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Successful Custom Workholding

As a manufacturer, chances are you always want to reduce the number of machine set-ups taking place on your shop floor, as well as cut back on overall set-up time. You probably would not mind coming closer to optimal cycle times while you are at it, by boosting spindle utilization. Higher productivity, less human error and machines working at their full potential is every manufacturing manager's dream. So how does one turn that dream into reality?

One way to get more out of machining processes is through custom workholding. Custom workholding is the highly engineered link that connects unmachined parts to machining centers and cutting tools in order to transform these parts into precision-machined components. Custom workholding can take an organization's machining processes to the next level, but it is rarely as simple as implementing a one-size-fits-all solution. As one might expect from the name, custom workholding demands a customized approach. Great manufacturers need great plans, so here is five-phase plan to help manufacturers deploy custom workholding solutions of their own.

Start with a Vision

The first step in developing a new machining process is coming up with a vision of what you want to achieve. Take your time, throw away preconceptions, and do not be afraid to dream big. Your imagination is a valuable asset, so use it. Also remember that you do not need to figure everything out on your own. Ask your team members what they think the perfect process would look like, and remember that industry newcomers and young talent may have ideas that could lead you in an exciting direction.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you get started:

  • How can we achieve an optimal cycle time?
  • Are there new approaches we should consider?
  • Would we benefit from aggressive machining strategies?
  • Can we machine more features with less part handling?
  • Should we build flexibility into the process to machine different part numbers?
  • What approach would optimize dependable, repeatable and quick changeover?
  • How close to zero scrap can we get?
  • How can greater consistency be built into the process?
  • How can we achieve peak spindle utilization?
  • How cost effective would loading more parts on a fixture be? Would it generate more uninterrupted cut time?

Define and Refine

Now it is time to factor in reality. Every manufacturer faces challenges like budget limitations, timing constraints, equipment quality issues and so on. In this phase, the goal is to blend the perfect process with best practices, past experience and your own unique constraints to create a machining process that your organization is in the perfect position to execute.

Once again, you do not need to do it alone. The define and refine phase presents an excellent opportunity to partner with a trusted workholding and tooling supplier. Outside expertise might be the thing that turns a dream into reality.


You are well on your way. The design group is ready to develop the workholding model with finite element analysis (FEA) and other engineering assessment tools, and now is the time to build upon the strong foundation you laid out in phases one and two. At this point it is critical to conduct internal engineering reviews. These reviews serve as a catalyst for performance improvement and help to ensure that the finished product exceeds expectations. Remember that an "engineering playbook" that guides the process from discovery to final proofing is the hallmark of a great engineering team, so expect to have one.


Now you are ready to turn your refined and perfected vision into a tangible reality. This phase takes you into the realm of project management, material selection, precision machining and assembly craftsmanship. The workholding solution you developed in the first phase is starting to come to life.


In the last phase, the name of the game is measuring results through quality assessment and testing. Here is where one implements final touches, minor adjustments and thorough prove-out processes like repeatability, rigidity and consistency. When you are done, you should have a custom workholding solution that is user friendly and easy to implement.

A Few Reminders

Do not limit yourself by sticking to the way things have always been done-manufacturing is constantly evolving, and yesterday's solutions may not be right for today. Starting the process as early as possible will make life much easier. You need time to dream up an ideal solution, become intimate with the process, and partner with the right tooling and workholding suppliers. Do not shortchange yourself by starting so late that you have to rush through these steps. Similarly, avoid taking shortcuts. While shortcuts are often tempting, they can be very costly for the life of a project, result in increased man hours and lost opportunities, and a have a way of turning solutions into stumbling blocks. A well-planned and carefully executed workholding process is the real key to profitability and customer satisfaction.

About Master WorkHolding

"Master WorkHolding, Inc. has helped thousands of manufacturers deploy superior custom workholding solutions," said a company spokesperson. "Our substantial workholding knowledge and capabilities developed over the past 30 years enable us to partner with manufacturers to help visualize, define, develop, manufacture and prove out custom workholding solutions."

Authored by Mike Powell, President, Master WorkHolding, Inc., a division of RÖHM Products of America

For more information contact:

Master WorkHolding, Inc.

315 Burke Drive

Morganton, NC 28655


RÖHM Products of America

2500 Northlake Drive

Suwanee, GA 30024


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