Fleet Machine Co. was founded in 2010 to dramatically outperform other contract manufacturers by fusing advanced machine tools, automation and custom software to achieve what they call “Zero Manufacturing”. The team at Fleet Machine take pride in their ability to produce zero defects, zero missed delivery dates, carry zero part and material inventory, and maintain zero process inefficiencies. Every strategic decision and investment that they make is based on this philosophy of eliminating waste and human error from the manufacturing process.
For Manufacturing Day 2018, the team at Fleet Machine hosted several shop tours for Harvey Performance Company employees. Employees across all departments from Customer Service and Marketing to Finance and Accounting were given a in-depth tour of Fleet Machine’s manufacturing process. Josh Pregent, co-owner of Fleet Machine, was kind enough to host the tours at his shop and talk to us for this post. We talked with Josh about manufacturing automation, the challenges of obtaining AS9100/ISO9001 certification for your business, and the advantages of different milling machine types.
Thanks for hosting our team at your shop. It was a great tour! To get started, tell us a little bit about Fleet Machine’s history, and what sort of products you typically manufacture.
Fleet Machine Co. was incorporated in 2010 in Gloucester, MA to manufacture precision components for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical, and Robotics industries. Fleet’s emphasis on quality, customer service, and professionalism quickly distinguished us from other manufacturers and allowed us to outgrow our original location and expand to our current location. Since our inception, we have devoted our company to automating manufacturing and business processes to minimize human interaction and error in the manufacturing process. Our ultimate goal is to completely eliminate all human involvement in production. This may seem like a lofty goal, but you have to have dreams!
How did you first get involved in manufacturing?
My business partner and I both worked in a machine shop while we were in college and instantly became interested in manufacturing. Over the years, we advanced through the different facets of manufacturing, learning everything we could. In 2010 we seized an opportunity and decided to branch out on our own to start Fleet Machine.
Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to open their own shop?
Opening your own shop involves more than knowing 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.
We saw a good mix of machine types while walking around the shop floor. What sort of machines and software do you have here in the shop?
Fleet currently has three two axis turning centers, four three axis VMCs (Vertical Milling), one mill/turn with sub-spindle, and two HMCs (horizontal milling) with sixteen work stations each. It is a long list, but the specific types of machines we have in our facility are listed below. For software, we use a custom Salesforce CRM module, E2 MRP, and Mastercam 2019 for programming.
- (2) Akari-Seiki 450i HMC 27 x 26 x 25 X, Y, Z Travel, dual 400mm pallets, 15,000 RPM, through spindle coolant, 80 tools
- (2) Mori-Seiki MV-40E VMC 22 x 16 x 18” X, Y, Z Travel, 20 tools, 8000 RPM
- (1) Mori-Seiki MV-40B VMC 31 x 16 x 20” X, Y, Z Travel, 20 tools, 8000 RPM
- (1) Haas VF-2 VMC 30 x 16 x 20” X, Y, Z Travel, 25 tools, 10,000 RPM
- (1) Mori-Seiki SL-15 5000 RPM, 9” maximum turning diameter x 16” maximum length
- (1) Yama-Seiki GA-2000 6000 RPM, 13” maximum turning diameter x 20” maximum length, programmable tailstock, tool setter
- (1) Doosan Puma 240MSB 6000 RPM, 11” maximum turning diameter, 18” maximum length, dual spindle, live tooling, C-axis milling, tool setter, part catcher/part conveyor
- (1) Mori-Seiki CL-200 4000 RPM, 11” Maximum turning diameter, 12” maximum length
How has the mill/turn CNC machine helped you speed up production? Would you recommend it to others?
Our mill/turn machine has helped us increase production by reducing our setup time. There is no longer a need to remove a turned part, get it over to a mill, and set everything up again. Most basic milling operations can be performed on the mill/turn machine, so it is a great time saver.
We would definitely recommend this type of machine to other shops. Ultimately, we highly recommend any machine/software/process/ancillary equipment that eliminates or reduces human labor. Manufacturing is a ruthlessly competitive, tech-driven industry and the failure to invest in technology of this type exposes you to over reliance on expensive, scarce, and potentially unreliable human labor and possible obsolescence.
You also have both horizontal milling centers (HMCs) and vertical milling centers (VMCs). What has been your experience with both, and do you prefer one style over the other?
In my opinion, HMCs are superior to VMCs in every respect due to the additional axis, superior chip evacuation, greater load capacity, and the ability to run unattended with pallet pools. VMCs are still useful for simple jobs and rapid prototyping, but for high production runs we lean on the HMCs to get the job done.
What have been some of your keys to success for expanding the business and growing your shop to take on more work?
Fleet Machine provides a superior product in terms of quality and value and uses automation and poke yoke techniques to streamline processes and eliminate the possibility of error.
We noticed the banner hanging in the shop celebrating your AS9100/ISO9001 certification. How important has that been in your manufacturing process?
Having an AS9100/ISO9001-certified quality system will improve every aspect of your organization while eliminating waste, improving product quality, and improving OTD. Imposing the discipline required to attain certification on your company will reveal inefficiencies that you never realized existed.
Do you have any advice for shops looking to try and get their AS9100/ISO9001 certification?
It is easily worth the investment but it requires attention to detail, extensive documentation, focus on constant improvement, and a real commitment from all employees. It needs to govern every aspect of your business, from the quoting process to shipping. If you don’t have someone who is extremely organized and enjoys data collection, measurement, and documentation, or employees who aren’t compliant or don’t understand the value of certification, it probably isn’t for you.
Who are some of your key customers?
Some of our key customers (the ones we can name) include Hill-Rom, United Technologies Corp, Rockwell, and B/E Aerospace. We do work under NDAs for some projects so we cannot reveal all of our customers, but they are heavily skewed to the Aerospace, Medical, Robotics, and Defense industries.
How do Harvey Tool products help Fleet Machine stay at the top of their game?
Harvey Tool products are an integral part of what we do, from the quoting process through finishing. Fleet relies on the tooling engineers and technical support team at Harvey to help us produce parts that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to make.
What skills or qualities do you look for when hiring a new machinist?
Fleet Machine has a robust training program for all new employees. We look for important soft skills such as good written and verbal communication, reliability, a positive attitude, the ability to work as part of team, and basic computer skills. We have found that people with this combination of attributes rapidly surpass people with machining skills who lack these qualities.
Being well-rounded is important as an employee in any business, but as manufacturing progresses to become more and more technology-based it will be important to hire machinists with computer skills and technological know-how to stay ahead of your competitors.
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