Q&A with Robert Laube

Manufacturing Manager, Hydra-Lock Corporation

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I understand that your company originated hydraulic workholding. How did that come about?

Around 1947 a gentleman by the name of George Atherholt, who was the chief engineer for AC Spark Plug, had designed a hydraulic lift table, and he noticed that when the hydraulic pressure was applied internally to a piece of steel tubing, that the cylinder actually started to expand. So then he designed a sealed shaft with a built-in hydraulic piston that utilized a pressurized fluid or grease, and he found that it provided great accuracy and repeatability. He continued to refine his designs, filed patents, and they were approved back in the late forties. And now, nearly 60 years later, we hold more than a hundred patents on the related innovations we’ve developed over the years.

What are the applications for your products?

They’re used in balancing and assembly operations, and in turning and milling. And then when you get into gear manufacturing they are used in everything from grinding and hobbing to shaping and shaving, so I guess you could say that we’re into a little bit of everything.

From a cost standpoint, how do your products compare to mechanical workholding devices?

If you’re able to buy a standard, off the rack, three-jaw chuck or an expanding mandrel, then you’ll be able to save some money. But most manufacturing processes are highly specialized–especially in gear manufacturing–and they require custom-designed workholding devices. Just take a look at all the different types and sizes of gears that you feature in your magazine and think about how our workholding device would have to accommodate each one of them and you’ll get an idea of the scope of our design capabilities. And we have a fully-staffed engineering department who create custom designs for all our customers, so we’re up to any challenge that we might encounter. The good news is that if you’re in need of a workholding device for a special application, then we’re very competitive–if not lower in price in all cases.

If I were a potential customer considering your product, what would the benefits be?

No moving parts would have to be the first advantage, which translates to less vibration and chatter. And you also have full-diameter, full-length contact, so the holding power is just tremendous, whereas with a mechanical collet you only have gauge line contact, which can be less secure. There’s no other way that I am aware of to hold onto the pitch diameter of the involute form of a spline besides using a hydraulic workholding device, because if you use a mechanical device you’re only gripping a few teeth, and each one is going to be a line contact.

Ours contacts the involute form, so it connects with every tooth, and it also averages out the index error, so it’s ideal for holding splined parts. And it’s also important to note that we’ve been doing this for a long time now, and this is our only product, so it’s been refined and streamlined from its first inception right up to the product that we’re known for today. We have a continuing design force, and every so often someone comes up with a new idea or application; a new way of doing something. And if it’s a good idea, we quickly apply it to our product line. Hardly a year goes by when we don’t apply for a new patent.

How about your customer base–are you nationwide, worldwide?

With customers such as Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, just as a couple of examples, our products end up in manufacturing facilities all over the world, so our commitment to service and introducing the latest technologies that we’ve developed tends to follow our devices wherever they’re in operation. So we’re committed to our customers, and we’re willing to follow them wherever they go.

MORE INFORMATION  To learn more about the Hydra-Lock Corporation call (800) 634-6973, or send e-mail to weholdit@hydralock.com. The company’s website is www.hydralock.com.