In 1946 George Simon, Sr., launched U.S. Equipment Company in Detroit with the purpose of buying, refurbishing, and selling used tool room and production equipment. In that same city, and at about the same time, the Michigan Tool Company was developing the cold form rolling process, choosing Roto-Flo as the name for the machines it then manufactured. Six decades later the two companies are one, with Roto-Flo now a division of U.S. Equipment.
“The company changed hands quite a few times over the years,” according to Paul Simon, CEO of Roto-Flo and son of U.S. Equipment’s founder, along with his brother George Simon, Jr. “First it was purchased by Ex-cell-O, then Micromatic, and finally by Textron, who sold it to us in 2005.”
The story of how this came about is quite interesting. Some 12 years ago U.S. Equipment decided to rebuild an old 24-inch Roto-Flo spline rolling machine that it had in stock as a side project. Before the project was even finished the machine had been sold by April Johnson, director of sales and marketing. “I suggested that we rebuild another one, making the challenge that we’d sell it before it was completed as well,” she recalls. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
Having discovered this need in the marketplace the company began purchasing and rebuilding 24-, 36-, and 48-inch machines, and Roto-Flo spline rolling equipment soon became a niche part of its business. As it gained expertise in the process the company realized that equipment development was somewhat stagnant, with few technological advances made in many years. “Besides Textron Micromatic, as the division selling Roto-Flo equipment was then known, only Anderson-Cook was supplying these types of machines,” Simon says, “so we saw an opportunity to get more involved in this particular market and to make some much-needed upgrades and design changes along the way.”
When Simon approached Textron about purchasing the Roto-Flo product line, along with its associated machine tools, he found them open to his proposal, and after a bid process involving two other potential buyers U.S. Equipment was awarded the sale in 2005. Thus began a lengthy investigation into how the equipment could be improved upon in order to meet the demands of contemporary manufacturers.
Having already spent nearly a decade selling rebuilt Roto-Flo machines, Johnson and her sales staff had engaged customers in many conversations about the improvements they’d like to see made in a redesigned machine, and their needs were incorporated into conversations with the company’s in-house engineering staff as plans for the upgrade were being developed. One change involved the addition of servo-driven head and tailstocks, and another called for outfitting the machine with computer numerical controls, all by Fanuc, and which are known for their user-friendly “human/machine interface,” or HMI. Even the decision to incorporate CNC was modified based on customer feedback, however.
“We’d created an alpha model to show our customers, and one day we had a group of eight people from a tier-1 automotive supplier seated around a table,” Simon says. “They were mostly engineers, and they were really excited about our plans for going completely with a CNC version. Their maintenance director was scheduled to be there as well, but he was running late, and when he showed up he said ‘wait a minute, are you telling me you’re not going to offer a hydraulic machine, because I don’t want CNC!’ He went on to explain that his employees were more comfortable with a hydraulic machine, which they felt they could repair more quickly than a CNC unit should problems arise. Everybody’s jaw dropped, but he had a good point.”
Johnson had been a proponent of offering both a hydraulic and a CNC version all along, pointing out that customers in developing nations might find the former easier to set up and maintain than the latter. The result is the Roto-Flo model 3251 horizontal spline rolling machine, which will be available in May of 2009. The choice was made to offer a 48-inch version—again, based on customer input, to a large extent—which provides a great deal of versatility. “This allows the end user to equip it with a 48-inch rack, a 36-inch and a 12-inch rack, two 24-inch racks, or four 12-inch racks” she says. “It also frees up a great deal of floor space, which is often at a premium in a manufacturing facility.”
In addition to the new Model 3251, which is available in both the CNC and traditional hydraulic versions, Roto-Flo also offers both remanufactured CNC and hydraulic machines within that line, as well as replacement parts, related machine tools, and turnkey packages. Simon and Johnson are excited about bringing this well-known and proven product line back to life, and both say that their customer’s comments will continue to play a central role in their future plans.
“I think our development model has really been a hybrid, in many ways,” Simon explains. “We’ve listened to our customers, incorporating their needs and concerns into our designs, while at the same time embracing the technological advances that have been made in recent years. We will continue to be reactive to the marketplace as we offer cutting-edge spline and thread rolling systems with machines featuring the latest PLC and CNC controllers to companies both here in North America and around the world.”
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