JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- In a shop on Joint Base Lewis-McChord sits a machine; it’s not a slot machine or a printing press but it might as well be. It virtually prints money every time Sgt. James Flohr puts a piece of metal in it. It’s a milling machine that is capable of producing parts that otherwise would have to be purchased.
The 542nd Support Maintenance Company recently purchased a computer numerically controlled mill. The mill, with help from its operator, turns raw metal into parts allowing the company to quickly and efficiently build replacement parts at a fraction of the cost of ordering them.
The CNC mill, one of a kind for the Army on JBLM, is turning heads and is the envy of maintenance units across base, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Barry Michael, allied trades warrant officer, 542nd Support Maintenance Company.
Resembling something futuristic, the mill has a computer interface allowing for extremely accurate cuts. It spews a green liquid used to wash off lose particles while keeping the pieces cool as the bits turn metal into useable equipment.
The machine shop recently received an order for 20 small brackets for a Stryker that would normally cost $7,000 per pair; the machine has paid for itself with the single order Michael said. It cost the unit less than $20 in materials to make the parts.
The unit has other manually operated mills that are capable of producing similar items however the benefits of the CNC mill, besides the cost savings, are really two fold.
“We are able to basically go into mass production of items,” said Michael. “It takes 15 minutes to produce the same part that would take a machinist a full day to make on another mill.”
Having the machine allows the unit to build specialty parts without having to wait to order them or wait on the delivery, Flohr said, machine shop sergeant, 542nd SMC.
The options of what this machine can make are virtually limitless, Flohr said.
“With the proper software and the proper computer interfaced into the machine, we are able to design, in a computer aided design program, 3-D objects,” Michael said. “Eventually we will be able to trade designs with other bases and units for parts we commonly mill.”
Not only is the CNC mill a one of a kind but so is its operator. Flohr is the only qualified Soldier for the mill on JBLM, said Michael.
Flohr has been interested in metallurgy since his early years taking shop and manufacturing classes in high school. He went on to take college level classes before joining the Army to learn how to operate mills and lathes similar to the one he is working with now.
“I’ve always wanted to build stuff,” Flohr said. “This is where it’s at! I can make anything on this machine. I can make the most intricate parts for a Humvee, tank or Stryker.”
The Portland, Ore., native said he was picked to run the machine because of his prior experience.
Flohr said he looks forward to receiving more training on the software side of the mill as he continues practice and teach himself on the nuances of the mill.
As Flohr and the mill continue to work, the 542nd maintenance company continues to save the Army money that could add up into the millions of dollars.