Goodwinds Composites Repurposes 120-Year-Old Lathe to Manufacture Advanced Composites

106 year old lathe for advanced composties

Goodwinds Composites frequently invests in sturdy, used machines built to work with metals in other industries and repurposing them to manufacture composite materials. In addition to two centerless grinders, a 3-axis mill, multiple saws, and two lathes, all of which have been modified to machine composites, Goodwinds Composites turned a 120-year-old cast-iron lathe into a horizontal cello-wrapper to wrap composite tubes.

Vertical Cellophane Wrapper
A modern, vertical cellophane tape wrapper for roll-wrapped composite tubes

Goodwinds Composites operates two vertical cellophane tape wrappers to apply tension-controlled cellophane tape to the outside of roll-wrapped composite tubes before they are oven cured. The tensioned tape squeezes out excess air between the layers of prepreg fabric and holds the layers together throughout the curing process, ensuring that as the resin liquifies and then solidifies, it does not fall off the mandrel. Vertical cello wrappers can only handle wrapping tubes up to 1.5 inches in diameter. For larger diameter tubes, a horizontal wrapper is required. As it happens, a horizontal wrapper is a machine that looks an awful lot like a lathe with a tape dispenser instead of a tool.

Original patent plaque from 1905

Production Manager Mike Ranger found a 1905 lathe on craigslist several years ago. “We got it from an engineer in Seattle who had been planning on rebuilding it. It had an awesome cast iron frame and I thought it would be a great base for a machine. After looking at it a bit more, I thought, well, maybe we can retrofit it to operate like a lathe again.”

Original belt adjustment gears

Belt drive lathes like this one were originally used in machine shops with a line shaft system mounted on the ceiling to drive the belts. Belts would loop overhead to a shaft driven by a central power source, like a water wheel or steam engine. In order to modernize the machine, Ranger fabricated a mount for a small, electric motor to drive the belt. He then had to devise a way to adjust the speed because the lathe would no longer use belt adjustments (different diameter gears on the lathe). Ranger installed a variable frequency drive (VFD) to adjust the RPM of the motor with a turn of the potentiometer, allowing operators to adjust RPM quickly and easily as needed for different parts.

“A lot of retrofits in older lathes will put a motor hanging up top and they have a big, ugly metal structure with a flapping belt, something we don’t want in a production facility,” said Ranger. Goodwinds Composites is committed to safety, so Ranger fabricated a bracket for the motor that attaches to the back of the lathe where it is safely away from operators. It took some trial and error to find the right modern rubber belt and tensioner set up to connect the new motor to the original belt drive stepped pulley.

Original Machine Tag
Original machine tag

“After creating new safety guards you have to take a long look at the machine to see how it is powered.” Goodwinds Composites wanted to give our very old lathe the modern convenience and safety of a much newer lathe. “We needed a place to mount the VFD and we needed it to move with the carriage so we could start and stop the machine as we moved along the part.” Ranger fabricated a holder for the VFD and mounted it directly to the lathe.

The last hurdle was to create a tape wrapping attachment to mount on the lathe. “What’s challenging is that we need to maintain constant tension on the tape while the cellophane winds off the roll. The diameter of the tape gets smaller and smaller, but the tension on the part as it is wrapped needs to remain constant.” Ranger dreamed up a beautiful attachment with automated electric controls to do just that and fastened it to the tool post so it will move along the part as the part rotates. “Creating a mount that attaches to the tool post gives us the flexibility to move our attachment to a different lathe with ease should we ever need to do so.”

Goodwinds Composites has been manufacturing large diameter roll wrapped composite tubes on a lathe built in 1905 for over three years. These tubes are perfect and used in advanced equipment all over the world. From technology built at the turn of the last century to advanced composite products, Goodwinds Composites is the place for innovative excellence.

Partner With Goodwinds Composites for Top-Notch Composite Manufacturing

Goodwinds Composites is a highly regarded American company specializing in creating custom composite materials. With our extensive knowledge and engineering expertise, we offer invaluable guidance and develop practical solutions tailored to your unique applications. Whether you require a basic tube or a complex structure, we are dedicated to meeting your needs.

Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive products and services.