Modern Machine Shop

More than big machines: this shop specializes in very large components such as rotor hubs and support bases for wind turbines. It's successful because it "thinks big" about every aspect of machining parts of this size.


Giant wind turbines have become symbols--symbols of a new age of alternative energy sources. The tall, slender towers and sleek, symmetrical rotor blades embody the hopes of energy consumers looking for a cleaner, safer, more sustainable means of generating electricity. Painted white as a cloud and shaped as simply as a three-petaled flower, wind turbines evoke a vision of benign, inexhaustible power for homes, schools and businesses.

In fact, wind turbines are highly complex mechanical structures of immense size. The newest turbine designs reach almost 300 feet in height and have blade rotor diameters that exceed 300 feet. Many of the main components are large castings with features that require hundreds of hours of precision machining. One machine shop that has become a specialist at providing this service is Magna Machine Co. in Forest Park, Ohio, a northern suburb of Cincinnati.

Magna currently has a multi-year contract to machine rotor hubs and support bases for a major U.S.-based wind turbine manufacturer. However, unlike the pristine image and promising symbolism of newly installed wind turbines, these components make a different, yet very striking, impression when seen lined up as raw castings in Magna's back lot. The rotor hubs, for example, are hollow spheres about 12 feet in diameter, flattened on three sides, with large openings on each side, top and bottom. An orange hue from natural oxidation makes them look even more peculiar, as if they might be shells of gigantic pumpkin pods left behind by a band of extraterrestrial Cinderellas. More practical minds are likely to imagine the unusually large machine tools needed in the nearby shop buildings to machine parts of this dimension.

Magna Machine does indeed have some very large machine tools, including more than a dozen horizontal boring mills (HBMs) from Union Machine, a builder based in Chemnitz, Germany. Magna has been such a good customer over the years that Union asked the shop to serve as its U.S. marketing, distribution and service organization. Under the name United Precision Services, this business operates out of Magna's facilities in suburban Cincinnati.

Besides Union, many other builders of large machine tools from all over the world are represented here. In fact, working with big parts and big machines defines the nature of this shop. In addition to wind turbine components, Magna builds, repairs and remanufactures industrial machinery for the plastics, mining, chemical processing, paper and other industries. …

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