Cutting Tool Engineering
April 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 4

Productive communication

By CTE Staff

The following is an interview with Anderson Leveille, owner of Moscow Mills Manufacturing Services, a manufacturing, engineering and R&D firm located at the site of an 1820s gristmill near Stowe, Vt. The company is blending top-level machining skill and technology with collaborative engineering to produce complex parts and advanced balancing components and tooling.

Courtesy of Moscow Mills

The principals at Moscow Mills Manufacturing Services are (from left to right): Anderson Leveille, owner; George Allen, founder of Vibration Solutions; and Tim Bullard, electromechanical expert.

In 1995, Leveille opened Moscow Mills in a 17 '×20 ' room where he used a Bridgeport mill and LeBlond lathe to machine parts for snowshoes. Today, the 10,000-sq.-ft. operation serves customers in the aerospace, robotics, semiconductor, R&D and general industrial markets, handling projects such as prototyping large, titanium medical implants and machining small optical components. The shop’s equipment list has grown to include 3-, 4- and 5-axis CNC mills, a 7-axis mill/turn machine, a 5-axis wire EDM, CNC lathes, grinders, heat-treat and cryogenic processing capability, fabrication equipment and inspection equipment, including a 5-axis coordinate measuring machine.

A year ago, Moscow Mills absorbed Vibration Solutions LLC and formed Vibration Solutions North as a new division of the company. Together, the two shops employ 14 people. In addition to Leveille, Moscow Mills principals include Tim Bullard, electromechanical expert, and George Allen, founder of Vibration Solutions.

The interview, by Contributing Editor Bill Kennedy, focuses on the company’s focus, evolution and growth.

Kennedy: How would you characterize Moscow Mills’ machining work?

Leveille: Prototype to short-run production of extremely high-end stuff made of all kinds of exotic materials, like titanium, Inconel and PEEK polymer. We often have to reinvent the wheel on a component, hit the ground running and get it right the first time. For example, I’ve been e-mailed a solid model of a reasonably complex component at 9 a.m., quoted the parts by 9:15, received a purchase order by 9:30 and had the parts machined on the floor by 10 a.m. Depending on our customer’s requirements, it’s not unusual to go from art to part in a day. We foster an environment where preplanning is an art and a science, where all of the guys are involved.

Kennedy: How do you maintain that kind of focus within your team?

Leveille: I have a fantastic crew. We absolutely love what we are doing. They are almost artists in the way they understand and are creative. I would distill it all down to one fine point, communication, closely followed by mutual respect. Treat people how you wish to be treated. People like to be recognized for doing a good job. All of this stuff sounds simple, but 99 out of 100 people don’t express to anybody else what they are really thinking.

Kennedy: What makes Moscow Mills different from other job shops?

Leveille: We also provide high value-added support services. It’s not unusual for our customers to consider us an extension of their engineering department. In this day and age there is a severe lack of manufacturing engineering thought processes. It’s one thing to build a part to a print; it’s another to know what it does and why it does that. Oftentimes, companies look to organizations like ours to be a partner in the manufacturing engineering piece of a product’s development.

Kennedy: How has your manufacturing technology evolved from that original Bridgeport and LeBlond?

Leveille: You start learning about complex requirements and needs, and it drives you to new places. The complexity of our work has driven us to invest in all the correct tooling, all the correct hardware and the software to run it and training. You can’t skimp on any of it.

We’ve invested heavily so that we can accomplish things that a lot of other people won’t even bother looking at. There pretty much hasn’t been any time when we haven’t reinvested everything back into the company. It’s constant growth. We have an electronic ball bar system so we can verify our machine tools; we have a laser interferometer so we can map our ballscrews.

I have the building climate controlled, and we hold 0.0002 " or better all the time. For example, we machined a 14 "-dia. disc of 316 stainless steel flat to a 0.00015 " tolerance with a surface finish of just a little over 4µin. Ra. Consistently achieving that level of tolerance is like airspeed: anything above 0.0002 " is normal flight, but anything below 0.0002 " requires a different set of rules, like the different set of rules that applies after the sound barrier is reached and exceeded.

Kennedy: What does Vibration Solutions North do? How does it mesh with Moscow Mills?

Leveille: The specialized tooling from Vibration Solutions North interfaces between a balancing machine and a rotating component, which could be inside a jet engine, an electric motor or in anything that spins. We have come up with some unique ways of interfacing various components to balancing machines. One of our tooling systems is trademarked Kin-Dex. It uses kinematic mounting, which indexes and locates parts on fixtures or tooling so they can be balanced to extremely high levels of accuracy and repeatability—about 0.00002 " radial runout. The Kin-Dex system helps remove uncertainty from balancing operations and significantly speeds up mounting and dismounting of tooling and components for balancing. 

The balancing business and what we do at Moscow Mills are perfectly aligned from the perspective of repeatability. Removal of uncertainty is the real trick with this entire business.

When George Allen was running Vibration Solutions on his own, he discovered it was impossible to find an organization to work with that could provide the level of understanding and commitment to build tooling. Together, Moscow Mills and Vibration Systems North are heavily involved in the new generation of aero engines designed to be quieter, more fuel efficient and have lower maintenance costs. The components of those engines require a whole new level of balance tolerancing. It requires all the years of experience that George has in balancing, the electromechanical experience Tim gained at IBM and elsewhere, and Moscow Mills’ deep experience as a firm manufacturing intricate parts and assemblies. It is the combination of all of us that comes up with patentable concepts and solutions for this industry. We all see things the same way. We don’t look at anything and assume it is good enough. We look at things as if there has always got to be a different way, a better way. CTE

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