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.”

MedTorque – Featured Customer

MedTorque is one of the largest and most well-respected manufacturers of orthopedic implants and instrumentation in the United States. MedTorque designs, engineers and manufactures their own line of orthopedic instruments as well as their customers’ highly complex products in the medical industry. By working closely with their customers, the MedTorque team is able to manufacture high-quality, precision parts that medical professionals and their patients demand.

Gus Gutierrez is a 20+ year veteran of the manufacturing industry, and currently works as Operations Manager at MedTorque. Gus has held many positions in the industry, ranging from CNC Programmer to Applications Engineer, Swiss lathe machinist, and Manufacturing Engineer. Gus was able to take some time from his busy schedule to talk with us about topics like the unique inspection processes required by the medical implant industry, his challenge moving dozens of machines from the old shop to the new MedTorque location, the importance of shop culture and finding the right fit during the hiring process, and more.

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

My career in manufacturing started at the age of 15 when I got my first work permit. I had applied to Sears, but my dad worked at a shop where they made machines for Frito Lay, and he told me I was going to be working for him instead of selling shoes at Sears.

The first time I saw a slab of rusted steel get decked with a fly cutter and finished with a beautiful shine, I was hooked. I started in the shop by cleaning the floors and got on a Bridgeport a few months later squaring off blocks. At that time, I had decided to enroll in a tool and die course to become an apprentice. We had Haas machines at the school, and so I decided that CNC was exciting and that is the world I wanted to work in.

In 1999, I got my first Swiss lathe job, and I did that for almost a year. I requested third shift to take on more hands-on projects and learn CAD/CAM. I also wanted to pursue electrical engineering, so I worked nights at the shop and went to DeVry University during the day to get my electrical engineering degree.

After 4-5 years in the business, I got my first opportunity as a CNC Programmer. I worked my way up to lead programmer and loved the interactions with customers and tooling vendors. Eventually, I transitioned into an engineering role – first at an automotive shop and then as an Application Engineer (AE) with Star CNC, a major manufacturer of Swiss lathe machines. I learned a ton as an AE, as I was able to get my hands on every new tool and technique as it was released.

medtorque

Eventually, the travel time involved with being an Application Engineer caught up to me and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I took a job in Wisconsin as a Manufacturing Engineer with a medical device company and did that for several years. I was working on programming Swiss machines, 5 axis mills, conventional lathes, and did fixturing for the laser department.

After that job, I landed at MedTorque, where I also started as a Manufacturing Engineer. They quickly recognized my talents for operations management when we made a move from Chicago to our new location in Elmhurst, IL. I was able to help transport 31 major pieces of equipment between the two plants without losing any interruption to our customers over the course of 7 months. We were moving machines on Fridays, installing them on the weekend, and had them back up and running Monday morning. After that major transition, I was promoted to Operations Manager, and I have now been doing that for a year and a half.

Can you give us some company history on MedTorque?

MedTorque started in 1958 under the company name Inland Midwest. In the early days, Inland Midwest worked as a contract manufacturing facility, making just about anything they could get their hands on. Over the years, we moved into different industries like medical, and got involved in instrumentation.

In 2014, Inland Midwest acquired Medtorque in Kenosha, WI. We had been doing business with them for a while as we purchased their ratchets and handles for our orthopedic and spinal instruments. By acquiring MedTorque, we were now able to keep all of that work in-house.

We also made the decision to transition entirely to the medical industry, and we ended up selling off the industrial division of the company and taking on the well-established MedTorque name to cement ourselves as a leader in medical manufacturing.

medtorque

What industries does MedTorque specialize in?

MedTorque specializes in the manufacturing of orthopedic and spinal implants and instruments. Our location in Kenosha handles all of our proprietary stuff, like the unique ratchets and instruments. In Elmhurst we are still a contract manufacturing plant, but we are focused on working with leaders in the spinal surgery industry.

What do you think sets MedTorque apart from the other medical manufacturing companies out there?

Our experienced team and the quality and consistency of our work is what sets us apart from the competition. We currently have many 25-30 year machining veterans in the shop, and we can handle some of the most complex assemblies on the market. I visited many medical facilities during my time with Star CNC, and I am still in awe at the capabilities we have here at MedTorque. Some of our assemblies can include 15 or more components, and they always fit together to create a great part. Our customer scorecard is consistently over 95% positive when it comes to our quality of work.

medtorque

What are some of the changes you have made to the shop floor since taking over as Operations Manager?

Going back a few years, the shop had many different types of lathe machines. They were mostly Swiss machines from brands like Star, Tsugami, and Citizen. One of the first things I did was pitch the need to narrow down the brands we rely on, as they all use different controls. By sticking with the same controller, we will have an easier time training new employees. We also do a lot of promoting from within, so this was key to give our transitioning employees a smoother training experience. We ultimately decided to go with Citizen for our Swiss machines, and we also have two conventional Mori Seiki lathes which are our workhorses and rarely break down.

On the mill side, most of our machines were Haas VF2s, and a few of them had a 4th axis or indexer upgrade. One of the first things I noticed was the lack of 5 axis capabilities in our shop. Obviously, there can be a huge price difference between a standard milling machine and a 5-axis mill, so I had to find a way to justify the upgrade. I ended up taking one of the Haas VF2s and adding a trunnion for some 2+3 axis work. It wasn’t true 5-axis, but it was just enough to show off the capabilities. We ended up taking a couple of parts that required 6 setups and reduced both of them down to a single setup. The time savings there was enough to justify the cost savings we would see with 5 axis setups.

Now, we still have the Haas VF2s, but we have also added 2 DMG Mori DMU 50s with full 5-axis capabilities and a Siemens controller. The Siemens controller costs more, but it gives us more versatility with the machine. I am also looking to add another Haas machine with a trunnion to replace some of the older VF2s. The older machines were great workhorses for us, but in today’s world of manufacturing, we need more spindle speed, more horsepower, and more rigidity, especially as we expand our product line into more implants.

medtorque

When you have a small .020” endmill, any vibration in the spindle translate to the parts, so we need the extra rigidity to be able to expand into more of the implant work here. Right now, we are probably 10% implants and 90% instruments, so we are simply going to need to take on more implant work to keep us growing at the same pace. That is high volume work, so we want to take on more of it, but we will need upgraded machines with higher specs to make that happen at the level of quality we want to be at.

Outside of mills and lathes, we also have two Wire EDM machines and two laser marking machines for internal laser marking. We also have the old standards: a knurling machine, an old lathe, a Bridgeport mill, and a Cincinnati #2 centerless grinder which is from the early 1950s but still holds tolerance. At this point those are mostly auxiliary equipment that we use to help maintain fixtures and handle reworks.

I can imagine that being in the medical field, especially with surgical equipment and spinal implants, that precision and accuracy are key.

You are correct. Quality in medical is extremely important, but especially with implants and instruments. We are putting our parts into people’s bodies, and people here take that very seriously.

We have had conversations with our customers on their thoughts about quality, and the feedback we got was that it isn’t about the machine making the parts as much as the inspection equipment and team. We invested heavily into inspection equipment as a result, and currently use a high range tolerance check with a CMM and an air gauge. We also have a new “tube inspect” machine to check both external and internal diameters. It can take 1,000 hits within one inch of space, and we are the only ones to my knowledge with that machine in the U.S.

medtorque

What processes do you have in place to ensure you are putting out a top quality product each time?

Our processes are not simple dimensional checks, but we check each part to determine exactly where adjustments are needed. We do in process inspections every shift, twice a shift; once at the beginning and once at the end. That way, we know that we had a good part at the beginning of the shift and we are still putting out a good part at the end of the shift, so we know in between that we have good parts.

We also inspect parts every time they move, both visually and dimensionally. We have invested large amounts of money into different unique trays to keep parts safe and secure so nothing is bumping into other parts during moves. The other unique process we have is for our finish inspection. Each time a setup is finished, we have the machinist submit the first piece for visual approval before moving along to the full dimensional inspection and then a full run.

Working with implants, we need an absolutely clean surface to work with, so surface finish is key. We typically hover around 20-25 RA for our finishes. This visual approval process allows us to move on for more parts with the confidence that we have a good starting point while we wait for deeper level inspection upon completion.

You do have a lot of lathe machines in the shop. What have your experiences been with the Micro 100 turning tools?

We do have quite a few lathe machines, and we have had good luck with our Micro 100 tools. We actually just talked to your Application Engineers about the Micro 100 tools the other day, and how we made many modifications to the tools from their standard starting points. We are working with the AEs to help them optimize more tools for Swiss machines and looking into how we can help to get some of the modifications we are making into more standard products that others can take advantage of.

medtorque

Who have you been working with from Harvey Performance Company?

Your Application Engineers have been a great resource for us. Don and Pawel have been giving us great feedback on tooling and really helping us in more of a partnership role than just a business to business sales role. These guys have been great with justifying new techniques with our leadership team, helping us stay competitive and taking different approaches to manufacturing.

Don also does lunch and learn presentations with us to teach our guys how to improve the processes. These talks have completely changed things here at MedTorque. Now we have guys looking at how to improve all the time. We are leveraging Don’s experience to improve our processes, and that has been huge for improving our efficiency. We have had plenty of other companies come in, but the guys here always ask for Don and get excited when they hear that he is coming by the shop.

Has your team been using some of our resources like our CAM Tool Libraries?

Absolutely. We work in both ESPRIT and Mastercam, so we have taken advantage of both libraries. Our power users tend to work in Mastercam, but we also provide other platforms depending on people’s backgrounds.

On 5-axis machining, especially, the tool libraries have been useful for us in our precise programming. It’s a real time saver and great for accuracy.

CAM programming

What other resources have you taken advantage of from our websites?

The Helical website has excellent information for speeds and feeds and tech resources. When I have a new programmer or machinist, I will walk him over to the Helical website and walk through the resources on there. We also have been using Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) quite a bit. We find it to be super user friendly and easy to use. We use MAP to make changes to our programs and improve our processes. This keeps our guys sharp and up to date on the latest skills and gives them the power to run their machines with confidence that the numbers are going to work every time.

The Harvey Tool website is also great because it has all the in between sizes for tooling. Everyone has a .125” end mill, but when you need a .062” or .117” end mill or some odd number in between, you guys typically have it. That is super helpful for our guys, and they can easily check the Harvey Tool website for a tool before they place it into the program.

Have you taken advantage of our custom tool programs for particularly difficult operations?

Working with Don and Pawel on custom tooling has resulted in more efficient jobs for us a few times. One that comes to mind is tooling we needed for an implant line of around 150 parts each week. This part used to be 17 minutes, and we got it down to 13 minutes with our own improvements, but ultimately we wanted to get it down to 11 minutes. After talking with the Harvey team, we decided to go the custom tool route to solve some problems. The team from Harvey Tool suggested a custom tool to replace the current tool, a boring bar. That boring bar was going in 15/20 times deep and we wanted to eliminate that as there was a lot of tool deflection and lost time.

Two or three weeks later, Don stopped by with the custom tool. The bore size was good, but the radius wasn’t there. He went back to the drawing board and 2-3 weeks after that initial test we had a new tool, tried it out, and it worked perfectly. We ended up ordering a handful a year ago and they have saved us that two minutes we wanted to shave off the cycle time to get it down under 11 minutes as we intended. After year one, we saw about a $58,000 cost savings just by getting that custom tool, stopping scrapped materials and tooling, reducing tool changes, and minimizing lots of machine downtime.

medtorque

Are you currently hiring? What do you look for in potential employees?

We are now expanding to three shifts and we have had open positions for two years. So yes, we are always hiring!

Two things I really look for in candidates are work ethic, and information retention of our training. Even focusing on just those two basic things, we have guys who come in for interviews and when we finish a tour they don’t seem like they are retaining what we are telling them about the shop. That gives me a sense of their level of retention, and their true interest in the industry and profession.

We want guys who want to come to work and enjoy the work that they are doing. You can have a good employee who clocks in and out, but you also need a good cultural fit. We don’t need superstars who can’t mesh well with others – we need a super team who works together and keeps the employees engaged and enjoying what they do.


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Alex Madsen – Featured Customer

Typically in our Featured Customer posts, we focus on a business as a whole and talk to someone on the manufacturing team about their day-to-day operations. When we started talking with Alex Madsen, we knew that this post was going to be a bit different.

Alex Madsen has been in manufacturing for more than 11 years, and is currently a full-time employee/part owner at M5 Micro in Minnesota. Other than that, Alex is also a part owner of Wold Fabrication, and owns his own job shop, Madsen Machine and Design. Alex has seen a little bit of everything in his career His daily work could have him machining diesel engine accessories with large diameter tooling on a Haas VF3 in the morning, and making tiny medical device parts with a 50k spindle and a .004” end mill in the afternoon. His unique experiences and insight in the world of micro-machining in particular have gained him many followers online, where his videos often amaze even the most experienced machinists.

We were happy to talk with Alex about his unique work situation, his advice for others on how to approach using miniature tooling, and much more.

Can you tell us a little more about your backstory and how you got to where you are today?

I got my start in manufacturing back in high school. The school I was attending had a pretty decent machine shop and a great instructor named Gary Hein. Gary was great on picking up on what people were good at and pushing them to explore that in his classes. He was the first one to introduce me to both machining and welding, which immediately sparked my interest in manufacturing. I had originally planned on getting into diesel engine repair, but Gary changed my mind and got me into manufacturing.

I got my first job working for a friend from church who had a small machine shop with a Bridgeport, equipped with a Prototrak. He was making RC car parts and selling them on eBay. I started working there a couple of nights a week. He really showed me a lot in that shop.

Eventually, I graduated from high school and ended up at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, Minnesota. Ridgewater is a community and technical college that had a two year program in machining. Around the same time I started college, I found a new job at Baklund R&D, now called M5 Micro. Baklund was a small scale production shop primarily focused on medical device parts. I ended up learning so much on the job that I decided it wasn’t worth going back to finish school, and so I joined the workforce and went full-time. I am still there to this day, and they have allowed me to expand and grow within the company, which is great.

madsen machine

So how did the other two businesses, Wold Fabrication and Madsen Machine, get their start?

I had always had the drive to start my own business, and so that seemed like a natural next step for me. I ended up getting a few machines with my friend, Tom Wold, and we started making aftermarket parts for diesel pickup trucks. We started to get into more customization and fabrication, and that business turned into Wold Fabrication. I really grew my knowledge on the job with that business, as well. As challenging parts or custom ideas come in, you have to figure out how to work around them to keep the customer happy.

Eventually, we started to get a lot more requests outside of the aftermarket diesel parts area, but Wold Fab really wanted to stay within that niche. I created another business, Madsen Machine, to handle those requests that were outside the scope of Wold Fab, and that is where we are today!

wold fabrication

An example of some of the parts Wold Fabrication creates.

You are in the unique position of working for three different manufacturing businesses. How would you describe each of them?

M5 Micro is 100% in the medical field. We have the machining portion of the business where we make medical fixtures, parts for medical devices, and specialized tooling. Specifically in micro-machining, we do a lot of small mold cavities, and implantable parts. The other half of the business is micro molding. We have our own desktop platform micro molding machine that is made specifically for molding very small parts in a variety of materials.

Wold Fabrication focuses entirely on high performance diesel pickup truck accessories. We build turbos, engine components, brackets, and much more. We do machine a fair amount of parts, but we also have a full fabrication shop with a CNC plasma table and multiple welding stations.

Madsen Machine (my own business) gets the chance to dance in both worlds. I pick up whatever I can for work. One day I could be making a part for a medical device company, while the next I am cutting wheel centers for a car, or designing a set of tracks for a pickup. Basically, Madsen Machine is your typical job shop, but with the unique ability to tackle micro-machining projects, as well as design, milling, turning, fabricating, and automation services. I am able to use my diversity in the manufacturing field and creatively approach new and challenging projects.

micro machine parts

What sort of machines and software do you have in the shops?

On a day-to-day basis, I have quite a few options. The most popular machines at M5 Micro are probably the two Mitsubishi Wire EDMs. For CNC machines, we have a new Fanuc Robodrill with a 55k RPM spindle and a custom 175k RPM air spindle. That machine is super accurate and fast enough for high speed applications.

We also have a Microlution 363 with a 50k RPM spindle. That machine can only take tools with a 1/8” shank, and it has no ball screws – only linear motors. That means that there is no backlash and you can really control how that tool is in the cut, which is super important for micromachining applications. That machine can also hold a positional accuracy of ±0.00004”, so it really is perfect for precise machining. In fact, the majority of micromachining videos on Instagram come from the Microlution Machine.

microlution machine

As far as Madsen Machine and Wold Fab goes, we share a machine shop. We have a KIA KT15 lathe, Haas VF3 mill, South Bend Chipmaster, a couple of knee mills, Kent surface grinder, manual lathe, and a 4X8 plasma table.

For software, I use Fusion 360 for CAM and CAD.  I still use SolidWorks from time to time for some CAD, but I have really grown to like Fusion 360’s CAD environment.

What made you decide to choose Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions for your tooling needs?

For tooling, when I was low man, you sort of used what was in the shop. When I started, we were using 8 different companies to source tooling. We had 3 different brands for steel, 3 more for aluminum, 2 for drills; it was confusing. Now, we are 100% Helical or Harvey Tool for everything at all 3 companies.

The reasoning for this is simple: It is not just the tooling – the tooling is fantastic – but in my opinion, the Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) is what sets you apart from the competition. It is really nice to have that software available, and since I am in a job shop atmosphere, I need to get parts done quickly and efficiently. The parameters from MAP are fantastic, and allow me to really push the tools while still maintaining great tool life and consistent quality. Your 6 Flute End Mills for Stainless Steel have been particularly great using MAP parameters.

alex madsen

Having speeds and feeds charts on your website for all of the different Harvey Tool products is huge, too. You need a good base to work from with miniature tooling, and you guys provide that to me for any tool I want to try.

Have you been using the Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions tool libraries for Fusion 360?

I do have the tool libraries and I do use them for both Harvey Tool and Helical. Where I find it the most useful is for chamfer tools and cutters with more unique geometries. I know that what my CAM spits out is going to be accurate because I am using the data right from you guys.

When it comes to micromachining, I always want to use the biggest tools for the reach I want, so knowing the taper angle dimension is critical. Using the tool libraries, I get that dimension pre-populated so I know where a tool would collide without needing to throw the tool on the comparator first. Eliminating that small step saves so much time and energy.

Miniature end mill

What is your favorite material to work with, and which has been the most challenging for you?

My favorite material to cut is Uddeholm RoyAlloy. It is a proprietary pre-hardened stainless steel that sits right around 35 Rc. We use it for a lot of our medical device work. We like it so much that if the customer called for using hardened 420 stainless, we often talk them into changing it to the RoyAlloy steel. With that material, it doesn’t matter if you have a half inch or .010” end mill, it cuts very well and makes great chips.

The most challenging material for me is hardened 440-C stainless steel, which we get a lot of working in the medical field. I do have some trouble with Titanium, as well, but I don’t often get a lot of that. 440-C stainless is extremely difficult to cut in its hardened state, so staying accurate and getting good finishes is always a challenge!

madsen machine

You have a lot of experience using very small diameter (<.020”) end mills, drills, and threadmills from Harvey Tool. What tips do you have for other machinists who may be using miniature cutting tools?

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 10 end mills and break 6, 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.”  Setup is everything.

micro machining

In terms of actually running the tools, a lot of RPM goes a long way. You absolutely need to have the right spindle and machine, or the smaller tools just won’t run the way you want them to. For us, we typically start with the Harvey Tool speeds and feeds as a base point, and then I adjust from there, often relying on sound since the tools are so small. The toolpaths in Fusion 360 have also worked very well for us when programming micromachining jobs, so I would recommend checking them out and playing around with that software if you are new to the micro world.

Can you talk a little bit about the unique tool holder setup we see in a lot of your Instagram videos?

Most of those Instagram videos you see are shot on the Microlution machine. The Microlution actually doesn’t use a tool holder at all, so that white collar you see in my videos is actually just how the tool changer grabs the tool. Many people have asked me if that is a custom tool holder, but it is actually a unique part of the Microlution. The machine simply grabs the tool from the tool changer with that device, and then the shank goes right into the spindle.

That being said, I do design my own workholding vices for that machine. As you can imagine, there isn’t much available on the market for micromachining, so those are all a custom job.

alex madsen

Custom workholding for the Microlution machine

 

What are some of your favorite machining accessories you use in the shop?

What is interesting is that a lot of our tooling accessories are customs, much like the workholding. We actually designed and built all of our own tooling accessories to help aid with the specific applications we are doing, so we don’t buy much of what you would see in a typical shop.

Obviously for my work, a good microscope is absolutely necessary for miniature tooling and part inspections. For my main workholding on the larger machines, I use a Kurt 6 inch vise. I have also had my eyes on Orange vises, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

alex madsen

One of the items we use the most is a granite surface plate for inspection, and Herman Schmidt height stands with indicators down to 50 millionths of an inch.

Can you remember a key moment when a Harvey Performance Company product helped you “Machine the Impossible”?

As a job shop, a lot of stuff is quick turn, as you can imagine. Being able to get a tool overnight and have it show up the next day is incredibly useful for a shop like mine, and the tool selection in the Harvey Tool catalog is unmatched.

When I get a job in and have to figure out how to approach it, I program around what kind of tools I can get. A lot of time is spent with up front planning. Having Harvey Tool’s massive product offering makes programming easier. I know that most of the time, even on very odd lengths or reaches, that you guys will have what I need.

Just thinking about using a Harvey Tool .010” end mill with a 12x reach is crazy, but I know that it will work, and I know I can rely on your tools to make that “impossible” feature a reality. Other jobs that come to mind include milling a 2-56 thread in hardened steel, and using a .004” ball end mill for profiling; these types of tools just aren’t available as standards in other catalogs. It makes my life easier for sure!

micro machining

In terms of Helical Solutions end mills, they are my real workhorse. Just recently, I needed to program a roughing job on a 38 pound block of Aluminum. I ended up using the Adaptive Clearing toolpaths from Fusion 360 and the running parameters from MAP.

I was using a Helical 3 flute ½” tool with a 2” length of cut and a 40 degree helix. By the end of the job, I had removed 28 pounds of material in just 22 minutes. I was also able to use the same tool for finishing and roughing, and I didn’t have to trouble shoot or anything. I plugged in the numbers from MAP, let it run, and it worked great.


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RIT Baja SAE – Featured Customer

Baja SAE is a collegiate racing program which challenges engineering students to design and build an off-road vehicle that will survive the severe punishment of rough terrain. As in real work situations, these future engineers work together as a team to discover and resolve technical challenges in design, test, and manufacturing, as well as business issues. Each team’s goal is to design and build a prototype of an all-weather, rugged, single-seat, off-road race car while also being able to market it to investors in the business portion of the competition.

When Harvey Performance Company was approached by the Rochester Institute for Technology (RIT) Baja SAE Team, we knew there was a great opportunity to get involved in something truly special. RIT Baja had just completed a championship season, winning the 2018 Baja SAE Championship over hundreds of other teams from across the nation as well as dozens from all over the world. Tooling costs can be a major burden on the collegiate SAE teams, so Harvey Performance decided to sponsor RIT Baja, providing them with a wide variety of tooling and technical support from the Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions brands to help with their manufacturing process.

Throughout this season, the Harvey Performance team has been in close contact with Bennett Wong, Manufacturing Manager for RIT Baja. Bennett took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about this partnership, the differences between Baja and other SAE programs, some unique parts that they have added to their vehicle with the help of Harvey Tool and Helical tooling, and his background in manufacturing.

To get started, how did you first get involved in manufacturing?

I originally got my start in manufacturing as a member of a BattleBots team. At the time, I was just a freshman, and I was basically left on my own to manufacture parts for the robot as one of the younger team members. I was really learning all my manufacturing skills on the fly, only having been a student for a single semester at the point.

I ended up working in the same shop at RIT as the Baja team, so I started to ask some of the Baja team members to help me out with my Battlebots projects. Over the next few weeks working on the robot, I got to know the Baja team and got much closer with them. They were able to teach me the basics of machining, and I was able to learn fast. One thing I became very good at was operating the lathes, and the Baja team immediately took notice. The next year I left my Battlebots team, and decided to join the Baja team. Because I was so comfortable on the lathe, I became the lathe operator for the Baja team, and now I serve as the manufacturing manager, overseeing all the machined parts of the car.

What sort of manufacturing experience have you gained since starting your education at RIT?

I have been on three Co-Ops during my time at RIT.  My first one was with Moog Aircraft Group out in Buffalo, where I worked as a Systems Engineer. In that position, I was able to get on the line with the operators, which was valuable experience. I also worked as a Process Engineer at Wyman Gordon, which is a large metal forging company.

This past summer I worked at UTC Aerospace as a Mechanical Engineer working with 3D printing, tooling, and fixturing. I was able to get a lot of great experience, and design many new parts for the operators. I feel that with my experience, I am able to design better parts for manufacturing. I understand the macro side of manufacturing, having been an operator myself, and know how frustrating it can be to manufacture a part that was designed without taking the machine capabilities into account.

RIT Baja

What does the RIT machine shop have for equipment and software?

Right now in the shop, we have six manual 3 axis Hardinge mills and six manual 2 axis Sharp lathes, as well as one CNC mill and one CNC lathe from Hardinge. We also have a complete welding area with two TIG welding tables, and lots of other metalworking equipment. We really have a full-on metal shop here at RIT.

For software, we are using Solidworks CAD to model the car, Ansys to run simulations on our parts, and the Mastercam add-in to Solidworks for our CAM.

What can you tell us about Baja SAE and how it differs from the other SAE competitions?

I think that the major difference between Baja and other SAE competitions is how tough your car has to be to compete. In Baja competitions, we have extremely dynamic and unpredictable tracks. There could be 2 foot jumps, rocks, sand, mud, and water; you never know what you will encounter in an off-road race. Formula SAE is different because you can easily measure and design to forces that you know. You can plan for tire wear, and you can reasonably expect the same experience on the flat racing track every time. We thrive by dealing with the unpredictability of the Baja track. You need to build a solid design and you need to know it well enough so that you can trust it on any track that the competition throws at you.

RIT Baja

Baja also has a strenuous endurance race that typically features upwards of 100 cars on the track at the same time. Basically, your team has 4 hours to churn out as many laps as you can. If our car gets damaged or needs adjustments, we have a full pit crew that can handle those issues. Our pit crew is unique in the fact that they practice all year for these circumstances and are a huge asset to our team. For example, last year during the endurance race our car was hit and slightly damaged, but our pit team was able to have the car towed, repaired, inspected, and back on the track in just 10 minutes, which is extremely fast compared to other teams.

While building your new vehicle for the 2019 season, what are some of the common materials you have been machining?

For the 2019 build, we have been working with a lot of 7075 and 6061 Aluminum. We manufacture our own gears in house, so we also do a lot of steel and some hard milling, which is a key area where the Helical end mills have helped us get better performance.

RIT Baja

What would you say is the most critical success factor when it comes to RIT’s performance in Baja events?

Our experience is a huge success factor. RIT has been participating in Baja SAE since the 1990s, so our team and advisors know the ins and outs of this competition. We have an experienced group of students who can make the on the fly decisions that come with the unpredictability of the competition. Our drivers practice all year, our pit crews practice simulated failures on old cars, and we are always prepared for whatever the track throws at us.

How did you first hear about Harvey Performance Company, and what made you decide to reach out seeking a sponsorship?

We had been following the Harvey Performance Company brands on Instagram for some time, and we knew that they were big supporters of High Efficiency Milling, which is something we do a lot of in our shop. We were seeing all the great parts that other people were making with the Harvey and Helical tools, and we knew it would be a good fit for us.

RIT Baja

What are some of the complex parts/applications where Harvey Tool or Helical Solutions tools have helped you achieve your goals?

We are the first team to bring Magnetorheological (MR) dampening shocks to the competition, and we used the Harvey Tool miniature end mills to prototype and manufacture our designed parts for the MR Shocks.

MR shocks use oil to suspend steel particles in a solution to be used in a suspension system to change the damping of the system. The MR shocks allow us to be a lot more efficient with our limited power by dynamically changing the suspension to the different terrain. Being more efficient with our power means we can be faster on the track and score more points at the competition.

Our new design is an improvement from current industry solutions. Our designers of this unique product actually won the RIT TigerTank Competition (structured like the popular TV show “Shark Tank”) and will have the chance to become a company and sell these MR shocks as a product. We are proud to say the founders of the product are designers on the team and will be moving along with their business as soon as races are over.

As for the car itself, everything except the tires and the engine are all designed and manufactured in house. This enables us to have high quality parts in the shortest amount of time. We have a new aluminum engine mounting system that Helical tools just ripped through, as well as a new steel upright that needed the HSV-4 with Helical’s Aplus coating. Without this sponsorship, we simply would not have been able to make our car.

RIT Baja

Have you received any technical support from the Harvey Tool or Helical tech teams during this season’s build?

When we were using the Harvey Tool miniature end mills, we had to ask about speeds and feeds since we had never run tools that small before. We got in touch with the Harvey Tool tech team and they helped us dial things in. Having that extra assistance gave us confidence when we went to run the tools for the first time, and everything worked out great.

Compared to other tools you have used in the past, how have the Harvey Tool and Helical products performed?

Just generally speaking we are a collegiate team, so we don’t have the luxury of buying nice tools. We typically end up getting a lot of free stuff from suppliers, but do not get to choose the tools like we do with Harvey and Helical. With the donated tools we have to be very careful with our speeds and feeds, because what works for one part might not work for another. It can be really difficult to dial anything in and run it confidently.

Using your tools has been hugely beneficial. We know the performance we are going to get from the tools is consistent, and we can always rely on getting immaculate finishes. The tools’ performance also cut down our cycle times on a lot of parts, which is instrumental to our ability to crank out more parts. 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.

RIT Baja

What are your future plans after graduation? Do you think you will stay in Manufacturing?

I want to go into Aerospace Engineering for sure, ideally as a design engineer or as a manager. I enjoy making parts, but I want to get more into the design side of aerospace parts. I would love a job where I am able to design complex parts that have the manufacturing process in mind, which I have become to understand better through my work with RIT Baja.

I also enjoy my position on the team as the manufacturing manager. I get to work with designers from every sub system, coordinating schedules, and helping them create parts that fit the design criteria that are also easy to manufacture. It is really rewarding to see the car get put together during car run weekend knowing that you were a part of the team that was able to bring the design that was in the designer’s head into fruition.

Where can our readers find more information about your work and the RIT Baja team?

For more information on RIT Baja, you can visit our website, or find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

For more information about myself and my work experience, readers can find me on LinkedIn. I am always happy to connect with like-minded individuals in the manufacturing industry, and as graduation looms closer next year, I will be looking for full-time employment as well!

John Force Racing – Featured Customer

John Force Racing has been dominating the motorsports world for over 30 years, winning 20 championships and hundreds of races in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) drag racing series. John Force Racing features both Funny Car and Top Fuel teams, and just recently in 2017 they won both the Funny Car and Top Fuel championships in the same season.

John Force Racing invested in Force American Made to develop and create parts and components that would help drive all the teams to success and safety. The 84,000 square foot shop is located in Brownsburg, Indiana (just outside of Indianapolis) and is the heartbeat of John Force Racing. Thousands of parts are forged by Force American Made and its team of employees every season giving the team a competitive edge that has led to the team’s on-track success.

The Force American Made team has relied on Helical Solutions tooling to get the best performance and quality out of their CNC mills for years. The Harvey Performance Company team was invited out to Indiana to take a tour of Force American Made and spend some time with Tom Warga, Lead Machinist, to talk with him about his experiences with Helical Solutions tooling, his first time trying Machining Advisor Pro, the success they have had using the new Helical tool libraries for Mastercam, and the value their distributor, Dolen Tool, brings to the shop. Check out the video interview below to see the inner-workings of Force American Made and how Helical Solutions tooling has contributed to the success of this motorsports dynasty.

Okluma – Featured Customer

Okluma is a small manufacturing business located in Oklahoma City focused primarily on creating high-quality flashlights that can stand up to the most extreme conditions. The company was founded in early 2015 out of owner Jeff Sapp’s garage, and has quickly gained a solid reputation as one of the best-built and most reliable flashlights on the market today.

We were able to steal a few moments of Jeff’s time to interview him for this Featured Customer post, where he shared his thoughts on topics like the importance of customer service, the reason to use higher quality tooling, and his transition into the world of CNC machining.

To get started, how did you first get involved in manufacturing?

In high school I actually worked in a machine shop. This is where I got my first exposure to big machines and manufacturing. I worked at the shop until I graduated, doing simple things like sweeping the floor and running errands. The work wasn’t very exciting, but it did give me some really good exposure to the world of machining. Every now and then one of the machinists would let me help out with a part, but that would be rare. I did manage to save up enough money to buy a small mill and lathe, which I took with me when I went off to college.

During college and after graduation, I made a living by writing software, which I did successfully for 15 years. Eventually I got tired of writing software after I had spent more than a decade in that space, and I wanted to try something new. I had picked up small jobs and worked on personal projects over the years, so I decided to enroll in a machine shop school in Oklahoma City to learn more about manufacturing and becoming a machinist, and graduated from there with a renewed sense of what I wanted to do. Technical schools are a great way to pick up new skills and advance your career. The manufacturing technology program at the Francis Tuttle Technology Center here in Oklahoma City was great and the instructors there, Dean and Julia, are talented and very patient people.

okluma

Did your background in writing software help you transition into CNC programming?

Absolutely. It was a tremendous help to understand some very strange programming concepts that came with writing software, and it all translated very well into CNC programming. These days, CNC machinists and programmers need to be as knowledgeable about the software and programs as they do the tools and parts, so having a background in software programming or development certainly translates well to the world of CNC machines.

Where did the idea to start Okluma stem from?

After graduation from the machine shop program, I took a few weeks off and went on a long, off-road motorcycle trip 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 there was 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 4, then 20. That was 4 years ago. Now I have my own business with one employee and two dogs, and we stay very busy.

okluma

What does your current product offering look like?

For our products, I currently have two flashlights models (the DC1 and DC2) and we are working on some cool new projects for 2019. With battery and LED technology advancing like it has, there are some interesting applications, way beyond just flashlights, that haven’t been possible until recently. Stay tuned for more information on those by following us on Instagram.

What do you think separates an Okluma flashlight from the competition?

The basic values behind Okluma all stem from me simply wanting a nice tool that won’t break easily and will be supported by the manufacturer. I offer a lifetime warranty and stand firmly behind that. I want an Okluma flashlight to last forever so you will never have to buy another flashlight.

The quality and hardiness of a flashlight is important to many outdoors types, homeowners, and collectors, but we also sell lots of our flashlights to the military and police. If their light goes out in a tough situation it could be really bad, so we have to make sure our flashlights can be dependable above all else. Like they always say, you get what you pay for. Our flashlights aren’t going to be the cheapest, but we stand behind them with our warranty and pride ourselves on the quality and reliability.

okluma

What sort of machines and software do you have in the shop?

Right now I have the old standards like a Bridgeport mill and an old LeBlond lathe, as well as my CNC machines – a Daewoo Lynx 220LC CNC Lathe and a Doosan DNM 4500 CNC Mill.

For software, I use Autodesk Fusion 360 for the mill, and I write the G-code by hand for the lathe. I was more familiar with the lathe, so I had an easier time writing my own code for it. Getting Fusion 360 for my milling has been a huge help.

Have you been using the Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions tool libraries in Fusion 360?

Yes! The tool library in Fusion 360 was a huge help for me. To be able to get the right tool and not model things incorrectly probably saved me a lot of broken tools. That was a big reason why I came to Harvey Tool and Helical for support in the first place.

It was cool to come from the software community, where we collaborated on a lot of open-source projects, and see companies like Autodesk opening up their software to manufacturers like Harvey Tool and Helical for these great partnerships.

What sort of operations/parts do you create on the lathe versus the mills?

As you can imagine (being a cylindrical shaped part) most of the flashlight manufacturing is done on the lathe. For a while I had been making them all by hand, until we got the CNC lathe. While most of the work is done on the lathe, for the more intense pieces we have to drill and tap and do some different slotting operations. We also drill and tap the clip holes for all of the flashlights, so the CNC mill is huge for those operations.

As Okluma started to grow, we realized that we had a huge bottleneck doing our secondary operations by hand on the manual milling machine. We solved that problem by buying the Doosan mill to help with secondary operations, but you still have to know how to use it to make it worth the purchase!

I was completely in the dark on the CNC milling side of things at that time, as I was much more familiar with the lathe. I actually called Harvey Tool with a few questions, and the Harvey Tech team really held my hand and walked me through all of the things I needed to know, which was huge. I also used the Machining Advisor Pro application to generate speeds and feeds for my Helical end mills. MAP helped save me a lot of broken end mills and increased my production times.

okluma

You are using almost exclusively Harvey Tool and Helical for milling operations on your Doosan VMC. Why is purchasing quality tooling important to you?

I can try to do things on my own and eventually get it, but it costs me money on broken tools and it costs me my time, which is even more valuable. I could go that route with any number of different tooling manufacturers, but the fact that I can call Harvey or Helical and get an answer to my questions the first time, usually in a few minutes, and know it will work is hugely helpful. I don’t really look at the cost of the tools so much, because I just know they work and I know I will get the support I need to make my milling operations a success.

Can you remember a crucial moment when Harvey Tool or Helical technical support helped you to be more productive?

As we try to get more creative with our designs, we plan to rely heavily on Harvey and Helical to explore some of these new applications. We actually build our own tool to work on the flashlights, and we are using Harvey and Helical exclusively to machine that. At first, I was making the tools in two operations; I was doing a radius on top and then flipping the part over to create a radius on the bottom. I was having a hard time lining it up. We moved the second radius on the first operation, and used an undercutting tool and everything matched up perfect. I wasn’t really sure how to do it, but I called you guys and you figured it out with me! We have some cool projects coming up which we are planning to rely on Helical tools for, but people will have to stay tuned for that one!

okluma

What have been some of your keys to success for your growing sales?

Good customer service is key. We are one of the few companies that will offer a lifetime warranty. I know there are a lot of flashlight collectors, and we can make fun stuff for those guys, but I want people to really use our flashlights and scratch them and do ridiculous things with them. We have had people use a flashlights in crazy ways (like as a hammer) but we will still fix them under our lifetime warranty. I don’t really care what people do to our flashlights, I just want them to always work.

We can also overnight replacement flashlights for professionals who rely on them for work, so they never have to be without one. That is huge for our customers in the military or in law enforcement who rely on our flashlights as an essential tool in their day-to-day lives.

Do you have plans to expand into retailers, either online or brick and mortar stores?

We only sell direct to consumers right now through our website so that 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.

I’ve noticed that you have gathered a rather large social media following. How has social media helped shape your business?

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. We have also had a lot of success collaborating with others in the EDC (Every Day Carry) community where makers are creating knives, wallets, keychains; anything you would carry on you “every day”, hence the name. We have collaborated to make flashlights out of other people’s materials, let other shops refinish our flashlights, and things of that nature. 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.

I think social media is especially great for manufacturing because a lot of younger people don’t even know all this crazy cool stuff that is going on in the industry. I was lucky enough to see it first hand at a young age, but so many others never get the chance. It is awesome to share our work and try to inspire some of the younger generation to make their own products and participate in the world of manufacturing.

okluma


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Nueva Precision – Featured Customer

When it comes to CNC manufacturing services and product development solutions in the Denver, Colorado area, Eddie Casanueva has quickly made a name for himself with his company, Nueva Precision. Eddie has more than 22 years of manufacturing experience and 19 years of business experience, which he uses to help small businesses and entrepreneurs who are looking for product support and development.

Eddie was able to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with us for this Featured Customer post. We covered topics like Eddie’s incredible training and introduction to manufacturing, his experiences using reduced neck end mills, and his suggestions for must-have equipment in any CNC machine shop.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us for this Featured Customer post. To get started, tell us a little bit about the history behind Nueva Precision and what sort of products you typically manufacture.

Nueva Precision was first incorporated at the end of 2016. Within three months, I was making chips on my own, largely doing prototype work.

I had recently sold my share in another company I co-founded and used that money to move into a larger home in the Denver area that could accommodate a machine shop business. We were lucky enough to find a home with some acreage and an existing oversized garage which was perfect for a shop. Now that I had the building, I had to do things like get the electrical and HVAC up to spec. It required having the city run a stronger electrical line to the building I would use as my shop, but once that was all figured out, we were ready to make some chips.

Nueva Precision

I started by buying a used Haas mill and a used Haas lathe. People initially reached out to me for work because of my quick delivery times. I was able to turn around parts in just a week or two since the business was new. However, within a month of operating those machines, I was already at max capacity with my current equipment. Unfortunately, my lead times had increased to a more standard 4-6 weeks due to the sheer amount of work I was getting. For the rest of 2017, I stuck with my original equipment and just did the best I could to keep up.

nueva precision

Do you have any future plans to expand your shop and capabilities further?

I do! In early 2018 I brought in a brand new VM3 Haas Mill to keep up with demand, but I was curious about how much more revenue that would create. I expected to see a 20-30% increase in revenue, but having another machine ended up doubling my revenue. Luckily my strong relationships with my customers helped me grow the business even as my lead times increased. With that in mind, I just ordered another Haas VM2 at the end of 2018 and am excited to take full advantage of that.

How has your family reacted to you running a business out of your home?

My family has been extremely supportive throughout the whole process. My wife Leandra in particular helps out a lot. She was a teacher for 19 years, but resigned from that profession to work on Nueva Precision. She has started to help out on the business side of things and has also started to help run machines and make parts. My oldest son Jaden (16) is interested in manufacturing and he has started working and making simple parts for us when he is available. All in all, we have a pretty good thing going here.

Eddie and Leandra Nueva Precision

Eddie and Leandra

Jaden nueva precision

Jaden working on parts

How did you first get involved in CNC machining and advanced manufacturing?

I am essentially self-taught in CNC machining. I got started in engineering and manufacturing as a student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in the Mechanical Engineering program. It was a state school, so tuition costs weren’t bad but I still needed to support myself. I was going to school during the day and pumping gas at night to pay the bills. In my second year in school I came across an opportunity to work at an on-campus research center for manufacturing systems. It was funded by the state of New Jersey to help promote New Jersey industry. The job didn’t have much to do with my curriculum, but they supported some campus research and worked closely with the college on various projects.

The research center had all the workings of a machine shop. 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 of all the machinists and try to do more and more than the usual student employee. John – a talented toolmaker and experienced 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. Next thing I know, they’re handing me prints and I am making parts. A few months down the road the machinists started teaching me programming on a Mazak controller. This went on for a year or so and I just soaked it all in.

nueva precision

Sounds like great experience! Where did you land your first full-time position in manufacturing?

I actually landed my first full-time job at the same manufacturing research center. The center had a CNC machinist programmer resign at the facility, so there was a job opening posted. I went to the director of the center and said I was interested in the position. I knew I had to work a lot to pay my tuition, and if I worked for the university I could get my tuition paid for while also making some real money. The director recommended me for the position, so I interviewed and landed the job. All of a sudden, I had benefits, vacation, real responsibilities, and full-time pay. I flipped my schedule around so I could go to school during nights and work during the day.

I learned so much about machining in my first job because of the unique situation I was in. Companies like Blaser Swisslube, Kennametal, and GibbsCAM were supplying us with product and support to work on process improvements for large New Jersey corporations like BF Goodrich Aerospace, US Can, etc. It progressed to the point where GibbsCAM was actually sending me to seminars to train me on different industry topics to further my education and improve the reports we were outputting.

nueva precision

I was in an amazing position to get all this training and I learned so much in the next 4-5 years. We had equipment like a Fadal 5-Axis CNC Machine and other high tech machines at my disposal, which were very hard to find at the time (mid-1990s). Nobody outside of the most elite machine shops were working in 5-axis, so I had a head start because of this unique job experience.

I actually never finished my degree and instead dove head first into manufacturing. I started my own business on the side and kept working at the research center until 2001 when I left to focus full-time on my new business, Spidertrax Offroad.

Can you tell us more about your experience with Spidertrax Offroad?

Spidertrax Offroad is a manufacturer of drivetrain parts for off-roading vehicles. I started Spidertrax with a partner whom I met in college. The company actually started making our first parts at the research center I was employed at. I asked my boss if I could start making parts off the clock on my own time, and he agreed to let me use the shop. This would have been around 1998, and by 2001 I was ready to take off on my own. My partner and I built that company up to 20 employees, and we were (and they still are) a well-respected brand in the off-roading community.

The hardest part about operating my own business and watching it grow was losing the ability to get out in the shop and actually do what I love, which is making parts. As the business grew, I had to take on more responsibility as a “business man,” and let go of many of the things I enjoyed doing as a machinist. I was very proud of what we had built, but I really wanted to get back to basics. So, in early 2017 I sold my half of Spidertrax Offroad to my partner and took that money to buy the new house and open Nueva Precision, Inc.

What sort of machines and CAM software do you have in your new shop?

Right now for CNC machines I have a 2018 Haas VM3, a 2018 Hass VM2, a 2012 Haas VF2, and a 2012 Haas TL2. I also have an engine lathe, a Bridgeport knee mill, Kaeser screw compressor, which I absolutely love, and a couple of Jet saws.

For software, I still use GibbsCAM. I have been using GibbsCAM since 1996 and have had countless hours of training and experience using it, so I think I’m a lifer.

haas vf2

Outside of tooling, what are some key components of your machining setup that you would recommend to others?

I started Nueva Precision without any sort of probing system in place, and using an umbrella style tool changer. I found out quickly that my time, especially being alone, is worth a lot. I highly recommend getting a solid probing system as well as a side mount tool changer. I added all of that to my VM3 and the effect was immediately noticeable. It is so much more efficient and faster.

Keeping software up-to-date is also key. It can be expensive, but it speaks for itself in just a few months. Any time I invest in technology, it seems to pay off pretty quick.

5th axis workholding

I also feel strongly about having solid workholding. I have a couple of the 5th Axis self-centering vises which are great, and a handful of Kurt vises, as well. I am also a big fan of the MMM-USA guys and their vise jaws and handles. For my shop, flexibility is key because I never know what can come through the door. I don’t do a lot of production work and spend much more time on prototype work, so flexibility is key. Having good quality workholding that I don’t need to worry about lets me swap parts in and out with ease.

As for tool holding, I ran into an issue last year where I was starting to see a lot of tool pullout and was scrapping too many parts as a result of aggressive roughing. I had to find a better solution, and I came across the REGO-FIX PowRgrip system. It might seem expensive compared to other simpler tool holder, but I think the upfront investment isn’t too bad considering the other options in that space. Again, I invested in technology, and immediately saw better results. I currently use the PowRgrip for finishing passes where I need good runout and heavy roughing where there is the highest risk of tool pullout.

REGO powRgrip

You use a lot of Helical’s Reduced Neck end mills. What are some tips or tricks you have learned by using these tools that you could share with others?

My experience with these tools is really new, but I find myself using more and more of them these days. In the beginning, I was afraid of end mills with a longer length of cut singing like crazy in the machine. I started experimenting with the reduced neck tools from Helical and was blown away by the rigidity. The tool pressure remains consistent throughout the part, so you will get the same great results on the top of the part as on the bottom.

I don’t know how many people are currently using them but it makes so much stuff possible. I have gone as large as ¾” diameter with the 5” reach and have never had an issue. Maintaining the low levels of runout is definitely key with these tools, which again comes back to having solid toolholding. Now that I have the REGO-FIX system, I am getting much better runout and plan to start pushing the reduced neck tools even harder.

helical reduced neck end mill

Most of my reduced neck end mills are the standard style, but the chipbreaker with the reduced neck has been a powerhouse for me as well. No matter what I tried with Helical’s reduced neck tooling, I have had success, so I would recommend the entire line if the situation calls for it. Just be careful with runout and make sure to double check your clearance!

What are some of your key Helical products that you use on a daily basis?

My main workhorse is Helical EDP 29422 – the ½” 45 Degree Chipbreaker for Aluminum. I swear I use that tool every single day across all of my machines. That tool is gold for me; it is night and day compared to standard roughers. It has a long enough flute length to be versatile or aggressive, depending on the situation. It is just a great tool. You will need a good holder for sure to keep it from pulling out when you get aggressive, but again my new software and tool holding helps with that.

helical solutions

Outside of performance, I love getting the smaller chips that the chipbreaker tools create. It is so much easier to clean a machine with small chips than long, stringy ones, which saves me time. I do all my roughing with chipbreakers. If you are making stringy chips while running HEM toolpaths, they can be a major pain to deal with.

My customers love the finish that Helical gives me as well. The wiper flat on the bottom of the H40ALV-3 end mill stands out as one of my favorite features on any of my tools. That tool gets me compliments on the floor finishes of pockets and enclosures all the time. Across the board, tool life and finish has been awesome with my Helical end mills. I currently use the Zplus coating for all my aluminum tools and have no complaints.

part finish

This summer I had the privilege of working on some aerospace parts that will be going up into space!  Most all parts were being machined from pre-hardened stainless steels and exotic alloys.  The Helical 5-flute and 7-flute endmills with the Aplus coating proved to be great tools to have in the arsenal.

What are your “go-to” Harvey Tool products?

For Harvey Tool, I use a lot of the full radius Keyseat Cutters to surface mill areas you can’t get to with a ball nose end mill. This saves me valuable time because I can avoid flipping the part to surface mill both sides by doing it all in one operation with the Keyseat Cutter.

keyseat cutter

Outside of the keyseats, I use a lot of miniature end mills with reduced shanks and chamfers mills in a variety of angles. I also use lollipops (undercutting end mills) to surface mill parts with hard-to-reach holes.

Overall, being able to look through a single catalog and find tons of options for neck diameters and cutter diameters is what sells me on the Harvey Tool product. It is really neat to have all those different tools available to me in one place – it’s a great catalog.


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Master Machine Manufacturing – Featured Customer

Master Machine Manufacturing, or MMM USA, is a family-owned and operated machine shop based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Master Machine is a rapidly expanding company which has seen serious growth as both a job shop and as an OEM Manufacturer of their own Quick Vise Handles and Piranha Jaws for CNC machinists.

Brothers Geordan and Nace Roberts, along with their mother, Sherry Roberts, are the owners of Master Machine Manufacturing. With Geordan and Nace, we dove into topics like having a growth mindset, working smarter instead of harder, and expanding a “job shop” business while also creating and manufacturing their own OEM products.

Tell us a little about Master Machine’s history and the type of work that your company does.

Geordan: Master Machine has been in business since 1981. Our father, George Roberts, started the business. At the beginning it was a pretty typical manual machine shop operating primarily as a job shop. As Nace and I got older, Dad introduced us to the business and we started working there part-time, eventually transitioning into full-time employees. In 1996, we transitioned to high precision machining with our first CNC machine – a Haas VF1, and we kept adding new CNC machines from there.

Nace and I took over in 2013 after our Dad passed. We had to make the transition from managers and shop foreman to owners and dealing with customers. We now own and operate the business with our mother, Sherry Roberts.

master machine

Geordan, Nace, Sherry, and the rest of the MMM USA team at IMTS with Mark Terryberry from Haas Automation

At its core, Master Machine is a job shop that does a lot of high precision machining. We work on things like lab test equipment, parts for the aerospace industry, and a lot of parts for the oil and gas industry. More medical jobs and odd things like parts for off-road racing have started to come in recently as well. One cool thing about us is that we have the unique ability to operate as a job shop, but also to design and manufacture our own products. Many of your readers have probably seen some of our vise handles and jaws in use online, especially on Instagram.

Your MMM USA Jaws and Vise Handles have become extremely popular in the CNC machining community. Where did you get the idea for that product?

Geordan: We had been using other brands of vise handles and jaws for a long time and got tired of buying products that were cheap and didn’t work well. We had this idea for a while, so in 2013 when things started to slow down a little bit, we had an opportunity to spend some time and design our own products. It was just about 2 years ago that we designed our first vise handle and Piranha Jaws. After using social media, showing them off at IMTS and other Industrial Trade Shows, they really started to take off. Our vise handles and jaws have really started to become a business of their own over the past couple of years.

vise handle

Can you breakdown the shop for us? What are you working with in terms of shop size, machine capabilities, and software?

Nace: We operate as a 100% debt-free company, so we grow as we need to. We have been at our current location for 10 years with 5-7 different additions along the way. Our shop is now spread across 10,300 square feet.

We currently have 18 CNC milling machines, including our original machine, the 1996 Haas VF1. We have been growing very fast over the past 10 years. From 2004-2007, we only had 3 CNC mills, and we have acquired the other 15 machines all in the last decade. We like buying from companies that make their products right here in the USA, so we have grown our shop through the Haas line of machines. Almost everything we own here is made by Haas Automation. In fact, our Haas VF4 and our 5-axis Haas UMC750 are some of our biggest mills in the shop right now.

Geordan: We also have other capabilities in the shop. We can do welding, painting, surface grinding, and we have a nice setup of bar feeders and lathes. For software, we use a lot of BOBCAD V31 for our 4th and 5th axis mill programming and all of our lathe programming, Nace uses a lot of Autodesk Fusion 360 for the mill side of things.

For inspection, we have many inspection tools, including a Fowler Z-Cat CMM that can measure down to +/- .0002″ for our most high precision jobs.

How did you guys first get involved in manufacturing?

Geordan: I started machining with my Dad at age 13, and got into it full-time after high school, but was not yet fully committed. At this point, I learned manual and CNC machining entirely through working with my Dad and my Uncle.  It wasn’t until my Uncle, the main machinist in our shop, decided to split off and start his own shop that I was faced with a more urgent need to commit to the family business. So I decided to make manufacturing a full time career move and started learning fixturing, programming, and everything I needed to know to be successful. We still have a great relationship with my uncle and his shop and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him stepping out on his own.

Nace: I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to make money, and a lot of money. I was actually in college for radiology and physical therapy, but I didn’t like the layout of the career path. I could not convince myself to wait to start making real money until I had finished a long education and received a license 6-8 years down the road.

Instead of physical therapy and radiology, I started taking more computer engineering courses and learned a lot about programming and technology. After my uncle left, I told my Dad I would like to be a bigger part of the business and take what I knew from my computer programming classes and apply it to the shop. Within a year I had gone from never running a CNC to fully doing everything on the machine. My computer programming skills definitely helped me make the transition into CNC machining and programming.

master machine

As a second generation owner of a family business, how do you stick to those family values while also rapidly expanding the business?

Nace: We have grown a lot with our systems and technology, but our culture has also changed since we took over. We educated ourselves on workplace culture and maintaining a positive work environment. When we were kids, Dad worked probably 100 hours a week and we were always fortunate that he was able to provide us with food, clothes, and a roof over our heads. But no matter how hard he worked, he can’t replace the time with us that was spent working.

One of the major improvements we focused on was trying to maintain repeatability. Everything in the shop is labeled in boxes and readily available for our employees. Ultimately, we want to do everything we can to make it easy as possible for our employees. We want to work smarter, not harder, so there is more time for our employees to spend with family and not spend their lives in the shop.

As owners, 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 2 or 3 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 in to the shop.

Working with family, we have to remind ourselves that business is business, and outside of business it is all about family. It can be tough to differentiate those two, but you have to. We went to business counseling and learned how to respect family members and build up the team while also making tough business decisions. We have our tough moments at the shop, but at the end of the day this is still your family. You can’t carry any frustration with other family members outside of those shop doors and into the home.

mmm usa piranha jaws

What are some other things you have done to maintain your “Work Smarter, Not Harder” mantra?

Geordan: One of the first things we did was look into getting more tooling and better tooling. We paid more for tools that can push harder and faster, and last longer. When Dad ran the shop, he would just buy whatever he thought we could afford and still get the job done. Now as CNC technology and advanced CAM systems have improved, the need for quality tooling is extremely important. Finding the best and most reliable tools helped take our shop to the next level and that is where Harvey Tool and Helical come into play.

Nace: We like to be the “purple cow” of the industry, differentiating ourselves in any way that we can. We strive to maintain a certain level of quality across our website, our Instagram page, our products, and the entire business as a whole. We are proud to support products made in the USA and keep supporting American manufacturing to help keep the business thriving in our shop and others. We are always happy to support companies like Haas, Harvey Tool, Helical, and many others who are doing it all right here in the USA.

What are some of your “go-to” Harvey Tool and Helical products?

Geordan: The Helical Chipbreaker End Mill for Aluminum is key for making our vise handles. We use the ½” end mill and run it at 10k RPM, 300 IPM with a .700” DOC and 40% stepover. We can push those tools harder than others while also maintaining our product’s quality. We also rely heavily on Helical’s HEV-5 for our steel applications.

One of our favorite and most-used tools is the Harvey Tool 90 Degree Helically Fluted Chamfer Mill. We use the 3-flute style on everything that isn’t Aluminum because we can simply push it faster and harder than anything else that we have tried.

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Nace: We actually keep a ton of other Harvey Tool and Helical products in our Autocrib. It made sense for us to get an inventory system, and we got a great deal on a system during the recession. Industrial Mill & Maintenance Supply got us hooked up with an Autocrib and a ton of tools, and they have been great at supplying it whenever we need more. It has helped a lot having an inventory system like that. It is reassuring to know that we have the best tools ready on hand so we can eliminate any potential downtime.

Master Machine is everywhere in the online machining community, specifically on Instagram. How has online marketing and social media changed the way you promote your business?

Geordan: Most people who run businesses seem to just hope that the word of mouth gets out there, or they have a website and hope it just goes viral one day and gets some attention. With the way the Internet is so crowded these days, you have to do something more to stand out. On our side, we have boosted our business through the use of paid online advertising with Google, boosting our SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to rank higher in search results, and being heavy users of social media like Instagram.

When I started the Master Machine Instagram account, I was really just using it to see what other machinists were doing. It was actually only a personal account for my use. I was skeptical of Instagram because of the Facebook community of machinists. I always viewed Facebook as a little more negative and less productive, while the Instagram community was much more collaborative.

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I started by following people like Aeroknox, Kalpay, John Saunders, Bad Ass Machinists, and Tactical Keychains. I immediately noticed how helpful everyone was. I started posting as a business just about 2 years ago, when I posted our first version of the vise handles. Almost immediately people started asking to buy them. We were blown away by the response.

We didn’t set out to create something new with these handles, but by getting our name out there and filling a need for people following us, the hype continued to grow and grow and grow. Instagram has been a great tool for that aspect of the business, especially. We now have around 15 distributors across the US who are carrying our products, and are getting some great momentum. We also sell a lot of our products direct on our website, and 99% of that probably comes through Instagram.

Nace: We have actually landed distributors through someone following us online and going to their integrated distributor asking for our products. The distributor then called us and asked if they could carry our product on their shelves. Other online connections have also helped us land distributors through simple messages and phone calls.

Where do you see MMM USA in 10 years?

Nace: That’s a tough question…

At the shop, we always stress four major actions: Define, Act, Measure, and Refine. In our eyes, there are always better ways to do things and improve our processes. We hire people to have a growth mindset, and so we are redefining our future every day through our continual improvement process. We strive to always have that growth mindset to figure out how to do a job more efficiently. With constant improvement always taking place, it is hard to nail down exactly where the shop will be in 10 years, 5 years, or even 1 year from now. One thing is for sure – we will be successful.

Geordan: Something we do want to focus on is creating new assets, exploring new ventures, and doubling in size every year. We want to continue to release new products to build out our own product line and have MMM USA distributors worldwide.

Back in the day, Kurt Workholding was just a job shop, and now they are one of the most recognized workholding brands in the CNC machining industry. It is really hard to say where this ends or goes, but we think we have a bright future as both a job shop and as a supplier of our own OEM products for manufacturing.

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Are you currently hiring new machinists? If so, what qualities and skills do you look for?

Geordan: Every Tuesday we have an open interview at 4 PM. As you can imagine, with our company’s growth, we are constantly hiring. We are looking for people that are positive that have a growth mindset who can grow within the company. We always believe we can promote from within. Most of our people have been at Master Machine for 10-15 years because we can always move people up closer to the top and help them advance in their careers as we grow.

Nace: We are really focused on finding people with good attitudes, and people who want to be here. Skilled machinists are great, but they can be rare, so attitude and fitting in with the culture is huge. We can always take a good attitude and train the skill level up, but we can’t take a good skill level and change the bad attitude. We want team members who will coach each other up and help improve the team as a whole. We love working together and supporting the business together in every aspect of the business.

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What is the best advice you have ever received?

Geordan: We really like “Notable Quotables.” Here are a couple of our favorites.

“The pen is for remembering, and the mind is for making decisions.”

We only have so much brain power to make crucial decisions, so we write all the day-to-day action items down on our checklists to make sure nothing is left undone. That frees our minds up from having to remember every little piece of the business so we can save that brain power for strategic decision making moments. We must be proactive and not reactive as we lead our team.

Nace: “Your employees want to follow someone who is always real, and not always right.”

As a leader, you need to take responsibility when you screw up, and be open with the team. Let them be a part of fixing the problem, and approach every situation looking at the positive.


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