Solving a one-time problem

Author Cutting Tool Engineering
March 01, 2012 - 11:15am

While some shops shy away from difficult projects, others welcome them. According to Bob Perkins, president of PDS (Precision Defense Services) Industries, Irwin, Pa., the company has built its business on doing things others can’t do.

Bill Krause, director of engineering and estimating, described the shop’s approach simply: “When a customer comes to you with a problem, it’s time to listen.” 

Manufacturing parts for the defense industry, the shop handles tough jobs, ranging from producing small fasteners made of exotic materials to machining complex components from 4,000- to 5,000-lb. forgings. The shop has even built custom machines to handle unusually difficult parts. Production runs rarely exceed 200 pieces.

For one complex aerospace component, the production volume was one. A few years ago, Lockheed Martin Space Systems came to PDS with a problem. To launch the last example of the Titan missile, the company needed one copy of a component called an oxidizer housing.

The approximately 10 "-dia., 12 "-long housing presented a long list of challenges. More than 140 dimensions were specified, many of which had total tolerances tighter than 0.005 ". Some true position tolerances were 0.002 ". In addition, flange configurations on the ends of the part were angled at 15° from a common centerline. “You prefer part surfaces to be square, perpendicular and parallel, so when you get a part like this, it just complicates how you go about manufacturing it,” Krause said. 

Lockheed told PDS that the part’s original vendor declined to make the housing again, claiming that new fixturing alone would cost in excess of $50,000.

PDS was only given 2-D paper drawings of the housing. “It is one thing to look at a 3-D model; it is another thing to look at numerous drawings as long as the table with 20 section views,” Krause said. “When you look at real busy drawings, you wonder what you could be missing.” 

The PDS team concluded it could handle the job. “It was about developing a process that would yield a part that met the drawing,” Krause said. “Quality was the goal.”

Lockheed said it would supply five of the proprietary forgings to yield one good part and purchase any additional acceptable parts. 

PDS decided to first process a mockup part from a 10½ "-dia., 14 "-long piece of 6061 aluminum. “We would program it, machine it, inspect it, assess the issues we ran into and make adjustments before we got into machining the expensive, proprietary material,” Krause said. 

PDS decided to process the part in five operations on a vertical machining center, a horizontal machining center and a CNC turning center. 

For the first operation, the workpiece was chucked in an A-axis indexer mounted to the VMC’s machine table. The rotating A-axis enabled access to multiple part surfaces without reclamping. “If you can figure out how to fixture the part and machine as many dimensions as possible in one machine setup,” Krause said, “the better your feature-to-feature relationships will be.”

The first operation began with rough profile milling on the side surface of the cylinder to prepare for a 9.2 "-dia. bore, which would eventually go through the part’s center. Then the housing was indexed 180° and the same roughing was performed on the other side. A 2 "-dia. inserted drill next roughed a through-hole, followed by a roughing endmill that opened the bore to its full diameter. A variety of features were then milled, with indexing of the A-axis to assure consistent relationship among them. These roughing operations left a minimum of 0.050 " on the part for subsequent finishing. 

Krause said the object of the first fixturing was to machine the bore and all features relative to it. “Once we established that bore on both sides of the part, we fixtured from the bore in later operations.” After every operation, the machine operator notified PDS’ QC personnel to verify the dimensions. 

For the second operation, the part was clamped in one of two fixtures PDS designed and built. Again in the VMC, the fixture was mounted on the A-axis, this time perpendicular to its prior position and using the central bore for location. Then the flange and associated diameters were rough profile-milled on one end. Machining also included drilling eight 0.50 "-dia. holes and a 0.555 "-dia. central hole and rough milling four through-slots. The part then was indexed 165° for machining of the same features and holes on the other end, this time 15° off perpendicular to the cylinder axis. 


Courtesy of B. Kennedy

Specifications covering more than 140 dimensions, as well as flange configurations on the ends of the part angled at 15° from a common centerline, made this approximately 10 "-dia., 12 "-long missile component a challenging project for PDS Industries. 

After that, the shop performed finishing on flange features, angled surfaces and through-slots on that end of the part. Thirty-six 0.212 "- to 0.218 "-dia. holes were drilled around the flange periphery, and the eight holes previously drilled were taken to final diameter and depth and countersunk. Then the housing was indexed 165° to its starting position and all the finishing was repeated on the other flange.

For the third operation, the housing was chucked in the turning center and the central bore diameters that were roughed in the first operation were turned to final dimensions. After the steps, angles and undercuts of the central bore were finished, the part was reversed in the lathe chuck, and the features of that side of the central bore were finished in the same manner. 

The fourth operation was accomplished on a HMC using a right-angle head. The part was fixtured so the head had access to the inside of the flange on one end of the part. The central boss and ribs between the slots were machined. Then the housing was refixtured to provide access to the other end, and the finishing was repeated. 

In the final operation, again on the HMC, the remaining dimensions and angles were finished on one side of the part, after which it was turned over to perform the same operations on the other side. 

When the mockup part was completed, inspection determined that it was in full compliance with all dimensions, tolerances and finish requirements. “We machined the five forgings supplied to us,” Krause said, “and all the housings met the drawings without any deviation.” CTE 

For more information about PDS Industries, call (724) 863-1100 or visit

About the Author: Bill Kennedy, based in Latrobe, Pa., is a contributing editor for CTE. He has an extensive background as a technical writer. Contact him at (724) 537-6182 or

Related Glossary Terms

  • 2-D


    Way of displaying real-world objects on a flat surface, showing only height and width. This system uses only the X and Y axes.

  • 3-D


    Way of displaying real-world objects in a natural way by showing depth, height and width. This system uses the X, Y and Z axes.

  • chuck


    Workholding device that affixes to a mill, lathe or drill-press spindle. It holds a tool or workpiece by one end, allowing it to be rotated. May also be fitted to the machine table to hold a workpiece. Two or more adjustable jaws actually hold the tool or part. May be actuated manually, pneumatically, hydraulically or electrically. See collet.

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.

  • endmill


    Milling cutter held by its shank that cuts on its periphery and, if so configured, on its free end. Takes a variety of shapes (single- and double-end, roughing, ballnose and cup-end) and sizes (stub, medium, long and extra-long). Also comes with differing numbers of flutes.

  • fixture


    Device, often made in-house, that holds a specific workpiece. See jig; modular fixturing.

  • gang cutting ( milling)

    gang cutting ( milling)

    Machining with several cutters mounted on a single arbor, generally for simultaneous cutting.

  • lathe


    Turning machine capable of sawing, milling, grinding, gear-cutting, drilling, reaming, boring, threading, facing, chamfering, grooving, knurling, spinning, parting, necking, taper-cutting, and cam- and eccentric-cutting, as well as step- and straight-turning. Comes in a variety of forms, ranging from manual to semiautomatic to fully automatic, with major types being engine lathes, turning and contouring lathes, turret lathes and numerical-control lathes. The engine lathe consists of a headstock and spindle, tailstock, bed, carriage (complete with apron) and cross slides. Features include gear- (speed) and feed-selector levers, toolpost, compound rest, lead screw and reversing lead screw, threading dial and rapid-traverse lever. Special lathe types include through-the-spindle, camshaft and crankshaft, brake drum and rotor, spinning and gun-barrel machines. Toolroom and bench lathes are used for precision work; the former for tool-and-die work and similar tasks, the latter for small workpieces (instruments, watches), normally without a power feed. Models are typically designated according to their “swing,” or the largest-diameter workpiece that can be rotated; bed length, or the distance between centers; and horsepower generated. See turning machine.

  • machining center

    machining center

    CNC machine tool capable of drilling, reaming, tapping, milling and boring. Normally comes with an automatic toolchanger. See automatic toolchanger.

  • milling


    Machining operation in which metal or other material is removed by applying power to a rotating cutter. In vertical milling, the cutting tool is mounted vertically on the spindle. In horizontal milling, the cutting tool is mounted horizontally, either directly on the spindle or on an arbor. Horizontal milling is further broken down into conventional milling, where the cutter rotates opposite the direction of feed, or “up” into the workpiece; and climb milling, where the cutter rotates in the direction of feed, or “down” into the workpiece. Milling operations include plane or surface milling, endmilling, facemilling, angle milling, form milling and profiling.

  • parallel


    Strip or block of precision-ground stock used to elevate a workpiece, while keeping it parallel to the worktable, to prevent cutter/table contact.

  • through-hole


    Hole or cavity cut in a solid shape that connects with other holes or extends all the way through the workpiece.

  • turning


    Workpiece is held in a chuck, mounted on a face plate or secured between centers and rotated while a cutting tool, normally a single-point tool, is fed into it along its periphery or across its end or face. Takes the form of straight turning (cutting along the periphery of the workpiece); taper turning (creating a taper); step turning (turning different-size diameters on the same work); chamfering (beveling an edge or shoulder); facing (cutting on an end); turning threads (usually external but can be internal); roughing (high-volume metal removal); and finishing (final light cuts). Performed on lathes, turning centers, chucking machines, automatic screw machines and similar machines.