Featured Image Courtesy of B&R Custom Machining
B&R Custom Machining is a rapidly expanding aerospace machine shop located in Ontario, Canada, focused primarily on aerospace and military/defense manufacturing. Over the past 17 years, B&R has grown from a 5 person shop with a few manual mills and lathes, into one of Canada’s most highly respected manufacturing facilities, with nearly 40 employees and 21 precision CNC machines.
B&R focuses on quality assurance and constant improvement, mastering the intimacies of metal cutting and maintaining the highest levels of quality through their unique shop management philosophies. They seek to consistently execute on clear contracts through accurate delivery, competitive price, and high quality machined components.
We talked with Brad Jantzi, Co-Founder and Technical Manager of B&R Custom Machining, to learn about how he started in the industry, his experience with High Efficiency Milling, what he looks for most in a cutting tool, and more!
Can you tell us a little bit about how B&R Custom Machining started, and a little background about yourself and the company?
My brother (Ryan Jantzi, CEO/Co-Founder) and I started working in manufacturing back in 2001, when we were just 20/21 years old. We had 5 employees (including ourselves), a few manual mills and lathes, and we were wrapping our parts in newspaper for shipping. We took over from a preexisting shop and assumed their sales and machines.
We bought our first CNC machine in 2003, and immediately recognized the power of CNC and the opportunities it could open up for us. Now, we have 21 CNC machines, 38 employees, and more requests for work than we can keep up with, which is a good thing for the business. We are constantly expanding our team to elevate the business and take on even more work, and are currently hiring for multiple positions if anyone in Ontario is looking for some challenging and rewarding work!
What kind of CNC machines are you guys working with?
Right now we have a lot of Okuma and Matsuura machines, many of which have 5 axis capabilities, and all of them with high RPM spindles. In fact, our “slowest” machine runs at 15k RPM, with our fastest running at 46k. One of our high production machines is our Matsuura LX160, which has the 46k RPM spindle. We use a ton of Harvey Tool and Helical product on that machine and really get to utilize the RPMs.
What sort of material are you cutting?
We work with Aluminum predominantly, but also with a lot of super alloys like Invar, Kovar, Inconel, Custom 455 Stainless, and lots of Titanium. Some of those super alloys are really tricky stuff to machine. Once we learn about them and study them, we keep a recorded database of information to help us dial in parameters. Our head programmer/part planner keeps track of all that information, and our staff will frequently reference old jobs for new parts.
Sounds like a great system you guys have in place. How did B&R Custom Machining get into aerospace manufacturing?
It is a bit of a funny story actually. Just about 12 years ago we were contacted by someone working at Comdev, which is close to our shop, who was looking to have some parts made. We started a business relationship with him, and made him his parts. He was happy with the work, and so we eventually got involved in his company’s switch division and started to make more and more aerospace parts.
We immediately saw the potential of aerospace manufacturing, and it promoted where we wanted to go with CNC machining, so it was a natural fit. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time and seizing the moment. If an opportunity comes up and you aren’t ready for it, you miss it. You have to be hungry enough to see an opportunity, and confident enough to grab it, while also being competent enough to handle the request. So, we took advantage of what we were given, and we grew and went from there.
Who are some of the major players who you work with?
We have great relationships with Honeywell, MDA Brampton, and MDA Quebec. We actually worked on parts for a Mars Rover with MDA that was commissioned by the Canadian Space Agency, which was really cool to be a part of.
Working with large companies like that means quality is key. Why is high quality tool performance important to you?
High quality and superior tool performance is huge. Aside from cutting conditions, there are two quick things that cause poor performance on a tool: tool life and consistency of the tool quality. One without the other means nothing. We all can measure tool life pretty readily, and there is a clear advantage that some tools have over others, but inconsistent quality can sneak up on you and cause trouble. If you have a tool manufacturer that is only producing a quality tool even 95% of the time, that might seem ok, but that means that 5% of the time you suffer something wrong on the machine. Many times, you won’t know where that trouble is coming from. This causes you to pause the machine, investigate, source the problem, and then ultimately switch the tool and create a new program. It becomes an ordeal. Sometimes it is not as simple as manually adjusting the feed knob, especially when you need to rely on it as a “proven program” the next time around.
So, say the probability of a shortcoming on a machine is “x” with one brand of tooling, but is half of that with a brand like Harvey Tool. Sure, the Harvey Tool product might be 10-20% higher in upfront cost, but that pales in comparison to buying cheaper tools and losing time and money due to machine downtime caused by tool failure. The shop rate for an average machine is right around $100/hour, so machine downtime is much more expensive than the added cost of a quality tool.
Inconsistent tool quality can be extremely dangerous to play around with, even outside of machine downtime. We create based on a specific tool and a certain level of expected performance. If that tool cannot be consistent, we now jeopardize an expensive part. The machine never went down, but the part is no good because we programmed based on consistency in tool quality. Again, the cost of scrapped parts heavily outweighs the upfront cost of quality tooling. Tooling is a low cost of what we do here, but poor tooling can cost us thousands versus a few dollars more for quality tools. Too many people focus on the upfront cost, and don’t look downstream through the rest of the process to see how poor quality tooling can affect your business in a much bigger way. We get to see the whole picture because I am involved from cradle to grave, gaining feedback and knowledge along the way.
That’s great feedback Brad, and I think it is important for people to understand what you have laid out here. Speaking of tool performance, have you guys been using High Efficiency Milling techniques in the shop?
Absolutely. We feel that we are on the front edge of efficient milling. We are quite capable of all the latest techniques, as our programmers are well-versed and up to date. For our larger production work, we have programs dialed in that allow us to push the tools to their limits and significantly cut down our cycle times.
What advice would you have for others who are interested in High Efficiency Milling?
Make sure you are smart about using HEM. If we have one-off parts, particularly expensive ones, that do not have time restraints, we want to make sure we have a safe toolpath that will get us the result we want (in terms of quality and cutting security), rather than pushing the thresholds and taking extra time to program the HEM toolpaths. HEM makes total sense for large production runs, but make sure you know when to, and when not to use these techniques to get the most out of HEM.
Have you been using Machining Advisor Pro in your shop when you run Helical end mills?
We have been, and it makes for a great point of reference for the Helical end mills. It has become a part of our new employee training, teaching them about speeds and feeds, how hard they can push the Helical tools, and where the safe zones are. Our more experienced guys also frequent it for new situations where they have no data. Machining Advisor Pro helps to verify what we thought we knew, or helps us get the confidence to start planning for a new job.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist, or someone looking to take the #PlungeIntoMachining for the first time, what would it be?
Learn the intimacies of metal cutting. Get ultra-familiar with the results of what is actually happening with your tool, your setup, your part, and your machine. As well, don’t be limited to thinking “it sounds good,” or “it’s going good so far, so that must be acceptable.” In order to push the tools and confirm they are performing well and making money, you need to identify and understand where the threshold of failure is, and back off the right amount. This doesn’t end here though. Cutting conditions change as the tools, holders, machines, and parts change. Learning the nuances of this fluctuating environment and adapting accordingly is essential. Verify your dimensions, mitigate against risk, and control the variables.
Also, get intimate with what causes tools to succeed and fail, and keep a log of it for reference. Develop a passion for cutting; don’t just punch in and punch out each shift. Here at B&R, we are looking for continuous improvement, and employees who can add value. Don’t stand around all day with your arms folded, but keep constant logs of what’s going on and always be learning and thinking of how to understand what is happening, and improve on it. That is what makes a great machinist, and a successful shop.