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CNC job shops capitalize on retrofit edge

May 21, 2020  

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CNC machining job shops are essentially multi-stage process operations where there is potential for improvement at each stage. Most low-to-mid volume run production machine shops struggle in achieving their share of the five-to-10 per cent maximum profit margins typically realized on most jobs.

If a machine is down for any significant amount of time, you’ve cut into your production output, increased the cycle time, and you’re losing money. Therefore, if a machine is down, you need to move fast to get your machine back up and running.

With the goal of breathing new life into old CNC mills, or turning your mill into a CNC as a cost-effective alternative, SERVO Products Company, a progressive designer and manufacturer of a broad line of manual knee-type milling machine tools and accessories since 1964, recently introduced their Orion CNC Retrofit package for knee mills and lathes. The CNC Retrofit kits; 1000 M (Milling) and 1000 T (Turning), provide quality upgrades while saving the customer money over purchasing a new machining center.

The pre-configured retrofit package is virtually a “plug-and-play” solution that reduces vital machine downtime–for almost any make or model of knee mill. It features a PLC control panel, VFD spindle speed control, true servo motors, ball screws, auto lube pump and runs on single-phase power. End-users can add an optional, LED Work Light, wireless MPG pendant, power drawbar lockout solenoid and dual channel E-Stop for safety, for a complete milling machine package.


An ISO 9001: 2015 Certified company, Servo is also family owned and manufacturers in the USA, with a focus on knee mill power feeds and precision drill presses for the medical, aerospace, jewelry industries (amongst others). With an eye on innovation, Servo Engineer, Garry Yaworski, came up with the CNC retrofit kit design as a response to the fact that there were a lot of existing Anilam, Acu-Rite, and other controls in the field that featured obsolete analog systems and failing controls. This also applies to machining centers with failing controls. If an end-user has one of these systems, where support may be nonexistent, the Orion kit is a fast and easy upgrade that can have you up-and-running in hours–not days.

According to Yaworski, “The ball screws and brackets are already in place on these systems, so you’d just need a new control and motors. The idea was to supply an ‘octopus’ style control box, with all of the cables and attachment pieces, that the user could install on an existing knee mill in the shop. Preconfigured, you’d simply bolt it to the existing machine and connect all the motors. This system can also be used to update a CNC machining center.”

Servo’s Orion quickly turns a manual knee mill into to a full-blown 3-or-4-axis CNC, and is adaptable to multiple manufacturers. Packaged as a three-axis kit for milling machines, it is also easily upgradeable and pre-wired for a fourth axis. Importantly, the third axis can drive the knee so you have a full 16” of travel up/down, or SERVO recently acquired Elrod Manufacturing to offer the ball screw driven quill kits.

Notably, the retrofit system is as simple as installing power feeds, with the servo motors built in, therefore a very easy installation–typically within a day which reduces costs and downtime. The 400W true servo motors provide up to 300 in/lbs of torque and a maximum rapid travel speed of 105 IPM. Servo also offers the Elrod belt-and-pulley style systems. Both systems operate on 208-240V single-phase power, which is ideal for small-to-mid sizes job/home shops that don’t have three-phase power.

The turnkey retrofit solution features an integrated frequency drive that controls the spindle speed. It also includes an I/O board, MPG pendant, ball screws, auto lube pump, and spindle and feed rate overrides. It is a complete turnkey system, not an à la carte system, like many retrofit systems on the market–where the spindle control alone could add significant costs.

The prewired system is delivered ready to install, and comes with a detailed manual and unparalleled in-house tech support.  Once installed, end-users can expect many years of service and is priced significantly below competitors retrofit packages.



400W Servo Motors (for power feed type installation, or 1.2Kw for conventional installation) • 4th Axis Ready Conversational Programming • DRO Mode • Inch/Metric • All Wiring (including Limit/Home Switches) • Precision Ball Screws • Pendant MPG Wheel • Up To 5HP VFD (Full Spindle Control) • 500W Braking Resistor • Mounting Hardware • Auto Lube Pump

115/230/460 Volt Systems • Does Not Require a PC/Windows • Full 4 Axis Simultaneous Control • Lockable Cabinet Door With Safety Interlock • USB Interface • True Servo Motors • 16 Relays For Controlling Peripheral Devices Through M-Functions • Optional Power Drawbar Safety Lockout Solenoid • Optional Dual Channel     E-Stop • Full Documentation


Conversational programming • DRO mode • Accepts industry standard G-Code programming and macro instruction programming • 32 Inputs/24 Outputs • 32Mb user storage (program capacity) • 640×480, 8.2 inch full color LCD Display • Supports Inch and Metric programming • Feed rate and spindle speed overrides • E-Stop • Auxiliary control buttons • Wired MPG (Jog Wheel) • Optional wired MPG pendant


Ultimately, for today’s machining job shop sector, being better and faster keeps costs lower while raising the bar on potential profits. The ability to avoid downtime by quickly adopting new machine tool technologies like Servo’s Orion Retrofit Kit, becomes paramount to the overall success equation.

According to Servo President, Greg Heyen, “Orion has been on the market for approximately three years and more shops are taking advantage of its quick retrofit/upgrade capabilities, advanced technology milling package, and great price point–typically 5-10K lower than the competition. In fact, one of our clients recently switched over from another manufacturer and is now installing about twenty Orion retrofit kits per year.”

Heyen also noted that Servo can custom tailor their CNC packages to fit specific machine requirements, whether it’s a new installation or a retrofit replacement for an old unreliable control.  Solutions for most any milling, turning, or grinding applications are also supported by Servo’s partner company/distributor High Quality Tools® (Eastlake, OH / Largo, FL), which is a one-stop retail supplier of replacement parts, tools, and accessories for vertical knee-type milling machines. Servo also has a network of approximately 250 dealers throughout the U.S.A.



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