The Most Successful Machine Tool Builders: Go Big or Go Niche

Posted by: 25. April 2014

Of the most successful machine tool builders, there are two types.  The most dominant players are big – meaning they have broad and deep product lines. They offer fairly traditional models that most shops can use. But they also build less conventional models more suitable for specific applications.  That’s one type of successful builder. The other has effectively identified a market and built models that can make parts faster, more accurately, less expensively, or in some other way better than most other machines. The trade-off for these types of builders is that their potential market is usually smaller. In short, they are niche builders.

The rest of the builders can be successful, too. But they usually aren’t known for a machine style or design and they don’t dominate markets. 

Well, after studying their interesting product line this week, I think SW is or can be in the second group of successful builders. SW is a German-based machine tool builder of horizontal machining centers.  But as you have probably guessed (because they’re in the second group), the models they make are no ordinary HMCs.

SW’s models are available in single-, two-, three-, or four-spindle configurations. There are very few two- or three-spindle machining center manufacturers in the world, and even fewer four-spindle builders.  And we are not talking about custom-built models. SW’s multi-spindle machines are a standard product, with models available from stock.  Each spindle’s X- and Z-axes are programmable, which means that as tools wear, the tool can be offset in the wear axis, independent of the other spindles.  Rapid rates on some models exceed 4,000ipm. (Click the model link then click the Video link under “Related BA W08-22 Content” to watch the clever video that demonstrates the machine’s impressive rapid speed rates.) Auto pallet changers (or planetary tables as SW refers to them) are built-in, yet take up little or no floor space. Machines can be equipped with a fourth and fifth axis, plus U-axis for eccentric boring and turning. In the case of the multi-spindle models, part loading areas are substantial, easily accommodating two, three, or four parts for simultaneous machining, per spindle.  But the fewer the spindles on the machine, the larger the part it can accommodate.  SW guarantees positioning tolerance to within 0.008mm, which can be partially attributable to their exceptionally rigid “QUBE” construction, or monobloc design.  Even under high-torque load, the monobloc construction serves to reduce deflection in the table, spindle, and column.  Click the video link to watch the BA W04-22 twin spindle simulation, or browse any of their models and look for the video link to explore the line’s unique features.   Then you decide… niche or not?

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