Updated July 3 at 9:03pm

Cogs in R.I. manufacturing machine

By Rhonda J. Miller
PBN Staff Writer

When even one tiny part of a machine in a manufacturing line breaks down, it can put a kink in the company’s production and distribution.

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Cogs in R.I. manufacturing machine

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When even one tiny part of a machine in a manufacturing line breaks down, it can put a kink in the company’s production and distribution.

Bob Sandberg, owner of Sandberg Machine and Engineering in Burrillville, believes machine shops that fix or redesign unique parts of manufacturing equipment are a critical link that’s often under the radar of economic development in Rhode Island.

“We should be considered a draw for manufacturers to come into the state,” said Sandberg. “We’re helping to keep manufacturing running and making parts and innovating new machinery.”

The work in Sandberg’s shop has ranged from repairing or fabricating parts for everything from nuclear submarines to clam-shucking machines. He’s fixed, designed and produced parts for manufacturers of wire, chains, jewelry and soap, just to name a few.

One project was a repair on a horizontal boring mill, a machine that weighs about 60,000 pounds.

“In that case, the company no longer manufactured the part for the machine. There was a belt drive inside, but you couldn’t buy the belt,” said Sandberg. “I remanufactured the section inside of the machine so I could use a standard belt off the shelf.”

Another time he had to repair an automatic saw in his shop that had a worm gear – a gear in the form of a screw – but the company in Japan that made the saw had gone out of business. In that predicament, Sandberg devised a way to make the part he needed in his own shop.

Other “worms” he’s worked on in his shop, for instance for a soap manufacturer, might be 12 inches in diameter and 5 feet long.

The shop, which has 20 employees, including Sandberg’s three sons, generally handles projects for about 30 companies in Rhode Island and many others across the United States and Canada.

Sandberg’s company is one of at least 50 machine shops in Rhode Island, said Rhode Island Manufacturers Association Executive Director Bill McCourt.

“They’re very important because they touch every industry and so many things in our daily lives if it’s metal, steel or aluminum. Open up the hood of a car and look at the engine and virtually every single piece of steel is machined,” he said.

“Originally, machining was hand-controlled, but as technology evolves, machining can get very sophisticated,” said McCourt. “Machine shops in Rhode Island fabricate everything from parts for automobiles and submarines to biotech instrumentation [and] aerospace components.”

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