Rebuild or Buy New?

An Upgrade to Automation, Replacement of Machine Parts or Repurposing a Machine for Different Production Are Alternatives to Brand New Machinery

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By Mark Lamendola

Have you ever had a conversation with a customer to discuss the value of a machine rebuild project? It can be an obvious alternative to buying a new machine, particularly if the need to physically replace the old one isn’t clear cut. This is particularly true in machine shops.

Our research tells us that the three principal types of rebuild projects are, from least scope to greatest, an automation upgrade, a recondition/rebuild and repurposing an existing machine.

Upgrade the automation. Upgrading a machine’s controls can produce such advantages as improved safety, reduced scrap, reduced setup time, quicker changeovers, lower cost per run and more flexibility in scheduling the work.

Recondition/rebuild. It’s getting harder for the machine user to hold tolerances because the ways are worn on a machine that is otherwise in good condition. Or they’ve had problems because the insulation on the control wiring has degraded over time. At significantly less cost than that of a new machine, you can correct the problems of the existing unit.

Repurpose. The customer uses a given machine to make Product X, but that market has softened. Now the company needs to make Product Y because there’s a demand for it. To do that with the existing machine requires adding a particular feature or two, which, by rebuilding, can be done.

The typical shop doesn’t have the time, space, or expertise to handle rebuild projects. Fortunately, a machine rebuilder, whether a standalone rebuilder or a machine builder that offers rebuild services, does.

Gear Technology, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is a precision gear-maker serving the military and commercial aerospace industries. “If you have a piece of equipment you really like, but it's getting old and tired, should you replace it outright?” ponders Tom Marino, president. “Why not just update and refurbish it?”

But wouldn’t you still have an old machine when you’re done? Marino says that’s not the case. “I'm buying a gear hobber that's a 1989 machine,” he states. “This machine is being completely rebuilt and recertified and comes with a one-year warranty.”

Automation Upgrades

Upgrading the controls is perhaps the most common type of project. Guptill Gear, Anaheim, Calif., manufactures a variety of gears—fine pitch, precision, helical, friction, conical, spur, bevel, rack, pinion, and ring—for a variety of industries. It also provides forming and heat treating. “There's a lot of electronics involved with a controls upgrade,” says Ron Guptill, president. “All the wiring is brand new, and you get the latest controller, so that part is really new.”


Controls Refit
Controls Refit
This control cabinet replaced the original controls. Classified as a controls rebuild project, in reality, the control system was designed in CAD and custom-manufactured in a factory setting.
(Source: Machine Rebuilders)
Suppose the machine has no mechanical problems, but its outdated control system limits the machine’s potential. Your customer considers a similar machine with new controls that provide additional I/O, network communication and a consolidated operator interface, not remotely located switches. Additionally, the new system has graphics-based programming so changes are faster and updates are easier. Instead of replacing the entire machine, you replace its controls. This is a relatively small expenditure with relatively large benefits.

Milwaukee Gear Co., Milwaukee, makes custom gears for more than 20 industries including transportation, plastics, energy, refrigeration, defense, food, mining and power. “We had several machines that were mechanically sound and still good technology, and yet would do more for us if upgraded,” reports Rick Fullington, president. “The difference between the existing machines and upgraded versions would consist of the controls, motors, drives and some wiring.”

Retrofitter Trend Machinery, Willowbrook, Ill., recently completed a job on a four-axis, CNC Normac grinder at Sandusky International in Ohio. The machine resharpens the gun drills that put thousands of holes into paper-mill rollers. The grinder no longer held permissible tolerance positions, and replacement parts and service were more difficult to obtain.

Founded in 1976, the company designs and builds custom machines, with a particular expertise in grinders. Trend also performs CNC retrofits to update obsolete controls, as well as motion control systems integration and turnkey machine conversions from manual to programmable operation.

“The machine was sent to us for evaluation,” says Bob Gordon, president of Trend Machinery. “We determined what the equipment needed, including a new CNC to replace the original control, as well as drives and motors. We also customized an entirely new control console and enclosure for Sandusky, and we replaced all the electronic hardware such as starters and relays.” Trend also replaced all limit switches, modified the motor mounts and repaired the grinding spindle.

The machine was returned to Sandusky with full electrical schematics, bill of material and program files; plus the Normac grinder was cleaned and completely repainted to customer specification. Trend supplied a one-year warranty on all parts, backed by Siemens, which was the primary component supplier, including the CNC.

“The work was done on time, in a professional manner and at the price quoted,” explains Ron Gearhart, machining technician at Sandusky. “This was an excellent investment for our company, as the machine has been performing beyond our expectations.” He says this is due in part to the enhanced features on the new CNC, the thorough documentation supplied and the neat appearance of the controls. “The organization of the electrical panels was further evidence of a job well done,” he concludes.

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