Craft Pattern & Mold acquires its fourth and largest 5-axis machining center

AFS Corporate Member Craft Pattern & Mold, a manufacturer of prototype machined castings in Montrose, Minnesota, has installed the second-largest 5-axis machining center made by Haas. The UMC1250 has a 50-in. work envelope, expanding the company’s ability to prototype large, tight-tolerance castings with a single workholding setup, which translates into cost and time savings for customers.

“The five-axis family of machines really helps us leverage a lot of the advantages of single setups to do complex parts and to hold tighter geometry and tighter tolerances, said General Manager Steve Shade. “That's where the real benefit is. For larger iron, steel, and aluminum castings, where we used to have to have multiple fixtures and programs and different setups in order to finish out the parts, now we can do it in a in a single holding.

In 2021, Craft Pattern & Mold was chosen to prototype a small volume of tight-tolerance government castings for a Defense project––and while they achieved the requirements, the company did so less efficiently than it wanted, said Shade. Thus began the vision to add the UMC 1250.

“This customer is looking at a follow-on order this year, and we saw the need to get better at how that process rolls from a part of the size we had,” he said. “It really fits this machine quite nicely. So that was one of the big catalysts for the purchase. And we've got other parts as well, where, we’re always thinking, ‘Hey, wouldn't it be nice if we just had a few more inches here and few more inches there?’ Everything we're making is just getting bigger and bigger.”

A dwindling skilled-labor market was the other major driver for the latest capital investment.

“Trying to find people who understand how to deal with castings has always been a challenge,” Shade said. “It's one of the things in the machining world that we run into, especially with people who are new to castings––just understanding parting lines and draft and some of the issues you have to deal with when trying to machine a casting versus a solid piece of material you buy off the shelf. The UMC1250 helps move us along, because we can get into a job, get machining, and start moving on to the next project faster.”

For the uptick in subcontracted prototype work for production foundries over the last 18–24 months––which are backlogged six months and longer––the faster turnaround is good news, helping remove bottlenecks to get foundry customers what they need prior to production. Reduced setups and fixtures not only expedite parts machining, Shade added, but also translates into a more cost-effective process.

“With material pricing, energy, labor, subcontract costs––everything's going through the roof,” said Shade. “We're getting price increase letters every week. We need to find ways to be more efficient with our labor––bringing in more automation helps reduce the labor requirement and helps us, as an American manufacturer, to help stay competitive.”