Researching Machine Shops

2010 November 8
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Being committed to local sourcing for the components of the roaster, a survey of the capabilities of machine shops within the Town of Gilbert is a first step. I knew that some amazing things were being done in Gilbert (building satellites, large scale injection molding, aircraft parts), but I hadn’t yet considered how to use local talent to make the roaster a reality. I set out with Chanelle, our photojournalist, to visit several machine shops, talk with the owners, and assess how their capabilities could be utilized. I was also looking for an attitude of excitement and challenge to be a part of the Roaster Project. Two places stood out as being very capable and having owners and staff that were truly excited to help. The companies are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to machining, but I can see the need for both.

Metal Spinning Solutions

Located in a nondescript industrial condo building just outside of Gilbert’s Heritage District is Metal Spinning Solutions. Metal spinning is perhaps the oldest and most “crude” form of machining. Some say the process dates back to the Egyptians. It is known that the Chinese practiced metal spinning early on. Our own Paul Revere was a metal spinner. The process is incredibly simple in theory, but is quite an art in practice. Essentially, the machinist takes a circular metal disc (which will be formed into the final part) and attaches it to a form on the spindle of a lathe. He starts the lathe spinning rapidly and then uses a series of levers on a pivot to slowly push the metal to conform to the form. This takes a series of gradual steps to ensure that the metal is exactly the right shape and has a good finish.

In this photo, Paul (the owner) spins a stainless steel bowl that will become a part of a custom light fixture. Paul is quite an artist and does sculptural copper bowls for an art gallery. He can spin most kinds of metals, but as one can imagine, thick metals become very difficult. My interest in metal spinning is great in that I believe it may be the most cost effective way to make the heart of the roaster: the roasting bowl. The size and thickness of the bowl, along with the type of material will determine whether the bowl can be made in this shop. Metal spinning is also ideal for making the spheres, if I continue down that design path, as well as duct flanges and other complex round shapes in sheet metal.

For each shape, we will need to create a form for the metal to be pressed against. These can be made of metal, phenolic, or a laminated stack of particle board. We will likely use the particle board route, since we are not mass producing the parts. Paul would machine the form by using a lathe in the conventional way to trim off material until the final shape is achieved.

We would then work with Paul to select exactly which levered worktools will be used to spin the metal agains the forms. Certain tools create special finishs and others can be used to create a lip or even a rolled edge. Yet other tools are used to make precise cuts to ensure that the spun part is exactly the right size.

Metal spinning may be one of the most rudimentary forms of machining, but as you can see, it will likely be used to make the heart of the roaster (the bowl) and many of the most visible components. Our next visit is to a very high tech machine shop just two miles away and still in the Town of Gilbert.

ACME Metalworks

The most stringent machining requirements are for aerospace and semiconductor parts. Acme Metalworks specializes in parts for these industries including missile components and aircraft components. They run a medium size, but very well equipped shop. Uniquely, they also do complex sheetmetal forming and precision welding. That reduces the number of shops I would have to use to make the various components for the roaster.

Acme Metalworks is located on Baseline Road in Gilbert. They have a modern industrial building with several bays the focus on certain kinds of operations. We were given an extensive tour by the staff.

Acme does several kinds of computer controlled machining (CNC). Most of it is done on lathes and milling machines. We were shown some of the components that are currently in production.

This CNC milling machine is machining a ceramic component for a semiconductor client. Ceramic is difficult to machine as it chips easily. The cooling/lubricating jet helps prevent this from happening.

The CNC machines are loaded with various bits and tools to make the cuts in the material to form a finished part. We also checked out their sheet metal forming capabilities to make boxes and other bent shapes. The tour continued on into the welding area. This is a skill that very few machine shops have. It is important to me because of the possibility of fabricating the frame out of square tube stock. This would keep all of the work in one shop instead of having to send it out to another shop, which requires more coordination.

After the tour, we met in the conference room with Tim Eckholdt, the President of Acme, and discussed the basic construction of the roaster. I explained the major components and how they would be assembled. We spoke at length about the most difficult component — the bowl itself. Tim offered up several possible ways of fabricating the bowl. We spent time talking about my desire for local and US content. This is something they deal with all the time for Department of Defense and aerospace clients. I left convinced that Acme could fabricate many of the components for the roaster and would be a motivated partner with passion for what they do.

My research trip through the Town of Gilbert made me very confident that much of the work be done within the municipality I call home.

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One Response
  1. November 10, 2010

    Great photos!! I know I’m jumping ahead…but, what’s the heat going to come from? -Scott

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