Schon DSGN – Featured Customer

In 2012, engineer Ian Schon wanted to put his skill for design to the test. He decided to challenge himself by designing a normal, everyday item: a pen. His goal was to take the pen from the design concept to manufacturing it within his own shop. Ian designed his pen how he thought a pen should be: durable, reliable, compact, leak-proof, and easy to use. Most of all, though, he wanted the pen to be of a superior quality, not something easily lost or thrown away.

With the design concept in place, Ian started his work on engineering and manufacturing his new pen. He made many prototypes, and with each discovered new features and additions to better his design. Today, Ian manufacturers his pens through local fabrications in Massachusetts, using local supplies. He makes them from 6061 Aluminum, unique in that it molds to its users’ hand, over time. His pens are designed to outlast its user and be passed on through generations.

Ian was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his manufacturing success.

What sets Schon DSGN apart from competition?

I think I have a unique approach to designing and manufacturing. I design things that I like, and make them the way that I want to.  I don’t rush things out the door. I’m not thinking about scale, growth, making a big shop, etc. I just want to live a simple life where I make cool objects, sell them, and have enough time in the week to sneak out into the woods and ride my bike. This ethos takes the pressure off a lot, and that makes the workflow freer without as much stress as I had in my past career as a product development engineer.

This workflow isn’t for everyone. it’s not a winning combo for massive business success, per se, and if you audited me you would tell me I’m holding back by not scaling and hiring, but I like it. I see myself as a hybrid between artist and entrepreneur. I love doing things start to finish, blank paper to finished part on the machine. Owning that entire workflow allows for harmony of engineering, machining, tooling, finishing, R+D, marketing, etc. Further, it ensures that I don’t miss critical inflection points in the process that are ripe for process evolution and innovation, resulting in a better product in the end.

I’m sure the way I do things will change over time, but for now I’m still figuring things out and since I work largely alone (I have one amazing helper right now assisting with assembly, finishing, and shipping) I have lots of flexibility to change things and not get stuck in my ways.

Also, by working alone, I control the music. Key!

Where did your passion for pens come from?

My friend Mike had a cool pen he got from a local shop and I was like “man I like that,” so I made one with some “improvements.” At the time, in my mind, they were improvements, but I have learned now that they were preferences, really. I made a crappy pen on a lathe at the MIT MITERS shop back in 2010, and that summer I bought a Clausing lathe on craigslist for $300 and some tooling and started figuring it all out. I made a bunch of pens, wrote with them, kept evolving them, and eventually people asked me to make pens for them.  I didn’t really intend to start a business or anything, I just wanted to make cool stuff and use it. Bottle openers, knives, bike frames, etc. I made lots of stuff. Pens just stuck with me and I kept pushing on it as a project for my design portfolio. Eventually it became something bigger. Turns out my pen preferences were shared with other people.

What is the most difficult product you have had to make and why?

Making watch cases – wow. What an awful part to try and make on a desktop Taig 3 axis mill and a Hardinge lathe in my apartment! I started working on machining watch cases in 2012, and I finished my first one in my apartment in 2015 (to be fair, I was working on lots of other stuff during that time! But yeah, years…). What a journey. Taught me a lot. Biting off more than you can chew is a great way to learn something. 

What is the most interesting product you’ve made?

When I worked at Essential Design in Boston I worked on the front end of a Mass Spectrometer. The requirements on the device were wild. We had high voltage, chemical resistance, crazy tolerances, mechanism design, machining, injection molding – truly a little bit of everything! It was a fun challenge that I was fortunate to be a part of. Biomolecule nanoscale analysis device. Try saying that ten times fast.

I have something fountain pen related in the works now that I find more interesting, and very, very complex, but it’s under wraps a bit longer. Stay tuned. 

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with?

I have made watches for some incredible customers, but I unfortunately cannot talk about who they are. Most of my watch work outside of my own parts is also under NDA which is a bummer, but hey it was great work regardless.

Same thing with the pens. I know that some of my pen are in the touring cases of a few musicians, one of which is in the rock and roll hall of fame. But I have to keep it tight!

Before leaving to work for myself, I was part of a design team at IDEO in Cambridge that designed the new Simplisafe Home Security System. As an engineer and designer, I got listed on the patents. That wasn’t machining and was more design and engineering of injection molded plastic assemblies,  but it was still cool, though! Cutting my teeth in the design industry before machining helps me a lot with the creative process in the workshop. Lots of overlap.

What capabilities does your shop have?

I utilize Citizen L series sliding headstock machines to run my company. These are Swiss Machines (though made in Japan) with twin spindles and have live tooling for milling operations. I got into this type of machining after getting advice from friends in the industry and subcontracting my work to shops with these style of machines for 7 years.

Beyond the Swiss Machines, I have a new Precision Matthews Manual Mill, a Southbend Model A, a Hardinge Cataract Lathe, and a bunch of smaller Derbyshire lathes and mills. Most of these are for maintenance related tasks – quick mods and fixtures and my watchmaking/R&D stuff. I also have a Bantam Tools Desktop CNC machine on the way, a nice machine for quick milled fixtures in aluminum and nonferrous materials. I tested this machine during their development phases and was really impressed.

What CAM/CAD software are you using?

I use Fusion 360 for quick milled stuff, but most of my parts are programmed by hand since the lathe programming for Swiss work can be done without much CAM. I’m sure I could be doing things better on the programming side, but hey, every day I learn something new. Who knows what I’ll be doing a year or two from now?

What is your favorite material to work with and why?

Brass and Copper. The chips aren’t stringy, it’s easy to cut quickly and the parts have this nice hefty feel to them. Since I make pens, the weight is a big piece of the feeling of a pen. The only downside is I’m constantly figuring out ways to not dent the parts as they are coming off the machines! My brass parts are like tiny brass mallets and they LOVE to get dinged up in the ejection cycles. I ended up making custom parts catchers and modifying the chutes on the machines to navigate this. I might have some conveyors in my future….yeah. Too many projects!

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

It’s not just important, it’s SUPER important. As a solo machinist running my own machines, being able to call a tooling company and get answers on how I should run a tool, adjust its RPM, feed, DOC, or cutting strategy to get a better result is invaluable. I find that as much as I’m paying for tool performance, I’m also paying for expertise, wisdom and answers. Knowing everything is cool and all (and I know some of you out there know everything under the sun), but since I don’t know everything, it’s so nice to be able to pick up a phone and have someone in my corner. These tech support people are so crucial. Being humble and letting support guide me through my tooling challenges has helped me grow a lot. It’s like having a staff of experienced machinists working at my company, for free! Can’t beat that. Micro 100 and Helical have helped me tons with their great support.

When was a time that Harvey, Helical or Micro product really came through and helped your business?

The Helical team (shout out to Dalton) helped me nail some machining on some very wild faceted pens I was working on this month. When I switched to Helical, my finishes got crazy good. I just listened to recommendations, bought a bunch of stuff, and kept trying what Dalton told me to. Eventually, that led to a good recipe and manageable tool wear. It was great!

I also like how representatives from the Harvey/Helical/Micro family often cross reference each other and help me find the right solution, regardless of which company I’m getting it from. Nice system.

The quiet hero in my shop is my Micro 100 quick change system. It just works great. Fast to swap tools, easy to setup, cannot argue with it! Too good. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Find a mentor who supports you and challenges you. Find a good tooling company, or good tooling companies, and make good relationships with their tech support so you can get answers. Make good relationships with service technicians who can help you fix your machines. Be a good person. Don’t let yourself become a hot head under the pressure of this industry (since it can be hard at times!), cooler heads prevail, always. Be open to seeing things from other viewpoints (in life and in machining), don’t be afraid to flip a part around and start over from square one.

To learn more about Ian and Schon DSGN, follow them @schon_dsgn and @the_schon on Instagram and check out his website. And, to learn more about how Ian got his start in the manufacturing industry, check out this video.

Rennscot LLC – Featured Customer

David Bamforth is the founder and CEO of Rennscot LLC, a manufacturing company based out of Woburn, Massachusetts, which was created to meet product design demands of both individual and commercial clients. From idea to prototype, and eventually to final product, Rennscot LLC prides itself on its ability to make part ideas come to life. David took some time to talk with us about Rennscot LLC, his company’s machining capabilities, and much more.

What capabilities does your shop have?

We are mostly a mill shop with two verticals and one 5-axis machine. We also have a small bar fed lathe, a larger sub-spindle live-tooling lathe, and some design tools like a Faro Design Scan Arm. We work predominantly with aluminum, but sometimes see brass, stainless, titanium, and steel alloy jobs come through. We use Fusion 360 for everything and currently all 4 of our machines are Haas.

What sets Rennscot LLC apart from the competition?

We are a bit different from most shops because, in addition to machining services, we also offer design services. A lot of our jobs are won because we are a one-stop-shop from idea to producing the final product. Recently we have been making a lot of parts for vehicle restoration. Typically, we are just handed a part and asked to reproduce it.

David, what is your favorite part of your job?

Problem solving and learning new skills. We are a pretty young team and love being challenged by new projects. We also pride ourselves on being pretty innovative with our machining strategies to help reduce lead times and cost for our customers.

Where did your passion for automobiles come from?

Like many, I have always been passionate about cars. I have some great memories of going to car shows with my dad and watching any TV show with a car in it as a kid. Nowadays, I spend my personal time taking our shop development car, a Porsche Cayman, to the track.

What is the coolest product you have made?

We have had some pretty unusual characters bring us some really cool projects. Currently, we are working with a guy from Connecticut on laser scanning a model Mercedes C10 Le Mans car that we will CAD model, so a full-sized car body can be reproduced. It’s a really interesting project, trying to take a 1:43 car and blow it up to full size. Eventually, we will help design and manufacture many of the machined components on this car. Also, we once made a custom billet alternator mount in just 5 days for a 996 Porsche GT3 with a Chevy LS engine in it. We really enjoyed being part of that project and the V8 sounded amazing on track!

What is the most difficult product you have made?

We once worked on an enclosure for a handheld x-ray machine. The part was only about 1”x 1.25” x4” and only had .040” walls all around. The main pocket was machined with our go-to Helical ¼” reduced shank end mill. It also had #0-80 taps all along the top edge of the enclosure, making for a few broken taps! It was a pain to get dialed in but once the process was proved out it was really rewarding to get consistent good parts off the will.

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

Once we started using high quality end mills, we immediately saw an improvement in tool life and surface finish. We also really enjoy using tools that are backed by a company that puts out so much information and resources to help its customers out.

When was a time that Harvey Tool or Helical products really came through and helped your business?

We have had several moments when we hit a wall while building a process for a new part, and Helical’s phone support helped us find the perfect tool for the process. The combination of great phone support, having such a vast array of product offerings, and all of the tools always being in stock has helped my business tremendously.

Are you guys using High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques to improve cycle times?

Always! All our mills are spec’ed with HSM and 12k RPM spindles, and we take full advantage of this with chip breaking roughers. Honestly, we are so young that we have only ever used HEM techniques, so I’m honestly just confused by companies that don’t use it. Not using HEM is like not driving a car on the highway because it’s too fast.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Machining is probably the most in demand and most satisfying industries that someone can get into now-a-days. There are a lot of companies that are in demand for green machinists who are just eager to learn. I would recommend putting together and sending out a resume to local shops that shows that you have the ability to take on projects and complete them.

If anyone is interested in learning more about what we do our manufacturing website, rennscotmfg.com is a great resource. Also, check us our on Instagram at @rennscot.

TOMI Engineering INC – Featured Customer

Since its beginning in 1977, brothers Tony and Mike Falbo have made the focal point of TOMI Engineering to deliver quality, competitively-priced parts on time. TOMI Engineering has earned a reputation through the years as being a world-class manufacturer of precision machined components and assemblies for aerospace, defense, commercial and other advanced technology industries. They are fortunate to have the highest level of engineering, quality and programming personnel on staff, and, with over 40 years in the industry, there isn’t a problem TOMI hasn’t experienced.

With all the years of experience, TOMI Engineering has a lot of knowledge to share. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Tony and Mike Falbo to ask them about their experiences, techniques, tooling and a lot more.

How was TOMI Engineering INC started?

TOMI Engineering, Inc. began in 1977 when we (Tony and Mike) teamed up and got a loan from our father to purchase our first machine.  The machine was used in the garage of our parents’ home, which still resides in Tustin, California.  Forty years, 20 current machines, and countless parts later, TOMI Engineering proudly serves the defense, airline, medical and commercial industries.  We machine just about any type of product thrown our way.  Over the years, we have made wing tips for the F16 fighter jet, enclosures for GPS housings, manifolds that help transport fluids, support frames for Gulfstream, cabin brackets for Airbus, ammunition feeders for tanks, and many, many others.

At TOMI Engineering, we aim to be a one-stop shop for our customers.  Once we receive blueprints, we can program, machine, deburr, inspect, process and assemble most parts.  We utilize a mixture of 3-and-4-axis machines in order to increase efficiency, which helps us to cut down costs to our customer.  In our temperature-controlled assembly room, we can assemble bearings, bushings, rivets, nut plates, gaskets and sealants.  We also hope to add additive machining to our repertoire soon.

What machines are you currently using in your shop?

Our 21,250 square foot facility houses 20 CNC machines.  Most of our machines are Kitamura, OKK and Okuma.  The purchase dates of these machines range from 1987 to December of 2019.  With our large machine diversity, we can machine parts smaller than a penny, and as large as 30 x 60 inches. Most of the material that makes its way through our shop is aluminum.  Whether it is 6061 or aircraft grade 7000 series, we aim to have most of our parts be aluminum.  However, we do see a large amount of 6AL-4V titanium, along with 17-4 and 15-5 steel. We are currently utilizing Mastercam 2020 for most of our programming needs and are staying up to date with software upgrades and progression.

What sets TOMI Engineering apart from the rest of the competition?

We believe our greatest asset is our experience.  Here at TOMI, we have been machining parts since 1977.  In those 40-plus years, a lot of parts have come and gone through our doors and we have helped our customers solve a large array of problems.  Most of our machinists have been with us for over 10 years, while some are approaching 20 years!  Our programmers easily boast over 60 years of experience! With so many of our employees working together for so many years, it has really helped everyone to understand what helps us quickly machine our products, while being held accountable to the high standards of AS9100. 

Where did your passion for machining start?

We grew up with machines in our garage and it wasn’t until we needed money to pay for college that our dad realized he could show us the basics of operating a milling machine, which allowed us to pay our tuition while working at home in the evenings and weekends. Machining was more of a necessity than a passion at the time. However, after nearly 40 years in the business, it has been amazing to see the strides in technology from a Bridgeport Mill to the multi-axis lights-out machining that is available today.

My favorite part of the job has always been the flexibility it has allowed me. I had the opportunity to watch my kids grow up and be a part of their lives by going to their school plays, coaching them, and being home at night to help them with anything they needed. Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to work with my brother, my business partner, who also shares the same ideals about being with family, so we could always cover for each while the other was gone and spending time with their family. The business would not have worked without both of us understanding the importance of each other’s input. The challenge of running a business keeps me going, and working with all of the different personalities was an added bonus.

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with? What is the most interesting product youve made?

At TOMI, we do not work with specific individuals, so we can’t really name drop.  However, a vast majority of our work is for Airbus, Boeing, or the military. So it’s pretty gratifying to say that we supply parts to some of the biggest companies in the world and that our work helps to defend this country.

The most interesting product we have made here at TOMI is a GPS housing for a defense contractor.  This part encompasses everything that we can do at TOMI: precision machining, complex/multi detail assemblies, gasket assembly, and pressure testing fluid transportation components. 

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

High quality tool performance is important to us in many ways.  Purchasing high quality tools allow us to constantly achieve premium surface finishes, push our machines to the high speeds and feeds that they are capable of, and enjoy noticeably longer tool life.

Every part, day-in and day-out, is different.   Because of our vast array of products, our tools are always changing.  But when we are picking out Helical End Mills for Aluminum, we always go with their 3-flute variable helix cutters, and we have always been happy with them.

What sort of tolerances do you work in on a daily basis?

The tolerances we typically work with are ± tenths of an inch, as well as very tight true position cal louts. We can hold and achieve these close tolerance dimensions through our very experienced Mastercam programmers, as well as our superior quality department.  Our quality inspectors have over 30 years of experience in the industry and utilize two Zeiss Contura G2 coordinate measuring machines (CMMs).  While in their temperature controlled environment, the CMMs are capable of measuring close tolerance dimensions and are used to generate data for inspection reports.

Are you guys using High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques to improve cycle times? What advice do you have for others who want to try HEM?

Yes, we are using HEM techniques to improve cycle times while roughing to increase our MRR while increasing tool life. If you have CAM/CAD software that supports HEM, then go for it!  Machine Advisor Pro (MAP) is VERY helpful with the suggested speeds and feeds as a starting point.  Over time though, and through experience, we have learned that every single machine is a bit different and often needs a different approach with speeds and feeds.  Start with a smaller than suggested RDOC and physically go out to your machine and see how it sounds and what is going on.  Then, start increasing and find that sweet spot that your particular machine runs well on.  Many programmers in the industry will not take the time to go out and watch how their part is sounding and cutting on the machine and going out and doing that is the best way to really find out what you and the machine are capable of achieving.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Ask questions!  Don’t be afraid to talk to programmers and fellow coworkers about what is trying to be achieved and WHY the programmer is holding tolerances a certain way.  Learn from them and watch what every cutter is doing during your cycles.  The more you learn, the more you can contribute to the machining process and move up in your business.  Sometimes it takes just one good suggestion about the machining approach that can change the set-up process from aggravating to very easy.  Lastly, be open minded to new ideas and approaches.  As we said earlier, there are a ton of ways to make good parts in a constantly evolving industry.

Please take the time to check out the TOMI Engineering INC website or follow them on social media!

Titan Ring Design – Featured Customer

Officially started in 2015, Titan Ring Design is a high quality machine shop that designs rings, as well as mechanical tie clips, art based designs, and freelance custom designs. While working at a machine shop that produced top notch parts for just about every type of field you can imagine, now owner of Titan Ring Design, Trevor Hirschi, noticed that the machining industry is mostly about cranking out a mass quantity of the highest quality parts as quickly as possible. This often resulted in compromised tolerances and part finishes, something Trevor aimed to change. Quality always comes first in his projects.

Whether you are looking for a band for an upcoming wedding, looking to replace or upgrade your current wedding ring, or just want something unique and beautiful, Trevor’s designs are different than anything else. Trevor was able to take the time and answer some questions for us about his business, machining techniques, tooling, and a lot more.

How was Titan Ring Design started?

Titan Ring Designs is a part time, passion/hobby business of mine that I sort of started at the time I was ring shopping for a wedding ring back in 2013. I didn’t like what was available on the market and was inspired by a former Oakley designer to machine my own. I had been introduced to machining in High School at a technical college and had been working as a machinist since graduating in 2007, so I decided to make my own wedding ring. It sort of snowballed into my business in 2015, after finally deciding to make it official with a business license and some sales. Some further work experience in California for McWhinney Designs brought me greater motivation and encouragement to keep going and helped me get to where I am today. I now offer several different CNC Milled [wedding] rings, as well as a mechanical tie clip, some occasional art based designs, and freelance custom design and mill work. I also teach machining full time  at the same tech college I graduated from in my own education and enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for machining with those interested in the career.

What capabilities does your shop have?

Custom Design in CAD/CAM, 3axis CNC Mill work, Small Scale Lathe Work, Tumbling, Finishing, Assembling, 3D Printing/Rapid Prototyping. I cut 6-4 Titanium primarily, but also work with Stainless Steel for fasteners, Aluminum and some Steel for fixtures, and Polycarbonate for prototyping ideas. I teach machining technology full time, so I have access to SolidWorks, MasterCam, Fusion360, and NC Simul. We currently have a Haas OfficeMill 3axis, Levin High Precision Instrument Maker’s Lathe, Prusa i3 MK2S 3D Printer in the shop.

What sets Titan Ring Design apart from the competition?

There are lots of people making interesting rings today, but most are done on lathes. Anyone can make a round part on a lathe. Very few of them make rings on a mill, and I feel that gives the opportunity to be creative and allows you to think outside the box more. I try to stand out in that field by offering something that makes you think about the value of the design process more by interrupting and challenging the norm. I also like to take on work that is outside of jewelry, but still highly design related. Most other ring makers stick with just rings.

What is your favorite part of the job and what other passions do you have?

Making cool stuff! Most machinists only end up making whatever comes through the shop, which can be cool, but most of the time you have no idea what you’re making, just some part for Customer X, Y, or Z. Being a small, design centered business, I get to come up with ideas for what to make next, and most of the time I start out making something that wasn’t ever intended to be marketed, it was simply something I wanted for myself that I found others were interested in too. I discovered machining in high school and fell in love with it when I started making parts for my dirt bikes and truck. I’ve been hooked ever since but I do have other passions. I’ve always had a big interest in LED lighting and flashlights. I’m perpetually working on different ideas for making one of my own, which will happen eventually. I’m also a bit of a health-nut and enjoy being outdoors and spending time with my family.

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with?

I made a ring for an NFL player once, but I don’t follow football and his name didn’t stick out to me so I’ve forgotten who he was. I also had the privilege of working for McWhinney Designs and made some truly remarkable products in the openable wedding ring niche market. I gained more skill in design, machining, craftsmanship, and engineering while working for Jeff McWhinney. We’re good friends and often work together to help each other when one of us gets stumped on something.

What is the most difficult project you have worked on?

I was commissioned to design from the ground up and machine was a custom set of all-titanium cabinet door handle pulls for a very high end wine cabinet. Each handle was an assembly of 32 pieces, all machined from billet 6-4 Titanium. They required over 400 individual CAM toolpath operations, 35 unique machine setups, and well over 300 hours to complete, including finishing and assembly. More than anything, it was extremely time intensive in programming, set up, and machine time. The design was a fair bit challenging in my mind and initial modeling, but didn’t compete with what it took to actually produce them. I grossly underestimated and underbid the job. But in the end, I really enjoyed making a truly one of a kind, Tour-De-Force product, even if it was completely overkill for its purpose. I enjoy making that kind of stuff, and the lessons you learn from it.

What is your favorite project you have worked on?

It’s really simple and was initially designed just because I wanted it for myself, but I have a mechanical titanium tie clip that I really enjoy making. It’s quite unique in that, as far as I know, to this day, it is the only CNC machined mechanical titanium tie clip you’ll find anywhere in the world. It puts a little bling in your formal attire, for those times you have to go full suit and tie.

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

Because I cut mostly titanium, tools wear out quickly if you don’t have a rigid set up, the right coolant, proper feeds & speeds, and of course, high quality tooling. Harvey Tool makes such a wide variety of micro tooling that works so well in the industry of making small titanium parts, where I like to fit into. I’ve used a fair spread across Harvey’s offering and have always been impressed with performance and the feeds and speeds guides are top notch too. I had an application that required a .0035” internal corner radius which landed me with a .007” end mill. It’s still hard to comprehend tooling in this league. My machine actually recommends only tooling under 1/4” shank size, so I don’t get into Helical’s range too often. But I’ve used Helical 1/2” end mills extensively at other job shops and they are definitely made for eating metal. I was using another tool brand’s key cutters for some undercut hinges and would wear through them much more often than I thought was reasonable. When I finally decided to try Harvey’s key cutters, I was blown away with how much longer they have lasted me. Truly a game changer!

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Be creative. Machining is such a rewarding career that has limitless possibilities of what you can achieve. Follow your passion and have fun with it! If you end up in a dead end shop doing something you don’t like, go somewhere else. There are so many shops that need help right now and chances are good that you can find a better shop that suits your style.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the In The Loupe community?

To those machine shops out in industry, do whatever you can to be supportive of your local trade schools that are teaching the upcoming machinist workforce. They really need your support and in turn will bring you the employees you depend on.

Please take the time to check out Titan Ring Designs website or follow them on Instagram @titanringdesigns

KAD Models – Featured Customer

Established in 2012, KAD Models is a small, yet steadily growing prototype machine shop, which originated in the San Francisco Bay Area and has since opened its second location in Vermont. They have been a regional leader in the advanced manufacturing space for many years, and operate in close connection with other machine shops and related businesses like turning facilities, anodizers, welders, and more. KAD Models staff is comprised of diverse occupational backgrounds (e.g. mechanic, industrial engineer, blacksmith, etc.). Further, they have invested into their local community college and technical training programs to support an expanding talent pipeline for advanced manufacturing.

Brian Kippen is the owner & founder of KAD Models & Prototypes, Inc. Before launching KAD with model maker John Dove, Brian worked as the Director of Operations at A&J Product Solutions and a machinist at Performance Structures. Brian is drawn to the challenge of making design concepts into reality, and motivated by the ever-changing landscape of machining. Brian took time to speak with us about KAD Models, his experiences, machining techniques, and so much more.

Can you give us a little background on how KAD Models was started?

I worked for a few years repairing automobiles, then following high school, I attended college for about three weeks. After some strong encouragement from my mom, I moved out west. I joined the Marines, broke both of my feet, and was honorably discharged. Then, I got my broken foot in the door at a machine shop and knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. After years of working as a machinist, I went into business with one of my previous employers. After a year and a half, the partnership degraded and I made the decision to buy out my partner.

It’s been really gratifying to see the business grow and get to know different types of customers as the shop’s reputation spreads. One of the reasons I wanted to start my own shop is that I really wanted to see the industry evolve in a new way, to better meet people’s needs. It’s been really great to see that decision and the investments I’ve made in building KAD pay off.

We produce approximately $1.5M of parts for 100+ distinct clients each year.  Since its founding in 2012, KAD has continued on a steady path of growth, adding staff, equipment, and clients without marketing or advertising. We build a broad range of products such as automotive drive axles, silicone cardiovascular valves, and fully functional consumer product models. Due to the nature of prototyping, no component is outside of the realm of possibility. 

What machines are currently in your shop?

We use Haas CNC machines. At our West coast facility, we have six machines, five vertical 4 AXIS machining centers with capacities up to 26” Y AND 50” X and one 5 AXIS universal machining center. At our East coast facility, we currently have two new CNC ONE 3 AXIS and one 5 AXIS universal machining center paired with a Trinity Automation AX5 robotic cell. I decided to get a 5 axis milling machine earlier last year because I felt we should invest before the absolute necessity arose. I’m excited about the creative options it opened up and it’s been fun to put it to good use. We are currently using both Fusion 360 and Surfcam software.

What sets KAD Models apart from the competition?

Our quick turnaround time of 3-5 days with our ability to tackle very complex parts sets KAD apart from a majority of manufacturers.

I also think our willingness to really dig in with the client and get to know what they need and why. We have a really creative team here at KAD and thrive at not only building complex parts, but helping industrial designers and engineers think through manufacturing, design, and usage requirements to build the simplest, most effective product we can. I’ve created prototypes before, just from a conversation with someone – not even a CAD drawing. It’s these types of interesting challenges that made me want to be a machinist in the first place and that keeps me engaged and excited day-to-day.

KAD Models is an innovative company. Can you speak about what innovations KAD makes?

Well, KAD works with some of the most innovative companies out there, across all kinds of industries: medical devices, aerospace, automotive, and consumer electronics. We help people at the forefront of innovation bring their ideas to life, so I’d say innovation is basically our bread and butter. As far as our innovations in process, as I said before, KAD has a really creative team. Since we are well known for prototyping and since prototype manufacturing need not follow all the common work holding rules, we break them on a daily basis.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love the challenge of taking on seemingly impossible ideas and turning them into tangible things. I’m really satisfied when I can come home after a long day and have held the things I’ve made in my hands. I’m also really proud to be a business owner. It’s incredibly rewarding to see a team you’ve taught and grown to take on and be inspired by the same types of problems as you. It’s been really cool to see what we’ve been able to accomplish for our clients. My personal passion remains automotive.  KAD has reverse-engineered many no longer available automobile components and designed parts that upgrade vintage Datsuns.

Why is high-quality tooling important to you?

In prototyping, you often get one chance in order to make deadlines. High quality and high-performance tools allow you to get this done without question. Given 95% of our tooling is either Helical or Harvey, I would say that high-quality tooling helps us out on a daily basis. We also use High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques, which Helical is optimized for. We find with long cutters and with deep pockets, HEM is almost a must.  Often though, on shallow areas, it’s overkill.  As with salt, there can be too much. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist what would it be?

Fail fast and fail often. Then learn from your mistakes. 

I think the biggest thing is getting to know other machinists, learning other methods, and being open to alternative ideas. It’s important to keep your mind open because there’s always more than one way to machine something. One of the things I’ve found most rewarding about running my own shop is getting to set the tone of how we work with other shops and adjacent industries. I’m really passionate about the manufacturing community as a whole and I’m glad blogs like this exist to help draw connections amongst us.

Also, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. I love working with new machinists because they bring different ideas to the table. That’s really important for innovation and to keep us all moving forward.

Feel free to check them out at www.kadmodels.com or on Instagram @kadmodels or stop by their west coast shop in California or new east coast location in Vermont.

New Dublin Ship Fittings – Featured Customer

New Dublin Ship Fittings was established in 2017 by Lucas Gilbert, and is located on the scenic south shore of Nova Scotia, Canada.  Lucas began his career with a formal education in machining and mechanical engineering. In the early 2000’s, Lucas got into the traditional shipbuilding industry made famous in the region he grew up in, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia. It is then when Lucas identified the need for quality marine hardware and began making fittings in his free time. After some time, Lucas was able to start New Dublin Ship Fittings and pursue his lifelong dream of opening a machine shop and producing custom yacht hardware.

Lucas was our grand prize winner in the #MadeWithMicro100 Video Contest! He received the $1,000 Amazon gift card, a Micro-Quik™ Quick Change System with some tooling, and a chance to be In the Loupe’s Featured Customer for February. Lucas was able to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his shop, how he got started in machining, and the unique products he manufactures.

How did you start New Dublin Ship Fittings?

I went to school for machine shop and then mechanical engineering, only to end up working as a boat builder for 15 years. It was during my time as a boat builder that I started making hardware in my free time for projects we were working on. Eventually, that grew into full-time work. Right now, we manufacture custom silicon bronze and stainless fittings only. Eventually, we will move into a bronze hardware product line.

Where did your passion for marine hardware come from?

I’ve always loved metalworking. I grew up playing in my father’s knife shop, so when I got into wooden boats, it was only a matter of time before I started making small bits of hardware. Before hardware, I would play around making woodworking tools such as chisels, hand planes, spokeshaves, etc.

What can be found in your shop?

The shop has a 13”x 30” and 16”x 60” manual lathe, a Bridgeport Milling Machine, Burgmaster Turret Drill Press, Gang Drill, Bandsaw, 30-ton hydraulic press, #2 Hossfeld Bender, GTAW, and GMAW Welding Machines, as well as a full foundry set up with 90 pounds of bronze pour capacity. We generally only work in 655 silicon bronze and 316 stainless steel.

What projects have you worked on that stand out to you?

I’ve been lucky to work on several amazing projects over the years. Two that stand out are a 48’ Motorsailer Ketch built by Tern Boatworks, as well as the 63’ Fusion Schooner Farfarer, built by Covey Island Boatworks. Both boats we built most of the bronze deck hardware for.

I’ve made many interesting fittings over the years. I prefer to work with bronze, so I generally have the most fun working on those. I’m generally the most interested when the part is very
challenging to make and custom work parts are often very challenging. I’m asked to build or machine a component that was originally built in a factory and is difficult to reproduce with limited machinery and tooling, but I enjoy figuring out how to make it work.

Why is high-quality tooling important to you?

When I first started I would buy cheaper tooling to “get by” but the longer I did it, the more I realized that cheaper tooling doesn’t pay off. If you want to do quality work in a timely fashion, you need to invest in good tooling.

What Micro 100 Tools are you currently using?

Currently, we just have the Micro 100 brazed on tooling but we have been trying to move more into inserts so we are going to try out Micro’s indexable tooling line. After receiving the Micro-Quik™ Quick Change System, we are looking forward to trying out more of what (Micro 100) has to offer. This new system should help us reduce tool change time, saving us some money in the long run.

What makes New Dublin Ship Fittings stand out from the competition?

I think the real value I can offer boat builders and owners over a standard job shop is my experience with building boats. I understand how the fitting will be used and can offer suggestions as to how to improve the design.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist what would it be?

The advice I would give to new machinists is to start slow and learn the machines and techniques before you try to make parts quickly. There is a lot of pressure in shops to make parts as fast as possible, but you’ll never be as fast as you can be if you don’t learn the processes properly first. Also, learn to sharpen drill bits well!

Axis CNC Inc. – Featured Customer

Axis CNC Inc was founded in 2012 in Ware, Massachusetts, when Dan and Glenn Larzus, a father and son duo, decided to venture into the manufacturing industry. Axis CNC Inc has provided customers with the highest quality manufacturing, machining, and programming services since they’ve opened. They specialize in manufacturing medical equipment and have a passion for making snowmobile parts.

We sat down with Axis CNC Inc to discuss how they got started and what they have learned over there years in the manufacturing world. Watch our video below to see our full interview.

Vero Watches – Featured Customer

Vero Watches was started in 2015 in Portland, Oregon by Danny Recordon and Chris Boudreaux. While out one night getting drinks, Danny and Chris started discussing a new business venture in the world of manufacturing. They mulled over a few different product ideas and found that they were most passionate about designing and manufacturing high quality, American-made watches.
Since then they haven’t stopped learning and growing as both machinists and businessmen.

We were able to take some time out of Danny’s busy schedule to discuss how they got started, their experiences with High Efficiency Milling Techniques, super tight tolerances, and their unique products.

How did Vero Watches get started?

Vero Watches started out of the desire to manufacture our own products and keep things completely in house. I have always been interested in the manufacturing world and tinkered with, and read about manufacturing methods in my free time. When Chris wanted to talk about his idea for a company that produced a product, I jumped on the opportunity to teach myself everything that I could. We talked about and designed a few products, then one day over a beer he mentioned that he really wanted to make a watch. I said, “Let’s do it, I’ll figure out how”, and we started down the path towards producing our own products. That was the day that Vero Watches was born!

vero watches

We started with a Hurco VM10i and zero machining experience, but we had a strong passion for learning new processes. Over the first year I spent a lot of time learning. I was reading about and researching cutting tools, work holding methods and experimenting while we began prototyping our first watch. We have since grown to a small production staff of 4, with a full-time watchmaker, a dial maker , and an employee solely focused on case finish. They have been key in bringing our watches from concept to reality. Vero Watches now produces all of our case components in house; our largest part being 40mm x 48mm and our smallest being a 2.5mm diameter tube, 3mm long. Dials are milled from brass sheet, nickel-plated painted and printed in house. We also handle movement finishing and assembly testing and service of our mechanical watches in the same shop.

What materials do you work with the most?

We primarily work in 316L stainless steel, though we are currently producing a watch out of grade 5 titanium. We were looking for better tool life and faster cycle times with those materials, which was my reason for switching to Helical tools for my larger diameter tools.

helical end mills

What materials do you enjoy working with? Are there some that you do not enjoy machining?

I really enjoy machining titanium. The feeds and speeds make no sense, running to0 fast and too slow at the same time! But there is a satisfying low hum during roughing Titanium that just can’t be beat. I love that sound.

I really have a hard time running nickel parts. We make the washers for our crowns out of 0.008” nickel sheet and somehow nickel manages to be both gummy and abrasive at the same time. Tool life is terrible (no fault of the tooling!) and the bur gets worse down the sheet due to the excessive tool wear. Nickel just eats end mills up.

What machines and software do you have in the shop?

We have a 3 axis and a 5 axis mill, both from the Hurco VM10 series. We also have plenty of hand tools for finishing and a small Levin jewelers lathe.

For software, we currently use Autodesk HSMworks for Solidworks. Something about using Autodesk and Solidworks products together puts a smile on my face. I personally can’t stand the instability of cloud-based software, so I have stayed away from other cloud-based platforms and prefer having my HSMworks integrated directly within Solidworks.

hurco cnc

Why is high-quality tool performance important to you?

High-quality tool performance is important for a few reasons. First being surface finishing, we are making watches, and tooling marks while beautiful are a pain to remove. We often sacrifice speed for finish, though with the right tools we can cut efficiently while leaving beautiful finishes that help speed up post-machining finishing operations.

Secondly, though maybe more importantly (to us) is tolerance. While a beautiful part is great and it allows us to do less hand finishing, a part that is in tolerance is very important to building a functioning and watertight watch. The right cutting tools means the difference between a watch that you can surf in and a watch that would be ruined in light rain. The overall tolerances for our parts rarely exceed +-.001”. With our press-fit features (caseback and front sapphire openings) we shoot for +0.0000” – 0.0004” while using a machine that experiences about 0.002” of thermal growth in Z and repeats to 0.0002′.  It’s not always easy but with the right tools and knowledge of the machines we are using we have worked out a process that allows us to achieve these very tight tolerances where needed.

vero watches

Are you applying High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques in your shop?

In short YES! It wasn’t until moving to Helical tools for my 5/16 and 1/8 end mills (these are the only end mills over 1 mm I use regularly) that I began trying to dial in my cycle times. HEM techniques coupled with the Helical end mills took cycle times on one of our watch cases from over an hour to just over 30 minutes per operation. That ended up saving us about an hour per part, all while maintaining surface finish and tolerance.

What advice do you have for other who want to try HEM techniques?

Follow Machining Advisor Pro recommendations! I start there as it has consistently been a good starting point of almost any tool I have tried. I have since sped up my roughing tools and slowed down my finisher from the 50% recommendation that the application is set to. I have found that to be the most successful for my particular parts, but everyone’s results could vary. Definitely play around with the different settings in MAP to find what works for you.

vero watch finish

I would also suggest finding tools with a flute length similar to your finished wall height and use as much of the tool as you can. I’d much rather wear out my whole tool than just the first 1/4in of the flutes. This is the basic premise of what HEM is all about, but so many people still miss that key point.

What specific types of Harvey and Helical Tools do you use?

There isn’t a time that our machines aren’t running Harvey and Helical tools. As speak, we are machining crowns and case backs from grade 5 titanium using 5/16 Helical roughers and finishers (HSF-S-70312 & HEV-C-S-50312-R.020). For Harvey Tool products, we use the Harvey 1mm and 0.02” 4 flute end mills, and the 15° 0.005” tipped off engraver. We simply would not be able to make the products we do without Harvey Tool’s selection, and Helical has given us better cycle times and a great finish.

harvey tool specialty tooling

What sets Vero Watch apart from the rest of the competition?

Vero’s ability to be nimble during the manufacturing process sets us apart. Most small watch companies, especially others in the US, rely on foreign partners to produce their vision. With delays, miscommunication and no hands-on control of the process, you lose the ability to make a change on the fly. If we see an issue during production, finishing, or assembly, we can change it on the spot. This allows us to iterate a product quickly and provide customers with high-quality unique watches.

What advice do you have for a new machinist ready to take on the manufacturing world?

Find someone willing to let you learn or just dive in. There is so much support out there to help when you are stuck on something. This industry is amazing and there is so much to learn. The social media community has been a great outlet for information, especially on Instagram. I haven’t found a problem yet that I couldn’t solve with input from great companies like Harvey or input from fellow machinists online.

vero watches

Yates Precision Manufacturing – Featured Customer

Yates Precision Manufacturing is a small machine shop located in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area that focuses primarily on job shop work in the oil and mining industry. They also recently launched a new product line of high precision safety razors, which is their first product to be developed and manufactured in-house.

Yates Precision is owned by Jake Yates, a mechanical engineer who has spent just over 5 years in the manufacturing industry. We were able to take some time out of Jake’s busy schedule to talk with him about job shop work, entrepreneurship, his new product line, and his advice for new shop owners.

Can you tell us a little more about your backstory and how you got involved in manufacturing?

I have always had background in engineering. I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 2011 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but my first job was actually as a maintenance foreman at an underground coal mine. After spending 2.5 years underground, I realized that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.

I had two friends who were working for a turbine manufacturer in Ithaca, NY that had an open engineering position, so I took it. That was my first step into manufacturing, as we did grinding, EDM, and a little milling. Programming for both the EDM and CNC mills was mainly done by hand.

After spending three years with that company, and with my wife and I expecting our first son, we decided to move back home to Pennsylvania to be closer to family.  I started applying for jobs down that way and ended up getting a call from my current employer, Perryman Company. They were looking for a manufacturing engineer, and I jumped at the opportunity. At Perryman, I got much deeper into the world of milling and turning. We work in medical implants and trials and do some instrumentation, and I get to program 5 axis mills and 6/8 axis mill-turn machines on a daily basis in Autodesk Powermill and Partmaker. This is what really led me to discover that I loved subtractive manufacturing.

How did Yates Precision get started?

It has always been my goal to start my own business. In August of 2018, I decided to take the leap and buy my own machine. I had been keeping an eye out for machine listings for some time, and I found a used 1993 Mori Seiki MV40M for a good price. That machine had actually been previously owned by my employer, Perryman Company, and so I knew that it had been taken care of and was in good shape. It had sat in storage for a couple years after the current owner bought it from Perryman so there was a little a work to do, but overall it is a great mill.

So, I bought the mill last August, and have had it just over a year. It took me a couple of months to get it running, but I am officially at the one year mark with Yates Precision.

yates precision machining

What industries and applications does Yates Precision specialize in?

I do a lot of machining work related to oil and mining. In this area, we have a lot of companies working in those industries, and so there is always work to be found.

I have done mining couplings and fittings and a lot of oil and gas parts, but I also get the occasional random RFQ which keeps things interesting. Such is the life of owning a job shop!

What other machines and software do you have in the shop?

Right now my only mill is the Mori Seiki I previously mentioned. It may be older, but that machine was the “Cadillac of Mills” in 1993. It has full 5 axis capabilities and 5 axis table, which was unheard of on most mills in the early 1990s.

I also have a small manual lathe and will be purchasing a CNC lathe sometime in Q1 2020. For software, I use Autodesk Fusion 360 for my job shop work. Sure, it has less powerful functionality than the Powermill software I use at my day job, but it is priced perfectly for small shop owners like myself and still has lots of great features included.

yates precision machine shop

Are you taking advantage of the Harvey Tool and Helical tool libraries we have created for Fusion 360?

Absolutely. I have both tool libraries, and use them quite often, especially with the Harvey Tool product. It is so nice to not have to build my own model of a keyseat cutter, undercutter, or some crazy back chamfer cutter. I could take the DXF from your website and use that, which is a great resource, but that takes a lot more time to turn into a workable model than simply opening Fusion 360 and selecting the pre-built tool from an existing database.

Do you also use our Machining Advisor Pro application? How has that worked for you?

Of course! I have a shortcut in Chrome right now which gets me right to the Machining Advisor Pro application. I have found it to be very easy to just type in a tool number, enter a few basics about my material and setup, and get great running parameters.

Outside of job shop work, you have started your own product line of safety razors. What can you tell us about that product?

Along with running my own shop, I have always wanted to launch my own product line, so I am very excited about these safety razors. I make two of the three components in house, all in 316 stainless steel. I have those two components setup so that I can press the start button and have both pieces done at the end of the job. It is great to have a single piece flow like that.

95% of the tools I am using on those two components are Harvey Tool and Helical. You guys make it easy to locate and buy the tools, and the speeds and feeds from Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) are hands down the best out there. I have tried a few other calculators and I haven’t found any others that give me the same level of information and customization that MAP has.

As for the third component, the handle, I actually outsourced that to a shop in Nebraska. I found Ben, who runs that shop, on Instagram from participating in the #InstaMachinist community. It is awesome to be able to go online and collaborate with other shops across the US to generate parts like this and support small business.

yates precision safety razor

How has that social media community helped you as a machinist?

It is really refreshing to have a community like we have on Instagram, where not everyone knows everything. There have been certain forums and websites where I tried to participate, and are made to feel very small with the way that some of the more experienced machinists responded to my “simple” questions.

On Instagram especially, I know that I can reach out to any number of people and get advice with difficult or new machining jobs, talk about entrepreneurship and business strategies, and just feel like a part of a community of makers who are bringing back manufacturing and preaching about the benefits of this industry to the younger generations.

I also think that you guys do a great job of getting involved yourselves with technical content and helpful information. In my opinion, you do the best job among cutting tool brands; your presence is definitely felt. As a small shop I obviously don’t have a huge tooling budget, but I can learn from all the information you guys post and take that to my day job to recommend solutions for the machining jobs we get there which come on a much larger scale.

What are some of the toughest things about starting your own business?

Honestly, running a machine shop, doing all of the programming, machining, and making chips is the easy part. That is what I knew the most about, so that part of the transition was easy.

Forming an LLC, building a website, getting my accounting together with QuickBooks; that was the hard part, as I was no expert in those areas. I learned a lot from John Saunders (NYC CNC) through social media, his videos, his website, and his “Business of Machining” podcast. He has been through a lot of the same things I have as a new shop owner, and so it is great to be close with someone like that to lean on for advice. If it weren’t for him, I would probably still be struggling setting up the “business” side of the shop.

yates precision manufacturing

For those who are thinking about starting a business and opening a new shop with a website, I would recommend Shopify. They made it easy for me to get off the ground and start listing products. There is a bit of a learning curve, but anyone with a decent technical mind can pick it up easily.

QuickBooks and accounting was a little overwhelming at first, but I found a great resource for my accounting needs on a site called UpWork. John Saunders turned me on to that site, and I was able to outsource my accounting needs to a woman in Florida who does a great job for me.

As a small shop owner, what other resources can you recommend to others who are just getting into the world of subtractive manufacturing?

Online forums and social media have been great for me. I don’t know what I would do without the online machining communities that are available. A lot of that comes from the machining evangelists I mentioned who are so great at spreading the noise about this industry and helping those who are currently in it learn more every day.

Through your own channels at Harvey Performance Company, your support through Instagram has been great. I have gotten to know a couple of your team members through social media, and I know that if I have any questions or complaints I can come right to one of your guys and they will figure it out for me. We recently had an Application Engineer from Harvey Performance come into my day job and he has been great as well.

The blog posts you guys generate have also been very informative. I often refer to them as a major resource, and I love getting the newsletter each month as it always has valuable information. From a business perspective, the Featured Customer posts like this have been great reads. I especially enjoyed the posts on Seth at Liberty Machine and Eddie at Nueva Precision, so it is an honor to be next to them with my own post!

yates precision manufacturing

How to Advance Your Machining Career: 8 Tips from Machining Pros

Since we began shining a light on Harvey Performance Company brand customers via “In the Loupe’s,” Featured Customer posts, more than 20 machinists have been asked to share insight relevant to how they’ve achieved success. Each Featured Customer post includes interesting and useful information on a variety of machining-related subjects, including prototyping ideas, expanding a business, getting into machining, advantages and disadvantages of utilizing different milling machine types, and more. This post compiles 8 useful tips from our Featured Customers on ways to advance your machining career.

Tip 1: Be Persistent – Getting Your Foot in the Door is Half the Battle

With machining technology advancing at the amazing rate that it is, there is no better time to become a machinist. It is a trade that is constantly improving, and offers so many opportunities for young people. Eddie Casanueva of Nueva Precision first got into machining when he was in college, taking a job at an on-campus research center for manufacturing systems to support himself.

“The research center had all the workings of a machine shop,” Eddie said. “There were CNC mills, lathes, injection molding machines, and more. It just looked awesome. I managed to get hired for a job at minimum wage sweeping the shop floor and helping out where I could.

As a curious student, I would ask a million questions… John – an expert machinist – took me under his wing and taught me lots of stuff about machining. I started buying tools and building out my toolbox with him for a while, absorbing everything that I could.”

One of the best things about becoming a machinist is that there is a fairly low entry barrier. Many machinists start working right out of high school, with 12-18 months of on-the-job training or a one to two year apprenticeship. Nearly 70% of the machinist workforce is over the age of 45. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting a 10% increase in the machinist workforce with opportunities for 29,000 additional skilled machinists by 2024, so it is certainly a great time to get your foot in the door.

Tip 2: Keep an Open Mind – If You Can Think of It, You Can Machine It

Being open-minded is crucial to becoming the best machinist you can be. By keeping an open mind, Oklahoma City-based company Okluma’s owner Jeff Sapp has quickly earned a reputation for his product as one of the best built and most reliable flashlights on the market today. Jeff’s idea for Okluma came to him while riding his motorcycle across the country.

“I had purchased what I thought was a nice flashlight for $50 to carry with me on the trip. However, two days in to the trip the flashlight broke. Of course, it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere trying to work on my bike. I’m happy to pay for good tools, but that wasn’t what happened. Not only was there no warranty for replacement, there was no way to fix it. It was just made to be thrown away. That whole attitude makes me angry. When I got home, I decided I was going to put my new skills to work and design and build my own flashlight, with the goal of never running into an issue like I had on my trip ever again. I started by making one for myself, then four, then twenty. That was four years ago. Now I have my own business with one employee and two dogs, and we stay very busy.”

An awesome side benefit to working as a machinist is that you have all the resources to create anything you can dream of, like Jeff did with Okluma.

Image courtesy of Okluma.

Tip 3: Be Patient – Take Time to Ensure Your Job is Setup Correctly before Beginning

The setup process is a huge part of machining, but is often overlooked. Alex Madsen, co- owner of M5 Micro in Minnesota, has been working in manufacturing for more than 11 years. Alex is also a part owner of World Fabrication, and owns his own job shop called Madsen Machine and Design. Alex has spent countless hours perfecting his setup to improve his part times.

“It is certainly challenging to use little tools, but the key is to not get discouraged. You should plan on lots of trial and error; breaking tools is just a part of the game. You may buy ten end mills and break six, but once you dial one in it will last the rest of the job.

You should also make sure to put extra time and effort into understanding your machine when working on micromachining jobs. You need to know where there is any backlash or issues with the machine because with a tiny tool, even an extra .0003” cut can mean the end of your tool. When a difference of one tenth can make or break your job, you need to take your time and be extra careful with your machine, tool inspection, and programming before you hit run.”

Tip 4: Effort Pays Off – Long Hours Result in Shop Growth

Success isn’t earned overnight. That is especially true in the machining world. Becoming a good machinist takes a great deal of sacrifice, says Josh from Fleet Machine Co. in Gloucester, MA.

“Opening your own shop involves more than learning how to program and machine. You also need to be willing to sacrifice some of your free time by working long hours to build your business from the ground up. Being a great machinist is important, but you also need to understand the basics of business, and you need to be able to sell your service and maintain a certain level of quality to keep your customers coming back.”

Working hard is a common theme we hear from our featured customers. Brothers Geordan and Nace Roberts of Master Machine Manufacturing have similar advice.

“We often need to work odd hours of the day to maintain the business, but we do it in a way that makes sure we have our family time. There are many times where we will go home, have dinner and hang out with the family, and wait until they are all sleeping to go back to work until two or three a.m. We will get back home later that morning to sleep a little and have breakfast with the family and send them on their way before heading back into the shop.” Starting and growing a business takes time. Every machinist starts from the beginning and through hard work and determination, grows their business.

Image courtesy of Liberty Machine Inc.

Tip 5: Utilize Tooling from Quality Manufacturers – All Tooling Isn’t Created Equal

 

When it comes down to it, tooling is singlehandedly the biggest choice you will make as a machinist. Grant Hughson, manufacturing engineer at Weiss Watch Company who works as a manufacturing instructor in his spare time, reflected on the importance of tooling.

“Tool to tool accuracy and performance is vital in this business, especially with our extremely tight tolerances. High quality tools make sure that we get the same performance time after time without needing to scrap parts. This saves us valuable time and money.”

While opting for cheaper tooling can appear to be beneficial when just starting out, before long, machinists are losing time and money because of unpredictability. Jonathan from TL Technologies echoed this point, saying:

“We feel that if we invested so much in these high-end machining centers, it would be criminal to put insufficient tooling and holders into them. We found that by selecting the proper tool with the appropriate sciences behind it we have been able to create products with a cost per cut that is not only competitive, but required to stay current. By keeping the quality as high as possible on the part making side of things, we’ve insured as much ease and reliability into our downstream process as we could. Quality tooling also provides predictability and added safety into the workflow. High-quality carbide tooling is the lifeblood of the business.”

Additional Thoughts Regarding Boosting Your Machining Career With Tooling:

Don’t Cheap Out

  • “The additional cost is always worth the payoff in the end knowing that you have a tool that will produce quality parts and shave valuable minutes off your cycle times. The slightly higher cost of the Harvey/Helical product is small change compared to the long term cost savings associated with their performance” – Seth, Liberty Machine

Consistency is Key

  • “We know the performance we are going to get from the tools is consistent, and we can always rely on getting immaculate finishes. While using the Harvey Tool and Helical product, we can confidently walk away from the machine and come back to a quality finished part every time.” – Bennett, RIT Baja SAE

Superior Specialty Tools

  • “One of the greatest things that I’ve experienced over the past year and a half is flexibility. We’ve asked for some specific tools to be made typically, the lead times that we found were beyond what we needed. We went through the Helical specials division and had them built within a couple of weeks. That was a game changer for us.” – Tom, John Force Racing

“Having high quality tooling like Helical is essential. Helical tools help us maintain a much higher machining efficiency because of the outstanding tool life, while also achieving more aggressive run times. In addition, we are able to consistently keep high tolerances, resulting in a better final product.” – Cameron, Koenig Knives

Tip 6: Get With the Times – Join the Social Media Community

Social media is a valuable tool for machinists. With ever-increasing popularity in networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, there will always be an audience to showcase new and unique products to. We asked a few of our featured customers how they incorporated social media into their machining and the benefits that come along with it.

“A lot of our sales come through Instagram or Facebook, so I would recommend those platforms to anyone who is trying to start a business,” Jeff from Okluma said. “We have also had a lot of success collaborating with others in the community. Typically it is something we couldn’t do ourselves, or they couldn’t do themselves, so we share the labor and collaborate on some really cool items.”

Tip 7: Value Your Customers – Always Put Them First

“In the Loupe’s” featured customers repeatedly emphasized the importance of putting customers first. It’s a simple concept to master, and pays off immensely. Repeat customers tell you that you are doing something right, said Brian Ross, owner of Form Factory.

“We have kept our customers happy and consistently deliver parts on time, so we get a lot of repeat business. Word definitely gets around on how you treat people so we try to treat everyone with respect and honesty which is key to running a good business.” Jeff from Okluma takes great pride in his customer service, saying “we only sell direct to consumers through our website so we can control our lifetime warranty. It has worked really well for us so far, so we have no plans to change that right now. I care more about our customers than any retailer is able to.”

Image courtesy of MedTorque.

Tip 8: Never Stop Learning – Ask Questions Whenever You Can

Hopefully some of these tips from our featured customers stuck with you. To leave you with a quote from of Seth Madore, owner of Liberty Machine, “Don’t stop learning. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut,” “That old guy in the shop has likely forgotten more than you will ever learn. The amount of tools in your Kennedy box doesn’t mean you’re a good machinist. Some of the best toolmakers I knew had small boxes with only the common tools. Learn how to excel with limited resources. Ask questions, and own up to your mistakes.”