Back for another round: Spindle Repair 101

Matthew Bradford

The breakdown of a woodworking spindle machine can slow operations to a crawl. Fortunately, preventative measures and repair services can keep (or return) a manufacturer to business. Here to discuss is Alexandre Maurais, President of MEC Precision.


What are the most common causes of spindle breakdowns?

Most of the time, we get a call when a customer’s spindle goes down because of a failure caused by wear and tear over long periods or because they had a collision with the machine due to the program not working correctly. And then, sometimes, customers want to modify their machine to upgrade the horsepower or have a little more production efficiency.


Take us through that repair process.

Whether it’s for metalworking or woodworking, a spindle is made of many sophisticated parts that are assembled with high precision. So the first step is to run a pre-diagnosis by carefully identifying and investigating every component, be it electric, pneumatic, hydraulic, or mechanical.

Once that is done, we start a complete disassembly of the spindle and measure every part to ensure they align with the manufacturer’s specification. If they don’t, we either have to replace the part or rebuild it. At MEC, for example, we have our own CNC machining center that allows us to redesign parts or repair parts up to a manufacturer’s specification without using any external supplier.

After the customer has approved their fixed price quote, the next step is to machine the required parts. Once they’re made, we place them within a temperature control room to measure each component and make sure what we’ve machined is up to spec. We then assemble all those parts, balance the spindle with a particular dynamic balancing bench, and reassemble the entire spindle.


What happens once the repairs and replacements are done?

When everything is put back together, that’s when we ‘break-in’ the new bearings’ by running the spindle on our bench anywhere from six to ten hours. During that time, we monitor key factors like the spindle’s temperature, vibration levels, heat expansion, tool changes, and the cooling system of the spindle.

After that, senior technicians conduct another round of quality control to make sure all the external components are still in the range. Then, we send a quality control report with the spindle to the customer.


What is an aspect of spindle repair that customers might not realize?

Usually, it’s the price that surprises customers. A lot of people don’t realize how sophisticated and well-engineered these electric motors are. They’re a lot more than spinning motors; repairs can vary from $1000 to $10000 depending on the job. That being said, you’re paying to get your machine back up and running and in better condition than when it broke down, so there is a significant return on investment. 


Can you offer any tips for people to just keep their spindle in good repair?

You can purchase tools that help you verify things like vibration levels or the health of the ball bearings. You can use those readings to understand how your machine is performing and take appropriate steps. There is also the option to hire field technicians to come in and do regular preventative maintenance on your behalf.

Otherwise, you must be performing a proper spindle warmup procedure every time you start the machine in the morning, and at least for 8 to 15 minutes. If you start a cold spindle running at 24,000 RPM, this will harm your bearings. 


How have you seen spindle technology evolve over the years?

To be honest, woodworking spindles haven’t evolved that much over the years. Monitoring sensors can be added to the new spindle to improve communication with the machine and instantly advise if some spindle parameters, like temperature, vibration, or amperage, are over the limit established by the spindle manufacturers. Otherwise, in terms of design and what bearings they’re using, it’s been relatively unchanged. The machines out there now are nice pieces of mechanical work that have been proven to work for years and years. And if they stop working, there are reliable solutions. 

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