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Shop Machining Equipment

New product introductions, live demonstrations, expert advice and more will be on full display in Machinery Row during the 30th Annual PRI Trade Show, December 7–9, at the Indiana Convention Center.

By John F. Katz

Cutting, grinding, honing, milling and balancing: Machine tools shape solid metal into the parts that make up race cars—and a whole lot of other things, for that matter. Modern industry, much less motorsports, could not exist without them.

And while unquestionably high-dollar, machine tools can prove to be an indispensable asset in a race shop. “There is value to moving production in-house,” observed Joshua Keller of Centroid CNC, Howard, Pennsylvania, “and value to in-house proprietary development. You don’t have to involve third parties in the development of your proprietary products. You don’t have to let that information out.”

So in late May we asked several of our major PRI Trade Show exhibitors what attendees can expect to see on Machinery Row when the annual event comes to Indianapolis in December. Most revealed real significant innovations—while others slyly hinted at what features and capabilities are yet to be unveiled.

New on the Row

Sunnen of St. Louis, Missouri, for example, plans to introduce its new SV-30 cylinder hone. “It’s not yet even in production,” noted Bob Dolder, when we spoke. “But it’s very close,” citing most of the engineering has been completed.

The SV-25 will remain in production as a more basic, lower-cost alternative. And the SV-30 “builds on our existing SV-25,” added Bob Davis, also from Sunnen, “by adding features such as an automatic step-and-repeat function in which all the cylinders in one bank are honed, the block is rolled over, and the cylinders in the other bank are honed—all automatically and without operator intervention. This increases productivity, since the operator is free to perform other duties while the machine is running. And the process is more consistent from bore to bore.”

Other features include crash protection to prevent damage to the tool and abrasives, and a reversing-honing function. “The honing head will have the ability, once it has honed the cylinder, to stop and reverse its direction,” Dolder explained. Honing both clockwise and counterclockwise improves both geometry and surface finish, he noted.

“And we will show our line hone,” Dolder continued, “which has been out for many years. But we are still the only manufacturer in the world to offer a line-hone mandrel. Using a mandrel, you can line-hone the bearings, rather than line boring, where there’s a possibility of deflection in the bar or erosion of the tool. We will probably show our SH-series machine, which is a very high-precision, high-quality rod hone. Some customers call it a pedestal hone.”

Rottler Manufacturing of Kent, Washington, is “excited to debut our new-technology EM-series CNC vertical machining centers,” Anthony Usher announced. “EM” stands for engine machining, and all three-, four-, and five-axis EM-series machines feature linear-bearing slideways with direct-drive ball screws “for smooth, fast, and precise positioning”; while “new 24-tool automatic tool changers on our five-axis models provide greater flexibility with less down-time.”

Rottler’s PC-based CNC control continues to provide probing/digitizing capability “without the need for cumbersome CAM software,” requiring less programming expertise from the operator, according to Usher. However, Rottler will also debut brand-new CNC CAD/CAM software that will allow “3D CAD solid models to be imported into the machine control,” and will “calculate tool paths and start machining in seconds.” Additionally, operators will be able to “probe parts for duplication and modification all within the machine control.”

Rottler will also debut a completely redesigned line of CNC head-and-block surfacing machines, all of which “use linear slideways for added accuracy and ease of movement,” Usher added. “The power column’s 19 inches of vertical travel makes setup between heads and blocks easy and fast. The new touchscreen controls offer variable feed rates, and the ability to make multiple passes without re-setting the cutter.” Precision ball screws on the X and Y axes ensure accuracy; while full chip enclosure with folding door and roll-out chip tray make clean-up easier. Two models offer 43 and 53 inches of X-axis travel, respectively.

Additionally, Rottler plans to demonstrate the two seat-and-guide machines the company introduced at PRI last year. The SG10XY CNC hole-to-hole machine has been updated with “a double centering process for increased seat-to-guide concentricity,” Usher explained, adding that “multiple machines have been ordered by cylinder-head professionals such as Edelbrock and Tri-State.” The SG9HP, already “a high-performance machine” featuring a variable-speed spindle to prevent harmonic chatter from compromising seat finish, now “offers production-style fixturing for fast and accurate loading of cylinder heads.” Current users include Dart and Trick Flow. Finally, Rottler will also display “our complete line of CNC vertical honing machines, from the H85A manual, entry-level CNC machine up to the fully automated H85AXY.”

Centroid CNC, said John Cowher, will again demonstrate its “complete turnkey machining centers, capable of five-axis CNC cylinder head porting and digitizing, engine block machining, and general machining.” He emphasized that one Centroid machine can perform all three functions, but pointed out that the company will have at least three machines at the Show to demonstrate all three functions simultaneously. “And we’ll demonstrate billet machining of some sort,” he added.

Centroid’s latest product improvements center on software. New this year, said Centroid’s Mike Stevens, is “all-new digitizing and toolpathing for combustion chambers. We prototyped it last year at PRI, but now it’s ready to ship. A combustion chamber is a complex and difficult shape, so in the past you’d need a grid of surfaces generated through multiple grid-digitizing runs.” Now, with Centroid’s new software, you simply input the location of the deck and of each valve, “and it figures out how to digitize from there. It reduces digitizing and toolpathing time by 75 percent—and it will knock a day off of our training.” And it works with heads with four valves as well as two.

“And for our port-digitizing software,” Stevens added, “we’ve made the data easier to work with in the CAD system. We offset the centerline data to provide surface data for the toolpath, and that’s going to make surfacing and toolpathing easier.”

Stevens also heralded “significant improvements to our engine block software. You can program it to machine a list of cylinders now. Instead of just one cylinder, or all of the cylinders, you can machine, say, cylinders one, three and eight. We also combined the boring, chamfering, and O-ring operations into what we’re calling a single ‘cylinder cycle’; and all of those will pull from a single location, whether from a blueprint or from a user entry.” Yet another new feature, which Stevens called “left and right hone clearance,” finds material at the bottom of a cylinder that could interfere with honing and cuts it out before the honing operation. “And we’ve updated some of the graphics in the user interface to make it more user-friendly.”

Smooth Control

Mazak of Florence, Kentucky, plans to display its “recently released MAZATROL ‘Smooth CNC’ machine tool controls,” announced Aimee Shandy, “along with several smaller full-five-axis vertical machining centers, one of which will be our VC-500A/5X. Our continually innovative MAZATROL Smooth control platform includes the SmoothC, SmoothG, and SmoothX controls. SmoothX is featured on the VC-500A/5X and makes programing the machine easy, fast and efficient. These highly versatile controls allow for both EIA/ISO and conversational programming.” That means that G-codes “are the same as those used in conventional EIA, so shops can run programs made for machines from other brands by simply editing M codes and confirming axis strokes along with cutting conditions. With conversational programing, even inexperienced operators can quickly and easily develop machining programs for the VC-500A/5X. Operators answer conversationally displayed questions concerning the workpiece.” Queries include the type of material, OD/ID and other dimensions, etc. “Then, according to the input data, MAZATROL Smooth Controls automatically calculate intersection coordinates and tool index positioning, in addition to optimized cutting conditions and machining processes.”

Other features and capabilities, such as Quick MAZATROL and 3D Assist, further boost power and functionality. “Adding to the speed and ease of the SmoothX control,” Shandy continued, “Quick MAZATROL allows engine builders to directly import 3D CAD models into the CNC, which then extracts coordinates from the model to simplify machine programming. 3D Assist also lets operators import workpiece coordinates from 3D CAD data—without having to input coordinate values—to a MAZATROL program, for fewer input errors and less time spent checking programs.”

Returning Champions

CWT of Norcross, Georgia, will bring its “flagship product,” the Multi-Bal 5500 crankshaft balancer, reported Randy Neal. “But we’re bringing additional machines as well, including a couple of turbo balancers; a new, improved version of our vertical balancer; and…a 10,000 rpm driveline balancer.”

This last is truly exceptional, as “most of the industry balances driveshafts around 500 rpm,” Neal said. “And at that speed, we saw problems with harmonics related not only to the materials being used, but also to wall thickness and diameter.” Today’s race car builders use not only steel tubes, but also aluminum and carbon fiber, “each with its own unique properties. And even though they’d love to say they are purely rigid, sometimes they can flex, and the tube responds to that flex with vibration at a particular rpm. But with our 10,000 rpm capacity, we can spin the shaft through the actual speeds it will see on the track, and find its critical areas.

“But our hottest-selling machine right now is the MB Turbo. It’s set up so you can balance the turbine and compressor wheels separately, and then check the whole assembly for critical frequencies.

“Also, we’ve more than tripled the weight capacity of our vertical balancer—from 75 to 250 pounds—while increasing the maximum workpiece diameter from 20 to 24 inches,” he continued. “And we’ve again upgraded the software for even higher resolution.”

Meanwhile, CWT continues to develop and upgrade software for the Multi-Bal 5500, and to provide those upgrades, free of charge, to all original owners of these machines. “We’ve made several major changes to the software,” Neal added. The first we call Will-Call,” which records hundreds of balance jobs, and can find any one when the operator inputs “timing and a name.”

Also upgraded is the software’s ability to predict the effect of any particular attempt to correct an imbalance. “Some engine builders want to push it right to the edge,” Neal explained. “They might say, ‘I need a little more here,’ and with a touch of the screen the machine updates the forecast, and says whether it would be a good repair or a bad repair.” This has become necessary in part because some modern crankshafts—the GM Duramax, for example—have counterweights of different thicknesses. “The shape of the counterweight dictates the real estate available for drilling. Some are elliptical, some are cam-ground, some are full radius. But our software doesn’t care—it can still plot the balance exactly.

“Another feature we have added is split drilling—because it’s really not good to drill deep into a crank. Not everyone understands that the counterweights not only balance the reciprocating and rotating mass of the piston-and-rod assembly, but they also dampen torsional vibration. And by drilling multiple holes in them, you can defeat their dampening function. So our software gives the operator a warning zone, a red flag, saying you can drill there, but there will be a penalty for it.

“Then we’ve also improved our forecast of counterweight shaping, for when the builder wants to cut the counterweight down on a lathe. We can plot the shape of the counterweight and how much material should be removed. This is really the preferred method for balancing a crankshaft—but we’ve given the engine builder options,” Neal concluded.

At last year’s PRI Show, T&S/Pro-Bal of Gainesville, Texas, introduced a line bore system for its TS 1000 engine block machining centers. “Since then we have improved this system with built-in digital centering and a readout,” reported Tim Whitley Sr., “which greatly simplify aligning the block before line boring. We have also improved the fixture used to align the bore so it is more compact and easier to use. And this is a modular design that can be added to other CNC machines besides our own.”

Another T&S block-machining innovation is “a system for teaching the CNC machine to remember a type of block, so that once a single block is bored, data points are stored.” Using this database, “all future machining on that block can be totally automated”; and even “similar blocks can be automatically machined using these stored values. This system can also report the block dimensions and machining results to a file for printing. So our customers can provide another high-quality service to their customers.”

In fact, T&S has expanded the capabilities of its block machining centers even further with “a rod boring routine and fixture that makes it possible to bore either the small or big end of multiple connecting rods on a single fixture,” he said. “We have even developed a system that makes manually adjusting the boring tool obsolete; all of the sizing is computed in the software. We have integrated this technology into our block machining centers, and also offer it as a stand-alone CNC system specifically for automatically reconditioning connecting rods unattended by an operator.”

The T&S PB500 crankshaft balancing machine with a built-in, heavy-metal stand also debuted at last year’s PRI Show. “And we have since improved this machine, making it even more rigid and easy to use while drilling large holes in crankshaft counterweights,” Whitley added. Still more T&S products introduced at last year’s PRI Show, and improved in time for this year’s event, include a turbocharger balancer; a setup for balancing torque converters that can be added to the crankshaft machine described above; and a surfacing machine for heads and blocks. “This last was a prototype last December, and has since been refined and finished. We have changed it from a gantry-style to an open-faced machine, while retaining all of the important features that set it apart from existing surfacing machines. These features include linear ways for smooth and rigid cutter-head movement, and a sliding indicator running on these ways to align the workpiece perfectly before machining.”

Mike Cope of Hurco in Indianapolis, Indiana, related for us how, “Since the release of our five-axis SWi series, several manufacturers have adopted this configuration for machining cylinder heads—due to the versatility and rigidity of these machines. The racing industry can also benefit from our technically advanced CNC honing capabilities, which allow our customers to use Bates Honing Technology on any Hurco milling machine, without the need for a dedicated hone. With this feature, the CNC machine tool can still be used as a milling machine when honing is not needed. Traditionally, customers who needed to hone parts would have to outsource that process—or purchase a dedicated honing machine which would sit idle much of the time.” Hurco expects to exhibit “at least one five-axis machine, a three-axis mill, and a turning center—either a straightforward two-axis machine or a machine with live tooling and a sub-spindle”—at this year’s PRI Trade Show.

Cope expects that visitors to the Hurco booth will “first of all learn about Hurco, and our dedication to building very high-tech, sophisticated CNC machines and controls that are easy to use. They will also learn that we have several machine models and configurations that are well-suited for the racing industry, but which are also sufficiently robust and versatile for any type of machining and manufacturing.”

The Show Experience

Of our remaining sources, we asked what they hoped visitors would notice about their products—and what they might learn by visiting their booths.

Dolder spoke with special pride about Sunnen’s gauging capabilities, favored not only by racers but by some OEMs, too. “Our gauging can be used in oil,” he explained, “while most others cannot. So when you buy a machine from us, you get not only the machine itself, but the tooling that goes in the machine, along with the abrasives that go in the tooling, and a way to measure. And all of those components are made by Sunnen employees in St. Louis, Missouri.”

Shandy cited Mazak’s American roots—and the compact size of the VC-500A/5X. “While most vertical machining centers require large amounts of floor space, even if the parts they are cutting are relatively small, the VC-500A/5X handles the same range of part sizes—including torque converters, brake calipers, steering components, stators, ring gears and more—yet conserves valuable shop-floor real estate.” Furthermore, “with its trunnion-style rotary/tilt table, the VC-500A/5X provides affordable, full simultaneous five-axis machining capability to cost-effectively process complex parts. The machine’s rotary/tilt table is constructed with a durable, high-speed roller gear cam drive for high torsional rigidity and positioning accuracy. The table tilts 110 degrees plus-or-minus in the B-axis, and rotates 360 degrees in the C-axis, and can accommodate workpiece weights up to 440 pounds.” Y- and X-axis travel for the VC-500A/5X measure 19.88 inches and 20.07 inches, respectively, allowing it to accommodate part sizes up to 19.68 inches in diameter and 12 inches high. Rapid traverse speeds for these three linear axes are now 1181 rpm.

Kelller again emphasized Centroid’s “full, turnkey package, and that immediately upon delivery of the machine, the included tool package, and training, the customer can start machining cylinder heads and engine blocks. So with Centroid, the learning curve is very easy, because we provide everything you need.”

Added Whitley of T&S: “We want machinists to recognize our unique approach to machine work. We build into our software the ability to choose the best datum point for referencing dimensions and displaying critical information about the block before machining, so decisions can be made regarding the best methods for repairing cylinders, lifter bores, deck surfaces, etc. And we do this with software designed to be understood by an engine builder, rather than a CNC machinist. We also engineer our machines to use industrial tooling, so that our customers are not tied to T&S for tool purchases. They can purchase tooling from T&S or any industrial supplier.”

Cutting into the Future

Finally, we couldn’t resist asking our sources how much they would be willing to share about future plans.

“Look for surprises,” said Centroid’s Cowher, “because there are going to be some big ones. Look for us in the Show edition (November) of PRI Magazine, because we’ll have some cool stuff in there that I can’t talk about now.”

Other manufacturers shared more specific plans. Cope said, “Hurco is working on the ability to import a solid model directly into the control, and program operations at the machine on the shop floor.”

Shandy replied that engine builders should keep an eye out for “enhanced multi-tasking, including new high-precision honing and orbital machining capabilities” for Mazak’s already popular HCN-4000 horizontal machining center.” The orbital machining capability will enable the horizontal machine to turn round and eccentric features on large, odd-shaped parts such as valves and manifolds while the workpiece remains stationary. “Because the process uses standard tooling,” Shandy added, “it is a cost-effective and easy-to-apply solution for performing milling and turning operations in a single setup—further increasing the HCN-4000’s multi-process ability.”

T&S, said Whitley, has “had a lot of discussion about our next steps. We see the most potential for this industry in our CNC machinery. We have had several opportunities to scale our control solutions to include five-axis porting, and are working toward a unique solution that can add a great deal of value in this area. It looks as though we will take our first steps into this market early in 2018.

“Also, we have set our sights on expanding our CNC block machines to feature a built-in honing solution,” he continued. “Having the ability to bore and hone a block on the same setup without the need for a separate machine would add a great deal of value to our products, while reducing a shop’s need for multiple pieces of equipment.

“We discover new and exciting opportunities every day while working closely with our customers,” Whitley concluded.

Machinery Row Preview

Machinery Row at the PRI Trade Show provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for attendees to view
the latest shop machining equipment up close and in full operation all in one place, at one time.
Manufacturers, in turn, use this unique Show feature to interact with attendees face to face.

Performance Racing Industry