In the machine tool builder jungle comprised of over 700 companies selling in the US, how, I often wonder, does each builder distinguish itself from the others? As I wrote in April, the most successful machine tool builders go big or go niche. That article focused on SW, a specialty machining center builder that has caved out a production machining niche based on machines designed with multiple spindles that cut simultaneously.
At the other end of the spectrum are companies such as Okuma. Their product line includes both depth and breadth in machining and turning centers, with well over a hundred different models. ID and OD grinders are also an Okuma specialty. So it was no surprise when I visited their booth at IMTS last week, to learn about the addition of seven new lathes, three new machining centers and two new grinders. The wheels of progress roll ever forward and apparently so does Okuma. They’ve introduced new machines that are faster, more flexible, capable of performing more operations in one setup, more accurate, bigger, designed for automating, and more productive.
But even as U.S. metalworking shops looking for a competitive edge force machine builders to push the envelope into these expected directions, Okuma hasn't accepted the notion that conventional 2-axis lathes and 3-axis vertical mills can’t be highly competitive, as well. Their 2-axis HJ-250E is said to be affordable, yet flexible, highly accurate with hand-scrapped ways, and rigid enough to handle difficult materials, long term.
In addition to new machines, Okuma has focused a light on its CNC control strategy to capture the power of outside programmers, machinists, third party suppliers and independents of all stripes. Their open architecture control, THINC®, uses the power of Microsoft WINDOWS® which creates endless opportunities for creative application implementation. I watched demonstrations of several new apps. One developed by Kitagawa the chuck manufacturer, monitored chuck pressure in real time during loading, unloading, and turning operations. Another called the “Flip Part Monitor” used built-in sensors to confirm through the operator panel that a part that was chucked, then auto-reversed and re-chucked, was properly seated and secured by the workholding device. Okuma’s AppStore gave me a glimpse into the future of crowd-sourcing on the metalworking front.
As the only machine tool company to build its own machines, controls, motors, drives, encoders, spindles, and turrets, the addition of twelve new models expands this full service machine tool builder’s impact in many directions.