Precision Machining RC Engines at West Coast CNC
Jeff Slack runs West Coast CNC Products near his home in Cape Coral, Florida. A North Missouri transplant, Slack knows first-hand the Sunshine State is a tough place to make a living. “In Florida there are very few jobs, so you either work for less or create your own. And, often times you need to acquire a new skill in order to make that job.” For Slack, that skill was CNC machining.
Slack owned a body shop for ten years and during that time developed an interest in miniature V8 engines. “In 1992, I bought a Bridgeport milling machine and a Grizzly lathe and I basically taught myself manual machining with a little bit of help from certain people. Then I bought the Tormach PCNC 1100 in 2006 and taught myself how to run a CNC. My intention was (and still is) to make V8 engines in my spare time.”
As it turns out, finding the time to work on his hobby is his biggest challenge. Slack specializes in making complex parts for both the big remote control car and the gun industries. “I’ve made a lot of small engine parts and prototypes, small engine cases, pistons, connecting rods, crank shafts and cylinders,” Slack explained. “The parts are for a customer in California that builds 30 CC 2-stroke racing engines for the big remote control car industry.” More recently, Slack has expanded focus and is doing contract work for a specialty firearms manufacturer. “I’m working on developing a couple more parts for the AR-15 right now.”
He added, “I specialize in complex parts because I have less competition and the profit margin’s better. The PCNC 1100 is holding great tolerances and my parts are very consistent. Most gun parts have pretty easy tolerances to hold, but they’re not near the small engine stuff. The connecting rods I have made had to hold about a +/-0.0002” tolerance on the big and small hole.”
To achieve a precision finish the inside the holes of the connecting rod, Slack uses a specialized machining technique called ballizing. The ballizing process involves forcing tungsten carbide ball bearings into a space slightly smaller than their existing diameter. “Ballizing not only makes exact sizing, it leaves a really nice finish in the hole. Not a lot of people know about ballizing or have a need for it. I know several German tool makers and I’ve been taught a lot of things by some very talented people.”
Slack continued, “The engines turn at over 20,000 RPM and the bearings ride directly on the connecting rod. The bearing has to be as tight as it can be and still turn freely, so I make the connecting rods out of tool steel and have them heat treated. If the part is half a thousandth out of tolerance it fails.”
Business is booming for Slack, and several recent orders have been keeping his shop constantly busy. As a result, he’s planning on adding another PCNC 1100 in the near future to keep up with the demands.
“When I buy something expensive, I put a lot of effort in research. So, when I was making the decision to purchase the Tormach PCNC mill, all the research I’ve done unequivocally pointed me to the PCNC 1100,” He continued, “When you go on the internet and do a lot of searches on Tormach, you find almost nothing negative, which is typically unheard of. I even called a few people that were on the forums and some of my questions were mainly on longevity and I got nothing but positive feedback from everyone I talked to. Your machine has exceeded my expectations in every way.”
For more information on Jeff Slack and West Coast CNC Products call him at 239-738-8320.