Paragon Die & Engineering Co. is going big with its plans to diversify its production. Very big.
The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based toolmaker invested $3.5 million on a double-gantry five-axis milling machine that measures 60 feet by 12 feet or about the size of a typical carwash.
And the milling machine from Fidia SpA of San Mauro Torinese, Italy, is more than just big. The company said the machine boasts a precision that can cut something the size of the fuselage of an F-22 Raptor fighter jet within a hair's width of tolerance, or 0.0015 of an inch over a 60-foot distance.
It's all about opening up capabilities for large-scale production, said President David Muir in a Nov. 12 telephone interview.
In addition, sensors on the milling machine can be used to reverse-engineer very large parts and produce replacements for products like aircraft tail structures or helicopter cockpits.
Paragon hopes the Fidia machine will do more than simply allow it to make big tools. Its capacity in high precision and milling of almost any material could be used to create molds for use in developing business fields such as wind-energy turbines or aerospace components. The heating and cooling capabilities within those molds would then allow parts makers to improve their manufacturing, Muir said. It can help the whole industry boost automation and production.
The beauty of this machine is that it can still make a large tool for automotive or agricultural work, but it can do so much more, Muir said.
The company will work with molders and other mold makers that need the machine to solve problems, he said. Paragon is part of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a coalition of manufacturers in western Michigan focused on new business.
Muir added that beyond the mill's capabilities, Paragon is drawing on its employees' expertise to adapt to the new equipment.
Paragon began preparing for the milling machine during the winter, first by digging a 75-foot-long, 30-foot-wide and 8-foot-deep trench at the site where the machine is now located. It filled the trench with a mixture of concrete and metal fibers developed by Michigan State University to provide the stability needed for high-tolerance milling and measuring.
Muir said Paragon already has projects from the Department of Defense for the Fidia machine. Also, the company is approved for defense component and aerospace production, and is seeking the required qualification to make parts for the nuclear power industry.
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