IMTS 2014: Modig Machine Tool—The Most Respected Machine Tool Builders You’ve Never Heard Of

They’re quietly walking through the aisles of IMTS 2014, taking a few meetings and looking at the technology—but if you passed them, you wouldn’t know who they are. They’re David Modig, the third-generation president of Modig Machine Tool Sweden, and David Waldron, president of the newly established Modig Machine Tool US. And just as they go unrecognized among the thousands at the Chicago show, so too is Modig Machine Tool unknown by most manufacturers in this country.

Not so in Europe, where Modig is widely known as the 70-year-old company that first invented—that’s right, they were first—high-speed machining. And not so among aerospace OEMs worldwide: They received Boeing’s “Outstanding Performance Award” in 1997 and count Airbus, SAAB, Embraer, Gulfstream, Bombardier, Spirit AVIC, Cessna and Sikorsky as well as Boeing as regular customers. And with the establishment this year of a US outpost, not for much longer here, either.

At IMTS, David Modig told me about growing up with machine tool drawings on the dining table and stories of solving customer problems told at night. Modig’s FlexiMill is a stand-alone six-axis milling machine center fitted with a horizontal spindle Introduced in 2013, it’s designed to address a wide variety of aero industry needs, from complex aluminium or composite frames and body panels to floor beams and bulkheads.Modig Machine Tool was founded in Virserum, Sweden, in 1948 by six brothers, including David’s grandfather. The company first got a taste of the A&D market in 1962, when it won an order from Sweden’s army for 170 lathes for making rifles. In 1982, under the leadership of David’s father, the company became one of the first to implement an NC system onto a machine—“it was a simple machine, three-axis with manual tool changer, and we really didn’t know what to expect,” David said, but it got them successfully out of the manual world.

Groundbreaking innovation and some disappointment came about in 1987, when they were the first company in the world to produce a high-speed machining center. “We were the inventor of high-speed machining, and this is what we are famous for in Europe,” David noted. “Everybody [there] knows about that. We had a 40-taper spindle running at 15,000 rpm. With higher rpm you can have a higher feed rate—and this became the template for all high-speed machining.”

One would think the industry would have stampeded to this game-changing innovation, but that’s not what happened. “We had a hard time selling the machine because nobody could believe it was possible. Even when we showed that the machine could make a part five times faster, customers were hesitant and wondered ‘is this for real?’ And it was not until Matsuura in Japan made their own high-speed machining center that widespread acceptance happened.” One company offering something so different could be a fluke; two, on opposite sides of the world, make it the start of a real trend. “But when you’re first with something it can be difficult to get it out there,” he noted.

In 1989, just as the company was feeling pressure from Japan-based competitors such as Mazak and Makino and looking to change course, it was contacted by a supplier to the military, David said. “We were asked if we would be able to make a special machine for the aircraft industry.” The answer was, of course, ‘yes,’ and the aerospace industry has been their primary market ever since. It’s in that sphere that they are known today as great innovators, problem-solvers and partners for aircraft manufacture.

Although they continue to do a large, steady business with aero OEMS and top-tier builders, they recognize that they’re not well known by the rest of the supply chain, particularly here in the US: They’re the most respected and well-known machine tool builder that you’ve never heard of. So they’re establishing Modig Machine Tool US in order to remedy that. David Modig and David Waldron may be able to stroll the floors of McCormick anonymously this year, but by IMTS 2016, it’s quite likely that crowds of interested people will be coming to talk to them.

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