The latest rising star in the Walla Walla University School of Engineering is the new DMG Mori Seiki NVX-5080 three-axis vertical machining center. The NVX is tucked away in Kretschmar Hall, room 104, under the watchful eye of Ralph Stirling, project engineer and instructor of the senior-level Manufacturing Systems class.
The NVX features computer numerical control and an automatic tool changer that holds up to 30 tools and that can change those tools automatically in less than three seconds. It is faster, safer, and more accurate than the previous mill and can handle bigger parts. Using a two-axis rotary table that was included with the donation, the machine can automatically mill five sides instead of the previous one. The mill also includes simulation software that will allow students to see how the milling process will work before doing the actual manufacturing.
Stirling saw the NVX—this exact machine—several years ago at a trade show in Chicago never dreaming it might one day show up in his manufacturing lab. But he isn’t afraid to dream big and he knows people—the right people. People like his former student, Adam Hansel, 1998 mechanical engineering graduate, who is now president of a United States subsidiary of DMG Mori Seiki Corporation.
Hansel was instrumental in facilitating what Stirling calls “the fantastically generous donation” of the NVX. While technically a used machine, the NVX is like new, having only been operated for demonstrations and engineering testing. A similarly equipped new NVX-5080 would cost more than $200,000. In addition to the equipment donation, Mori Seiki paid for shipping the 7-ton mill to College Place, and bought the old Haas TM-1 CNC mill from the university.
WWU engineering blood runs deep at Mori Seiki with Zachary Piner and Robert George, 1998 and 2004 mechanical engineering graduates respectively, also employed at the Davis, California-based company. Hansel and Piner played a special role in the process of designing and building machine tools at a company that was eventually purchased by Mori Seiki.
Walla Walla-based Nelson Irrigation also contributed $8000 to the project. Nelson Irrigation is a world leader in quality and innovation of sprinklers for agricultural and industrial applications that uses Mori Seiki machines to manufacture components.
The challenge of installation
It took some engineering work to get the NVX into the basement lab in Kretschmar Hall. A 9-foot doorway had to be cut into the south wall near the Physics Lecture Hall, ceiling lights had to be moved, and a new electrical plan was drawn up that includes a new subpanel in the lab. The NVX was stored at WWU Facility Services for six months while the doorway and room were prepared for move-in day in August.
“The mill will be primarily used by mechanical engineers in Manufacturing Systems class,” said Stirling. “In that class, students implement a manufacturing system, which requires a lot of CNC machining.”
Why milling instead of 3-D printing? Stirling says that 3-D printing has some inherent weaknesses for this type of application because of the way 3-D printing works—building layers and fusing them together. The milling that is done by the NVX will be “the manufacturing process of choice for many years to come,” he says.
Stirling says that while machines like the NVX are occasionally loaned to large research universities for use by graduate students, undergraduates rarely have access to this type of equipment.
“This machine benefits students directly and will give them confidence that they can handle big scary machines when they get to their jobs,” says Stirling. “It will also get new students excited and will keep them safe as they work.”
Posted Sept. 23, 2015