Air Powered Spindle Speeder Accelerates Engraver’s Business
Back in 2008, when the Great Recession was eliminating jobs and closing businesses’ doors at rates unseen for generations, Tim Treacy was doubling down on his shop, Custom Engraving. In the face of strong headwinds, he established the solid footing it needed to grow into the leader it is today in its space.
Ten years earlier, the shop he worked at was approached about the possibility of engraving custom parts for a major motorcycle manufacturer’s special edition models. While the contract never materialized, Treacy was inspired. With the blessing of his bosses, he started digging into the world of engraving in his off time. He researched software and tooling and practiced the craft in his garage or at another equipped shop in town during the slow shift.
After a couple years Treacy incorporated and gradually began building his customer base, delivering both production orders for a major motorcycle OEMs and one-off customized emblems and badges for individuals in the tens of thousands annually. Even more impressive, Treacy accomplished it all working only nights and weekends. It wasn’t until 2008 that Treacy made the bold move to dedicate all his professional time to Custom Engraving, moving out of his garage into a dedicated facility and starting lights-out work.
Along the way, the shop graduated from a trusty old Hurco mill in the early days that maxed out at about 3,500 RPM to the CNC lathe for shaping the parts and three Haas vertical machines he runs today. As a smaller shop performing such high-precision work, and lights out to boot, there’s a premium on having just the right equipment.
For some perspective, Treacy shared a jaw-dropping fact that illustrates just how delicate the work he does is. “My roughing tool is 20 thousandths in size,” he said. “People are usually shocked to hear that because that’s smaller than most people will use to finish their finest details, and that’s where we start.”
Treacy explained that he typically uses three more cutters from there, stepping down to a finishing cutter that measures four thousandths in size. The only way to spin the carbide cutters fast enough to achieve the high surface footage required for precision cutting aluminum is with the help of spindle speeders.
It wasn’t until a chance visit by BIG KAISER engineers that he saw a demonstration of the Air Power Spindle, produced by BIG Daishowa. The speeder could multiply his machines that max out at about 10,000 RPM to 120,000 RPM, enabling the use of smaller micro engraving tools and other major improvements to his operation.
“Carbide is a hard tool and it’s going to wear much slower,” Treacy explained. “The spindle speed isn’t just a matter of moving faster, it also extends the life of my tools because you’re getting a much higher surface footage to the tool. It’s going to work better with extreme speeds because if it’s too slow, you’re dragging across the edge instead of cutting.”
“I burn up a lot of carbide—and I know what I’m doing. Working with small tools there are so many little factors that come into play that you can’t make mistakes. You may be able to get away with misjudging a drill’s feeder angle, but you can’t really do that with carbide engraving tools.”
The stakes get even higher in unmonitored operations. If a tool breaks 15 minutes into a four-hour cycle, a lot of machine time is lost. Smooth tool changeovers are also key and the Air Power Spindle has fit into the Custom Engraving tooling carousels seamlessly, an option Treacy said isn’t available on competitive electric speeders.
“If I can’t change tools, it really limits my flexibility as far as what I can do to get parts out the door,” Treacy said.
But perhaps the most impactful savings has been in raw time, literally halving cycle times compared to what they were with slower speeders—on average, from four hours down to two.
“I’m able to get more parts out the door faster and cut the cycle time in half, meaning I don’t have to go out and get another machine,” Treacy said. “I’d much rather pay for a premium tool than buy another machine. The longevity of the tools is another main reason that makes me really appreciate the BIG KAISER tool. They have a really strong background in tool manufacturing and the tools are definitely made better.”
In addition to savings, the accelerated speeds have even helped Custom Engraving develop a new product that customers are loving and demanding more and more. They use a fine detail tool to create textures on the surfaces of the part. The conical shape of the engraving tools he uses creates tiny angles in the part that make sunlight refract and bend when it hits for an eye-catching glow pattern. It’s a result Treacy believes would be next to impossible without the Air Power Spindle.
“Since aluminum is pretty abrasive for the casting process, trying to texture really fine detail with a die tool doesn’t work too well,” Treacy said. “It’s not as if you can put a lot of fine detail in and run the tool for 1,000 shots and be done with it.”
While growing in popularity, the one-of-a-kind textured product is part of a standard product lineup that includes 400 different designs for 70 different bike parts. Custom Engraving also welcomes custom designs based on everything from portraits to tattoos. Thanks to a relatively simple tooling upgrade, the shop is fulfilling higher volume with more speed than ever before.
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