Opinion on Southwestern Industries
I have plans to make small runs of motorcycle accessories and was interested in opinions on the Southwestern equipment.
Pro, Con, alternative CNC lathes and mills geared to small production runs.
Thank you, Ron
IMHO the prototrak lathe controller was the most intuitive setup I have seen. A few days and you could make the controller do anything you wanted. It was the perfect setup for short run production parts, machine was well built and easy to use. Cons were no constant surface speed, to cut a radii as in a pulley was a pain, and the power feed inputs could have been better. I should qualify that this was 10 years ago and they may have updated the controller. The collet closer was a good attachment to have as well. If your parts require secondary ops maybe another machine can be justified with live tooling, but you will pay for the extra capability.
For the lathe I'd also take a very hard look at a Haas TL-1. They can be fitted with a machine controlled turret, making the machine a pretty good mix of conversational for development and prototyping and then fully automatic for your small production runs.
I was pretty impressed with all the use Mark Hockett gets out of his TL-1 as he shows in this thread:
The Haas TM-1 is also worth looking at for a prototyping/small run mill, although I'd want to include the toolchanger option. Its pretty hard to beat both these machines on price/performance. There are some bed mills (Southwestern has one for example) that are more ridgid, but they cost more too, and at that price point you're probably better off getting a full VMC anyway.
Most Southwest Industries stuff that I've seen around is pretty expensive. Many of the used machines had very little use, and it makes me wonder just how handy they really are. Typically, the bed mills that I've seen have all been over $10K. With the current economic state, it wouldn't be too hard to find a used VMC with a tool changer for the same price as a used SI bed mill. Even if you are only doing small runs, a tool changer would make life much easier.
At least shop around. Proto-Trak works and it is popular for some reason, but I never liked the controls. Take a look at some of the machines that use Anilam controls. I always liked them better. I'm pretty sure that Acer and Lagun sell machines with Anilam controls. I second taking a look at the Haas lathe. I also agree that it's a good idea to go ahead and take a look at a small vmc. As far as the conversational controls on VMCs are concerned, I only have experience with various Hurco controls. Hurco controls were excellent and easy to use, but the machines themselves had lots of problems with the tool changers. I think they would have been fine if they had not been abused.
They usta be VERY simple to operate,too simple actually. compersome,clumsy,no flexability at all, nothing like CNC,so far removed in fact,........
BUT,a manual person could be taught to run it,you will not learn CNC from them,this was12 maybe 15 years ago,so things have changed?
I agree aboot the Anilam controllers,so sweet.
It depends what you want to do.
We have a lathe and a mill and love them. Both have dxf convertors, so load a cad file select geometry/tool and away you go.
If you're like me and not a 'seasoned' CNC guy, you'll love it. It's one of the quickest machines for making components (as in program to one in your hand).
However, if you want to start tweaking programs etc to eek out cycle time forget it. You then want a gcode CNC.
Used to run a Prototrak SMX conversion on a new Hardinge/BP mill. First conversational/cnc program I used. I loved it. Still do for prototype/one-offs. Not sure how great it would be for a production run though. You are probably better off going with a VMC so you can get the speed advantage (tool changes, rapid traverse).
Sometimes I wish my MAZAK could be retrofited with the SWI controller. The Auto Geometry engine works like a champ and I love the versatility of the subroutine/repeat events. As far as the machine goes, its pretty darn rigid for the size and quite accurate...
(and my machine is almost 10 years old)
I hate changing tools
Cirlce milled holes not round
Max spindle speed 5000
Prototrak lathes got me interested in the hybrid lathe concept and I started looking for one used. Couldn't get one at a reasonable price, they really hold their value for resale. We wound up getting a larger Milltronics hybrid lathe (20 X60, 15HP, 12" chuck) that was repossessed and put it to work. We wound up not using the teach or shop floor programming, didn't care for them, CAM was so much quicker and more capable. We used that lathe harder than it was intended to be used, it held up fine and made ±.0003 parts easily as long as you watched and chased the offsets. After 3-4 years we replaced it with a real turning center and wished we hade done that from the beginning. Wrenching on the manual chuck gets real old after a few parts and slows things down. The turret is small which makes tool clearance problems, we added an Aloris CA toolpost next to the turret for big boring bars and drills, swapping them gets old too. No chip conveyer was a pain for production runs of more than 10 parts.
Those machines are supposed to be the hot ticket for some situations, making 10 to 50 parts at a time wasn't it for us. I can recommend the Milltronics though if you are looking. There are a few fellows here with Bridgeport/Romi hybrid lathes that really love them.
I appreciate all the replies and opinions.
Looks like I'll be saving a bit more and going after a HAAS setup.
Thank you, Ron
Ron, it sounds like you're trying to do the same thing I do, which use a single machine both for your design prototyping and for your production.
This is a compromise, but it can work. In my case I've got a 3 axis CNC BP type mill. Prototyping parts for your own product line is pretty different than "one off" job shop prototyping, when your doing it yourself the part is going to come on and off the machine a lot of times for testing, measuring, staring and tweaking. This makes an open machine more attractive, especially a BP type machine where you can nod and tilt the head and hang and extend parts off the table.
Trying to do this kind of "interactive" prototyping on a full VMC is difficult and wears you out, and there are some things easy to do for prototyping on a BP mill that you would have to make a special fixture to do on a full VMC.
But of course it flips around when the design is done and you're ready to make a production run. Now you really will wish you had a fully enclosed machine with an automatic tool changer (ATC) and full coolant.
For production what I do is use a micro-drop system (by Trico) instead of full coolant, and although I'm stuck with manual tool changes, I use the Royal EasyChange system to at least speed that up, although for aggressive milling I have to use full holders, the EasyChange system is too flimsy for that. And of course chips get everywhere, but it works, and right now I can't afford a full VMC.
In fact I don't even currently have a CNC lathe, for parts that need machine controlled turning, which fortunately in my case are pretty small, I stick a R8 4" 3jaw chuck in the spindle of the mill, put the blank stock in there and use multiple lathe tools bolted to the mill table gang style. This works surprisingly well if you can live with the size limitations, and is actually more production oriented than when milling on the machine as you don't have to do any tool changes, you just program an offset to move to the next gang tool.
I've been kind of hacking this so far by clamping lathe tools to the table, but its working well enough that I'm making a gang tool holder bar that will use pins to reference to the slots on the table and thus will be really fast to take on and off the table and will make setting up the offsets really easy, each tool is on center with the slot and is spaced exactly 3" apart.
I also have my vise on a pinned plate so I can move it on and off the table really quickly without needing to square it, and the same pins are used to mount my product fixtures square to the table. So in about 2 minutes I can swap from lathe, to mill or to vise work without having to square anything.
If my products grow enough I'll either add a VMC (the Sharp 2412 is looking good to me if the $ really starts to flow) and keep my current machine for the proto work or upgrade to a Haas TM1 with a tool changer and use it for both operations. I view a TM-1 with a tool changer as probably the best "combo" (prototyping and small production) machine available, at least for the money.
Have a 2003 SWI 1540V with the VL control. Great lathe, very accurate, simple to program, run and maintain. Has gang tooling and CSS. And the best part (and which the TL-1 lacks) is the full enclosure. You can really hose down parts while turning, which if you can't at +1000 sfm, it's a problem.
I'd take the ProtoTRAK for small production over the TL-1, but they are expensive to the point you should consider a nice used slantbed instead.
PaulT, you are correct sir. I was going for 2 birds with one stone. I see your
point about having a 1 proto and 1 production machine for ease.
appliedproto, I was looking at a full enclosure. what is a "slantbed"?
more good points to ponder. Thank you, keep em coming