When’s the last time you heard anyone in manufacturing talk about a vertical turning lathe (VTL) like it’s a member of their family, or received a visit from the company hand delivering a part from thousands of miles away—overnight?
Add to those traits the discipline and care of a supplier flying their installation team across the Atlantic to assemble and test their new VTL on their floor. What you have, in this unique instance, is a union of respect and quality constructed nearly 20 years ago between Excel Foundry and Machine Inc., Pilsen and TOSHULIN, a vertical lathe manufacturer from the Czech Republic.
A Tradition of Quality and Innovation is Born
In the 1960s, Merrill Parsons moved to Pekin, Illinois to run Excel Brass & Machine, which manufactured small brass bushings and fittings. A few years later, Parsons bought the company and renamed it Excel Foundry to focus on the production of bronze wear parts for the active mining industry in that region. During the 1970s, mining companies in the Midwest were desperate to keep their draglines and stripping shovels running, but had difficulty securing replacement parts from the original equipment manufacturers. From this experience, Excel forged the business model that still exists today—providing high quality, Excel-branded aftermarket parts and top-of-class service to the end-users of mission-critical heavy equipment.
Excel quickly earned a reputation for producing and delivering reliable, high-quality replacement parts against the shortest of deadlines. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Excel continued to grow and prosper, manufacturing replacement parts for mining operations around the world. Soon, aggregate producers approached Excel for alternatives to the OEM bronze bushings used in their rock-crushing equipment. Excel developed its own line of replacement parts for rock crushers, quickly gaining acceptance as a viable substitute for OEM parts.
In 1999, Parsons’ sons, Doug and Rick, purchased the company and expanded into repair and rebuild services for crushing equipment. Since then, annual orders have climbed from $10 million to more than $100 million. The company is now owned by FLSmidth Minerals which provides an even broader support of the market.
A New Breed of Machine Tool Provider
In the same year that the Parsons brothers purchased Excel from their father, Doug Parsons and Dave Eagan, currently Director of Technical Support for Excel, went in search of a VTL that could meet some very unique specifications.
“We do a lot of turning and milling, but more turning than milling,” says Eagan. “As the company (Excel) continued growing, we decided to go with a live tool (spindle) VTL. In 1997, we rebuilt a horizontal lathe and added live tooling to it. It worked well, so we began looking for a machine that already had live tooling.”
That search led Eagan to Cincinnati, Ohio-based Pilsen. Eagan and his staff contacted Pilsen’s president, Bob Pruden. “After finding that machine with live tooling, we needed parts for it. Bob came in and learned about our operations,” says Eagan. Soon thereafter, Excel purchased a used (1993) TOSHULIN SKIQ 12-3 VTL. “That machine is still running 20 hours a day, five days a week,” exclaims Eagan.
Pilsen is the exclusive partner of TOSHULIN in the United States, a relationship cemented in 1993. Now, nearly 25 years later, Pilsen supplies and services specialty VTLs to parts manufacturers throughout North America, and continues to introduce buyers of VTLs, like Excel, to its uncommon brand of service and support.
By 2003, Excel had furthered its reputation as a go-to provider of specialty replacement parts, and was in need of a machine that could meet some very strict demands. Pruden and his Czech partner had just the machine to fit Excel’s needs.
“They (TOSHULIN) were able to create an attachment to do some mill work that many other companies could not do the way we needed it,” says Kyle Keefauver, Excel’s Manufacturing Engineering Manager. “Other companies approach this challenge where their machine…the table actually moves on the Y-axis; they’re usually larger machines. We only needed a small amount of travel on the Y-Axis, and TOSHULIN already had a machine with a Y-Axis head attachment. A Y-Axis head is fairly unique; and some companies would want a wider Y-Axis stroke than the TOSHULIN Y – Axis head - which provides +/- 7.9 inches.”
By 2004, Excel had purchased and installed its first new VTL—a TOSHULIN POWERTURN 1600 CM, and then another new machine of the same model by the end of that year.
“Excel has unique parts that are well suited for the use of the TOSHULIN’s Y-Axis head,” says Pruden. “That Y-Axis feature saved numerous setups on other machines, namely their existing horizontal boring mills. This allowed Excel to produce parts faster and provide their customers with shorter delivery times and better quality parts.”
A Unique Challenge Answered With a “Y”
By 2013, Excel had purchased and installed three new TOSHULIN VTLs, each with TOSHULIN’s special brand of Y-Axis head for the machines’ live spindles. Pilsen had now provided Excel with a total of six (6) TOSHULIN VTL’s – four with the Y-Axis feature, all running between five and six days a week, 24 hours a day, and amassing productivity increases each day with the TOSHULIN machines’ penchant for efficiency and tight tolerances.
“We machine multiple bronze alloys, as well as grey iron, manganese steel and a wide variety of alloy steels,” says Eagan, “and we run approximately 1,500 different parts on six (6) TOSHULIN VTLs. Many of those parts can be run on several of the machines, giving us a great deal of flexibility. Our best example is a part that used to be machined in two operations on a very large manual VTL, and the mill work was done in two very difficult milling operations. The original total time to manufacture this piece was 125 hours. The first time that part was run on our 3-meter TOSHULIN VTL with live tooling, it took 62 hours. That included proving out the program.”
Eagan estimates that Excel’s move from manual non-TOSHULIN VTLs to TOSHULIN’s live spindle machines is saving the company 15% to 20% in top-line costs. Because of Pilsen and TOSHULIN, “We have increased capacity and reduced run times, which has reduced our backlog and allowed us to offer greatly reduced lead times. Also, with having so many VTLs now that can do such great work, when we have rush jobs, you just find one that can be ready the soonest, and put it in. And on the part mentioned before and on many of our other parts, we have very tight tolerances on the diameter and location of dowel holes. Before, we had to lay out those hole locations by hand. There’s even reduced re-work and reduced scrap.”
Keefauver adds that, “The Y-Axis being able to mill off center really speeds up the process, which allows us to get more done to the part before we pull it off of the machine.”
While the TOSHULIN machines dotted all of Excel’s “i”s and crossed all the company’s “t”s, the journey from supplier facility to foundry floor for Excel’s Y-Axis VTLs is what made Excel fans of the machines then and continues their advocacy today. It all started with a first-class visit to TOSHULIN’s Czech Republic facility, arranged by Pilsen.
“Being able to go over to their factory and see the machine was a really useful experience,” says Keefauver. “One thing we’ve noticed dealing with other manufacturers of this type of machine, they’ll talk about the features and they’ll say they’ll put an x-brand chuck on it. TOSHULIN makes their own chuck. To me, that means they can really control the quality of their own machines. It’s impressive that they can do that much to their own machines and keep them at a good price.”
Shipping and installation of the machines also left Excel comparing Pilsen and TOSHULIN with previous machine and parts suppliers.
“Bob stayed in touch with the shipping company and kept us informed throughout the delivery,” says Eagan. “His attention to detail made it very easy for us to have the riggers lined up. They also kept us informed of their tooling and equipment needs well in advance of needing them. The TOSHULIN guys knew those machines inside and out, and took minimal breaks. They don’t just install, they’re helping build it. And they worked as if their boss was standing in there watching them, and they were on their own.”
“They were over here from a foreign country, living out of hotels, no complaints, and worked long days. They are the best we’ve ever worked with.”
Rayme Armstrong, Excel’s Maintenance and Reliability Manager, worked directly with both Pilsen and TOSHULIN throughout the entire process. “They were on the ball, and took care of us,” says Armstrong. “They knew exactly when they would secure lifting points between each other. For installation, Pilsen keeps a technical serviceman on hand, and they’re in and out checking on the installation process. The TOSHULIN people are dedicated and top notch; they’re there six days a week during installation, and are very knowledgeable and very diligent.”
A Partnership Poised for Growth
In manufacturing, lean is the word of the day, every day, and downtime is a taboo topic best referenced as a problem of the past. But it’s become an accepted reality that machines do break down and capacity suffers. So, reliability, response time and technical support are critical components of any manufacturer’s process. Fortunately for Excel, Pilsen performs where so many others fall short.
“We had a spindle motor go out, and Wayne (Pilsen) was here the next day,” says Eagan. “He stayed until the problem was resolved. We also had an issue with a Y-Axis head that we caused to drop off onto the tool magazine. We alerted Pilsen, and they sent two techs to us on a private plane to get us going again. That was impressive.”
As for training, Eagan continues, “We did not require much operator training, but the maintenance training was excellent. We requested help with the Y-Axis recovery, and the factory guys were able to quickly show us exactly what we needed to know. We also received some controller information that helps us with troubleshooting.”
The story of the partnership that has grown between Excel and Pilsen is one of success built on ingenuity, sound business sense, innovation in machine tooling, and the ability to work together to deliver value in diverse areas. For two decades, Pilsen and TOSHULIN have been key contributors to that story, and continue to help fuel Excel’s growth.
“We are poised to grow,” Eagan concludes. “We need to make sure that as people need after-market parts, that they’re ready to order from us, and we’re poised to service the world.”