trusted Okuma distributor, you know what that commitment looks like and feels like. While we’re dedicated to the highest level of craftsmanship for every product we make, our mission is informed by the philosophy that there’s an actual human being behind every Okuma machine in use. So, when you purchase an Okuma machine, that isn’t the end of our “pursuit.” It’s only the start.
As one of our customers recently put it: “When you're machining, you want to close your eyes, fall backward, and not hit the ground. That’s what Okuma does for us.”
Want to join the Okuma Family? Reach out to your local Okuma distributor now.