Posts

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.

master machine

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.

mmm usa

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.

vise handles

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.

master machine

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.


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Fleet Machine Co. – Featured Customer

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!

Fleet Machine

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.

CNC MILLING

  • (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

CNC TURNING

  • (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

fleet machine

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.

Fleet Machine

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.

Fleet Machine

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.


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Liberty Machine – Featured Customer

Liberty Machine, Inc. is a small Aerospace and Defense-focused machine shop located out of owner Seth Madore’s garage in Gray, Maine. In just a few years, Liberty Machine has transformed from a side hustle into a full-fledged machine shop with customers all over the world.

We were given the chance to visit Seth at his shop in Maine and interview him for this post. We picked Seth’s mind about entrepreneurship, the online manufacturing community, some interesting home construction choices made to accommodate a machine shop, and more.

Thanks for having us come out and visit the shop for this Featured Customer post. To get started, tell us a little bit about Liberty Machine’s history, and what sort of products you typically manufacture.

I founded Liberty Machine, Inc. out of my garage about 6 years ago while I was still working full-time at one of Maine’s largest (and best) Aerospace and Defense shops. I was working close to around 80-100 hours a week, maintaining my full-time job as well as coming home and making chips in the evenings and weekends. At first, I was doing a lot of smaller pieces and one-off parts, such as fixtures and prototype work to help build up a customer base and make enough money to eventually upgrade my machine.

In the early years, I was using an old 1982 Matsuura MC-500 Mill that I picked up for around $6,000. I used that machine to generate enough cash flow and eventually pull the trigger on a 2015 DMG Mori Duravertical 5100 with a 4th axis, probing and high-pressure coolant which really allowed me to take on the type of aerospace and defense work I had been doing at my day job and make the leap into full time entrepreneurship in my own shop. Now, we have the capabilities to focus on aerospace and defense work for major clients all over the country.

We are still working out of my garage, with myself and one other employee, but there are hopes for further expansion in the future as we acquire more work and expand our customer base. If you want to keep up with our shop, follow us on Instagram @liberty_machine!

Liberty Machine

You have a great shop here and are definitely maximizing the space. How much square footage are you working with?

Currently, we are working out of a 940 sq/ft shop. We “technically” have room for one more CNC mill if we really squeezed things together. I don’t think that is in the cards though; it is more likely that we will move to a larger space if and when the time comes for expansion. Heat management and air quality are real issues when working in small spaces with low ceilings, which is something we deal with currently.

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

For now, we have two VMC’s and a decent amount of inspection equipment. We have the DMG Mori machine I previously mentioned, as well as a 2016 Kitamura-3XD. Both machines have 12k spindles, Renishaw probes, and feature coolant through spindles.

For inspection equipment, we have a 2014 Mitutoyo QM-Height 350 Digital Height Gage, a 2003 Brown & Sharpe Gage 2000 CMM with Renishaw MIP Articulating Probe Head, and a 2003 Mitutoyo PH-A14 Optical Comparator. We also recently acquired a Scienscope Stereo/Digital microscope. This allows us to perform visual inspection of our parts at an extreme amount of detail.

Liberty Machine

There are still holes in our inspection lineup, so we are always looking at adding onto what we do to provide our customers with quality machined products.

For CAD/CAM software, we use Autodesk’s Fusion 360 as well as Inventor HSM.

You mentioned using Fusion 360 for CAD/CAM. Some of our readers may know you from the Autodesk CAM forums as an “Autodesk Expert Elite.” How did that come together?

About 4-5 years ago, I knew I needed a legal, supported, capable CAM solution. After several “30-day trials” of the more affordable packages, I stumbled upon Fusion 360. Having a fair amount of experience with Esprit and MasterCAM, I taught myself Fusion 360 in between running my shop and trying to spend what little time I had with my wife and children. Even though I had prior experience in other CAM packages, I still had lots of questions. I turned to the Fusion CAM Forums for assistance. The employees and other users were excellent to work with and got me sorted out quickly.

Liberty Machine

After I became more comfortable with the Fusion 360 software, I decided to spend some of my free time helping others by answering their questions on the forums. I wanted to give back to the community that had helped me learn. Autodesk eventually took notice of my constant presence on the forums and granted me the title of “Autodesk Expert Elite,” an honor given to some of their most prolific community members and advocates. Now I work with them to help test new features, provide insight from a user’s point of view, and participate in events like Autodesk University.

How did you first get involved in manufacturing?

I will be honest – I never meant to end up working in manufacturing. When I was a teen, I had glamorous ideas about law enforcement, federal work and so forth. But, life doesn’t always work out that way (I met a wonderful girl and goals shifted, so I started looking for alternate career paths).

My friend (future brother-in-law) was a machinist, so I started asking about his work and what it involved. He was working in a “job shop” using all sorts of cool machines and technology I had never really heard about. I was very excited about this career shift and I pursued it with fervor. 19 years later and I still LOVE this trade. The thing that intrigued me most about manufacturing, and the real reason I became so fixated on the trade, was the integral role the machinist plays in every aspect of manufactured society. I believe it is the most fundamental profession there is, and I take great pride in it. The evolution of the trade from manual machining to skilled programmers running CNC machines has always fascinated me as well and has kept pushing me to learn more and continue growing as a machinist.

Liberty Machine

Is it true that you built an addition to your garage specifically for the DMG Mori machine?

That is true! Before I bought the machine, I knew it was going to be too tall for my existing space, and was also going to need a solid foundation to sit on (it weighs 7 tons). Before the machine arrived, I had a concrete slab poured right against the side wall of the existing garage, and placed the DMG Mori on that slab.

After a couple days of unfortunate rain and multiple layers of tarps covering the machine, I had several family members (carpenters by trade) help me build the addition. Ok…I helped them. They were able to get it all framed and covered in just one day, breaking down the side wall of the garage and literally building the new space around the dimensions of the machine. Like they say, if there is a will, there is a way!

Running a shop out of your garage must have been a challenge to startup. What were some of the growing pains you experienced as this shop was built out?

On a professional level, the struggle was real. Two jobs, huge payments on the horizon, wondering where all the work (and money) is going to come from… As I mentioned, at that point, I was working 100 hours a week between the two jobs, and really feeling wiped out at the end of each week. However, the hard work did eventually pay off. Once I was able to get the DMG Mori and prove to customers that I had the capabilities to go full-time on my own, it was all worth it.

Liberty Machine

Outside of that, there were the literal growing pains, like cutting holes in my garage ceiling to fit the column on the Kitamura machine, and of course, building an addition to house the DMG. But like I said, it was all worth it in the end to own my own shop.

What is the best thing about working for yourself?

I’d say the best thing about working out of my shop (and for myself) is seeing my family on a daily basis. Yes, I still work 60-70 hours a week, but to have breakfast with them each morning before our day starts and have the flexibility to shift schedules around for doctor visits and other “life stuff” is worth its weight in gold. We are all so busy in life and I think we suffer as a society because of it. I want my children to know what it’s like to have a parent that is around. Busy, yes. But still present.

You mentioned that you had used a lot of Harvey and Helical tools at your last job. However, once you were on your own, you could choose any tooling you wanted to use. What made you stick with the Harvey Performance Company brands as your go-to tools?

The thing with Harvey Tool and Helical products that keep me coming back is the consistency of quality. I know that when I buy one of these tools, I am going to get a high-performing tool that has gone through multiple levels of inspection and is consistently ground within the tight tolerances that were promised. I honestly cannot remember a single time I have had to send any Harvey or Helical tools back for quality issues.

Liberty Machine

I tell friends and others in the manufacturing community about the tools, and the hurdle is always getting them to look past the slightly higher cost. That 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.

Can you remember a key moment where Harvey Tool/Helical products really saved the day?

Truthfully, Harvey and Helical are my first thought when I’m looking at a challenging feature on a new part. If they offer something that looks like it will work, I don’t even look for an alternative. Order it, get it in house. I’d say where Harvey helps the most is their awesome selection of long reach/stub flute end mills for stainless steel. I cut so much of that, so it’s great to have a vendor stock what is truly needed.

Liberty Machine

Would you recommend entrepreneurship to other young machinists hoping to open their own shop some day?

Yes! But like all things in life, “It depends.” Entrepreneurship is certainly not for everyone. The amount of work required to get a shop rolling and out of “crisis-mode” is insane. There is no other term for it. If you have a significant other in your life, MAKE SURE they are on the same page as you. I am blessed to have a wife by my side who sees the end goal and is understanding of the sacrifice needed in the short-term for the long-term benefit of our family.

What advice might you want to give to someone starting in this trade?

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.

Zootility – Featured Customer

Zootility prides themselves on designing products that blend art and function for everyday use. Everything from design to manufacturing to distribution is done at their custom shop in Portland, Maine. Utilizing laser-cutters, laser-etchers, and CNC Machines, their skilled team works 15 hours a day to carry out their mission to get their incredibly thin, extremely useful “zootilitarian” tools into pockets everywhere. Zootility was founded by Nate Barr and was launched on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign for their first tool, the PocketMonkey. Nate has now expanded Zootility and grown into several more products and brands, including the “WildCard” Wallet (Pocket) Knife, “Open Beer Season” bottle openers, the popular “Headgehog” Wallet Comb, and their new line of “Tülry” multi-tools that disguise as fashionable jewelry.

We visited Zootility at their shop in Maine and talked to Nate and Chris, one of their CNC Machinists, about using Kickstarter campaigns to launch new products, the state of the Manufacturing Industry, machining in very tight tolerances, and more in this latest Featured Customer blog.

Thanks for having us, Nate! Tell us a little bit about your shop and how you got started with Zootility.

Nate: Zootility really started as a maker shop for our first product, PocketMonkey. The goal was always to take the idea behind the PocketMonkey and grow it from just a Kickstarter project so that I could expand the business. I also wanted to make sure that I was learning something new myself every step of the way; I wanted to understand how to make our products, so we could keep production in-house and use our knowledge to expand the business in the future. When we started, I was re-investing all of our proceeds back into the business, allowing us to buy more equipment and really build out the shop. Our shop is fairly unique, where we now have nearly total vertical integration across the board. The only thing we need to do now is buy an iron mine and get our own materials!

How did you come up with the idea for the original Pocket Monkey?

Nate: I came up with the idea for the Pocket Monkey one day while I was locked out of my apartment. I was living in Boston at the time, and I would run out every night to the stores around the corner to buy food for dinner, typically only taking my wallet with me. One night, the door locked behind me, and I was locked out, sitting on my front steps and wishing I had some sort of a shim to slip the lock. I started thinking what that would look like and how it could fit in a wallet for easy carrying and realized that I could add on more tools like bottle openers and screwdrivers while still keeping it slim enough to fit in my wallet. I had studied Mechanical Engineering in college, so I had the background to create what I was envisioning.

Pocket Monkey

You have used Kickstarter campaigns very successfully, not only to launch Zootility, but also to further your product line and expand the business. How was the Kickstarter experience, and would you recommend it to other entrepreneurs looking to launch a new business?

Nate: Our Kickstarter experience was great. We have raised up to $90,000 in a single campaign, and we have figured out a strategy that works for us. We found that if you set a reasonable goal that will allow you to cover start-up costs, say $25,000 rather than $100,000, people are more willing to take the time to invest. A reasonable goal gives people more confidence that the project will be funded, and that it will be successful, leading to more backers and more exposure; it is a great Marketing tool in that regard.

Kickstarter also levels the playing field for smaller companies like Zootility – I consider it to be “The Great Equalizer”. There is no longer a need to have tens of thousands of dollars for upfront costs when starting a business. You can spend a little bit of time creating the campaign and invest a small amount of money into that without taking the huge risk of throwing your life savings into an unproven idea. When I started Zootility, I was still working my day job and did not have the money to put up front, so Kickstarter was a natural fit. We have continued to use Kickstarter for new product lines because we are committed to manufacturing our products in the US, so Kickstarter campaigns allow us to validate new ideas and collect funds up front as we continue to grow the business. I do recommend it for all the entrepreneurs out there, and it has been a great tool that has contributed to our success.

You mentioned your commitment to manufacturing Zootility products in the US. What makes this ideal so important to you?

Nate: Let me start by saying that I think that Globalization is a good thing; it has pulled huge numbers of people across the world out of poverty. However, American policies have essentially allowed large corporations to gut the middle class by moving jobs overseas, especially in more rural areas. This has created unbalanced manufacturing and retail sectors. Personally, I believe things have gone too far, and standing behind our belief in American-made goods allows us to contribute to a more balanced approach to manufacturing. As with all things in life, a balanced approach is the best option. There will never be a time when 100% of goods can be feasibly made in America, so overseas manufacturing will continue, but bringing back more jobs to the middle class here in America is a good thing for the entire industry.

zootility

We have definitely made an effort to re-invest in our local community and the people who live here by manufacturing our products right here in Maine. Offshoring has resulted in a loss of knowledge and a real disconnect from the products that we use every day. Products that were previously considered to be of a high quality are now losing their shine, as less care is put into them and there is less appreciation and understanding of how these things are made. By investing in our local community and ourselves by learning something new every day, we believe we are doing our part to bring this knowledge back and instill more of a sense of pride in our employees and the products that they help to create.

You are originally from the Boston area. What made you decide to move the company and shop to Maine?

Nate: I had originally looked at a few places in the Boston-area, but it just didn’t make sense financially. There is a lot of great technology being developed in Boston by the innovative companies in the area, but to set up a manufacturing business in Boston was cost-prohibitive. By moving our shop to Portland, Maine we were able to save a lot on the space, which helped us in the early stages of the business.

The other thing was the lifestyle change. Portland has a great downtown area with lots of small businesses. There are restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, and plenty of locally-owned shops. It is also easy to get around, either by car or bike, and there is very little traffic throughout the city. I also wanted to locate our shop so that it felt like part of a community. We were able to find a great spot in downtown Portland surrounded by other manufacturers and small businesses. It makes for a great place to come to work every day.

What does the future hold for Zootility?

Nate: Right now, we do as much business in Q4 around the holidays as we do the entire rest of the year, so we have been exploring ways to make better use of the machines during the slower months. As we have completed installing and setting up our new machines, we have begun to do contract manufacturing to fill out the rest of the year. We have the unique ability to create small parts with extremely tight tolerances, and we are willing to do small volume, small batch manufacturing that other shops may turn down. We have been getting business from companies in Boston, who are looking for the “just in time” manufacturing which we can provide. The extra revenue from these projects will allow us to take off the Kickstarter training wheels and expand the business faster on our own.

tulry

From a product standpoint, we are looking to launch more “serious” tools for the outdoor enthusiast. Right now we are in the process of launching our new RNGR brand, which will be a line of minimalist every day carry products, without the whimsical nature of the Zootility Tools products. We also are on the verge of shipping our new TÜLRY brand, which is a series of jewelry infused with every day carry tools.

Chris, you create a lot of very thin products. How does that affect your workholding when working in materials that thin?

Chris: Our workholding has been built entirely custom for our CNC machine, due to the nature of the products. For example, we are currently working on our WildCard knives, which are only .040″ thick. There really isn’t much on the workholding market that will work well for something that small, so our team actually machined our own metal strips on the CNC, held the knives down with small bolts, added some rubber bumpers so we do not have metal on metal contact, and it has worked really well for us so far. We also created custom workholding for the new TÜLRY line tools, which are also extremely thin.

helical solutions

The biggest challenge with our custom workholding is the additional time it adds to each job. Right now, we can run batches of 72 knives per cycle, with a cycle time of 28 minutes. Then, we need 20-25 minutes to unscrew each of the bolts, remove the finished knives, and then insert the new knives and screw the bolts back in. However, it is the only way we can machine products this thin with our tight tolerances, and we can still finish around 600 knives per day.

You mentioned your tight tolerances. What are some of the tolerances you are working in every day?

Chris: Right now, all of our tolerances are in the thousandths. For example, the WildCard knives have a tolerance of just +/- .003″, and the screwdriver tools on the TÜLRY necklace, while one of our highest tolerances, stick to just +/- .005″. The tightest tolerance we are currently working in is on the hex wrench tools for the TÜLRY necklace. The hex wrench tools have to be spot on, or they will be too loose when they go to be used on a hex nut. Right now, we like to keep those tools to a tolerance of +/- .001″.

How has your experience been using Harvey and Helical tools on these projects?

Chris: The Harvey and Helical tools have been great for us. When I started, we had another brand of end mills in stock, and they simply weren’t cutting it (no pun intended) in the types of heat-treated stainless steel which we were working in. We switched over to the Helical 7 flute end mills for roughing and finishing of the knives. Each knife has a very small shelf on it, which allows it to be a removable piece of the WildCard tool. We use a 3/8″ 7 flute Helical end mill with a .020″ corner radius for this cut, with a 3/8″ 7 flute square end mill for finishing. One interesting part of this job is that it requires a very low ADOC because the tools are already so thin, that the roughing we do removes only a very small amount of material.

harvey tool

We also use both Harvey and Helical chamfer mills to create all of the box cutter and hex wrench TÜLRY tools. With the hex wrenches, we have found that the 60° tipped off chamfer mill has been great for creating those intricate cuts. With the box cutters, we needed an edge sharp enough to cut through tape and cardboard, but not sharp enough to cut through the skin. We have found that the 2 flute 120° chamfer mills work best for those cuts.

What is the biggest challenge you face at the CNC machine?

Chris: Right now, we laser cut all of the outlines for the knives from a thin sheet of steel. Then the knives come to us right off the laser cutter for machining. The laser cutting does create a rough finish on some of the knives, which can make them hard to lock down when machining. This can result in some movement, which can lead to the occasional scrapped part. The laser cutter can also leave burrs at the start and stop points, or leave a scorch mark or some slag on the knives, which can make them tougher to machine.

The Zootility shop uses a lot of different equipment. How has the CNC machine in particular impacted the shop as a whole?

Chris: Our CNC machine comes in handy for a lot of different things around the shop. As I previously mentioned, we used it to create our own custom workholding, which has worked very well for us. We also used the CNC machine to create all of our forming dies, which are used to create all of our tools from scratch. As we move into more contract manufacturing for other companies, these machines will get even more use when we are working on the small batch jobs we will (hopefully) be getting.

cnc machinist


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Koenig Knives – Featured Customer

Koenig Knives is a fast-growing, Idaho-based knife manufacturer, recognized by many as one of the premier knife-making companies in the market today. Bill Koenig started the company back in 2013, using his off-days  in between his long shifts working the oil fields in North Dakota to build the business. After 3 years of exploring the craft, building a presence in the market, and saving money, Koenig was able to lease a work space, buy his first Haas machine, and start manufacturing his knives right here in America. The Koenig Knives team has now expanded to include four more employees: Krista, the Director of Operations, Cameron, the Lead Machinist, Doug in Assembly, and Todd, who works on finishing. Koenig Knives is quickly becoming known for their focus on quality, innovation, and consistency, backing all of their knives with a lifetime warranty.

We talked with both Bill and Cameron for this latest Featured Customer profile, exploring the world of CNC knifemaking, how they use High Efficiency Milling (HEM) to improve their machining efficiency, and the effect that the machining community on social media has had on their business.

koenig knives

Tell us about your business and how you got started.

Bill: Koenig Knives was started in 2013. I have always been passionate about knives, starting when I was in the Boy Scouts as a young boy. This passion turned to obsession and I went from a collector/enthusiast to a knife manufacturer in December of 2013 when we released our first batch of knives.

Originally we used an off-site manufacturer, who we worked closely with from 2013 until mid-2016. We continued to grow rapidly, and that is when I made the decision to start handling all manufacturing ourselves. We took delivery of our first machine, a Haas VF2SS, at the end of 2016. The rest is history.

What made you get into machining?

Cameron: I started as a CNC operator at an assault rifle manufacturer. After seeing raw material being machined into a beautiful, functioning gun, I decided to make machining my career and I have never looked back.

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

Cameron: We currently have two Haas VF2SS machines and an Okamoto.

Which materials do you work with in your shop?

Cameron: We work with wide range of materials, including Grade 5 Titanium, Timascus, Damascus, Carbon Fiber, Micarta, Tool Steel , 6061 Aluminum , CTS-XHP, CTS-204P, and 416 Stainless Steel.

helical chamfer mill

What sets Koenig Knives apart from the competition?

Bill: We are often asked what category we would place ourselves in, whether it be production, custom etc. I always hesitate when answering because I can’t think of a way to categorize Koenig Knives besides “high end production with custom offerings.” We have a high end production line, but we also offer the ability to order your own customized version of one of our knives. This is something that is not too common in the industry. Quality, customer service and innovation are our main goals as a company, and we feel we have done a great job hitting on all three.

What is the most challenging part of the knife-making machining process?

Cameron: I think what makes the machining process unique with our product is the fact that we use some of the most cutting edge steel alloys for our blades. It becomes more challenging because these steel alloys are constantly advancing. Finding the perfect harmony of machining parameters for some of the relatively newer steels can be a challenge at times.

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

Cameron: When part finishes are extremely crucial and there’s a high quantity of parts needed, 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.

koenig knives

What is your favorite process to work on as a machinist?

Cameron: I love everything about this career, except cleaning the coolant tank. I could do without that…

Koenig Knives has a great Instagram following. Tell us more about how the machinist social media community has helped grow your business.

Cameron: The machinist social media community has helped us connect with various knife makers all over the world. We learn from each other by sharing techniques and helpful tips, and we inspire each other by sharing our creations online. The machinist community on Instagram has been great – we would recommend any business, even the smallest job shops, to take a look at starting their own accounts.

Why is manufacturing your products in America important to you?

Bill: Buying American has always been very important to me for many reasons. The sense of supporting fellow American workers was instilled in me at a young age.  When I started Koenig Knives, I wanted to make sure everything from the screws to the boxes was made in the US.

koenig knives

Tell us about your favorite project that Helical helped to create.

Cameron: Machining the Arius blades (pictured above) has been my favorite on-going project. Once we switched to all Helical tools, it drastically improved our run times and blade finish, and created an incredible final product.

Have you used High Efficiency Milling techniques in your shop?

Cameron: Absolutely! We couldn’t do without HEM!

What advice do you have for other machinists who want to try High Efficiency Milling?

Cameron: Machining Advisor Pro is an absolute game changer when it comes to HEM, as well as for general machining solutions. The technical milling strategies and information that Helical makes available give machinists everything they need to be successful. When a machinist has a full understanding of what is taking place and what is needed to efficiently and correctly cut material, the sky is the limit.

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

Cameron: 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.

koenig knives


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Photos courtesy of Koenig Knives.

Weiss Watches – Featured Customer

Weiss Watch Company is restoring prestige to American watchmaking. They design and build timepieces with mechanical movements by hand in Los Angeles, California. Each timepiece is individually assembled in America. Their practices merge historical techniques and modern technological advances, with every process perfected by a Swiss-trained and certified American watchmaker. Weiss Watch Company strives to increase the percentage of domestic sourcing with each edition, and is the only company resurrecting industry practices that have not been active in the United States for decades.

Grant Hughson is a Manufacturing Engineer at Weiss Watch Company. Grant “lives and breathes” manufacturing, currently working in his spare time as a Manufacturing Instructor at Saddleback College. We spoke to Grant for this latest featured customer blog about the watch-making process, his experiences in the industry, and his thoughts on the state of American manufacturing.

weiss watches

What made you get into machining?

I grew up with a love for finely machined products, like watches, guns, and fishing gear. I also loved car racing, and a lot of the modifications on the cars are machined from various materials. So, from a young age, I was obsessed with the work that went into these products, and knew I wanted to be a part of the manufacturing industry.

What is your favorite part of this profession?

I love the entire manufacturing process. It always starts with a dream, or an idea. Then you take that idea and turn it into a drawing, and soon after, you’ll be modeling it. The best part is when you go to actually machine the part, and watch your original idea turn into a tangible part or product.

watchmaking

What is the most challenging part of the watch-making process?

There are a few challenging parts of the watch-making process, starting with the super-tight tolerances. Surface finish is also extremely important, and can be difficult to nail. Many surface finishes in watchmaking are visual, so roughness can be deceiving. We also were forced to design all of our workholding from scratch, as nothing currently existed in the market that would work for our machining process.

You mentioned your tight tolerances. What tolerances do you typically work in?

My tolerances are in the tenths. The holes that hold the jewels (watch bearings) are +0.0002, -0.

weiss watches

What sort of machines do you have in your shop?

We have a 3 axis vertical milling machine and a 9 axis Swiss style lathe in the shop.

What type of materials do you work in?

We work in steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and titanium every day. It is a wide variety, but it keeps things interesting!

How have Harvey Tool products impacted your overall shop performance?

Harvey Tools have been great tools for me. I do a lot of prototype work, and constantly need odd sized tools or specialty profiles to finish a job. Thankfully, the Harvey Tool selection is HUGE. Somehow you guys always have what I need!

Tell us about your favorite project that Harvey Tools helped to create.

I love what I do everyday, so my favorite project is an ongoing one; making watches!

watchmaking tools

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

It’s a must! 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.

What is your favorite process to work on as a machinist?

I really enjoy fixture design. Holding small parts for fixture design is an art! If it’s too tight, they’re smashed. If it’s too loose, see you later; your part is gone!

As a manufacturing engineer, I also enjoy the programming aspect of CNC machining. Being able to program the toolpaths and turn my programming skills into tangible parts is why I got into this business.

weiss watches

If you were stranded on a desert island with only one Harvey Tool or Helical tool, which would it be, and why?

It would have to be the Harvey 1/4″  30° engraving tool. I could mount it to the end of a stick. It would make for a hell of a spear!

Why is manufacturing products in America important to you?

Manufacturing products in America is a crucial part of the success and security of our business. When someone else makes your parts, its not hard for them to make a competing product. Making everything on-site keeps our proprietary information safe.

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

Ask a lot of questions and never stop learning. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. If you consider yourself a maker or inventor, it’s the only place to be! Manufacturing is awesome, and anyone who tells you different is on the way out. Keep up the good work, and keep manufacturing your products in America!

weiss watches

Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Photos courtesy of Weiss Watch Company.

KeyBar – Featured Customer

KeyBar® is a manufacturing company based in Savannah, Georgia that prides itself on American-made products. Mike Taylor, the CEO, Owner, and Founder of KeyBar®, first got the idea for this company while working as the chief engineer at an upscale hotel in Savannah, Georgia. As a part of this position, he carried around countless keys attached to his belt. One day he realized that there must be an easier way to carry his keys, so that they made less noise and were easier to access. Mike used a multi-tool daily, and it occurred to him that he could apply the same concept to keys to create the KeyBar®, a patented key organizer that promises to “Stop the Noise”® of jangling keys, kill the clutter of a handful of keys, and make the key ring obsolete.

In 2014, Mike and his wife, Jessica, left their full-time jobs to take a chance on their new business, and it paid off. Mike, now 34, has built a thriving online store, retailers all over the country are carrying KeyBars, and they have an entire team of employees working at their Savannah, Georgia machine shop; quite the achievement for a young entrepreneur.

KeyBar® also offers other products, including the newly released Quick-Draw, which is a revolver-inspired, rotating desktop pen holder that recently raised over $25,000 in a Kickstarter campaign.

keybar

KeyBars are made of many different materials, ranging from aluminum and copper to brass, titanium, and carbon fiber, and end mills from Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions play a crucial part in the creation of each one.

We spoke with Mike for this Featured Customer profile, and talked about his experiences starting his own shop and the way Harvey Tool and Helical products have impacted his shop’s overall performance.

What made you get into machining?

We actually started manufacturing KeyBars by outsourcing our parts to some of my machinist friends. After watching several YouTube videos, I decided that machining our own parts in-house was something I wanted to achieve. I am new to machining, so every day is a challenge. I am truly learning as I go, but I learn more every single day in the shop and every day is a huge payoff.

Would you recommend a career as a machinist to young people trying to find a career path?

Absolutely! In this day and age of smart phones and computers, young people would be great in CNC machining and manufacturing.

How did you first hear about the Harvey Tool & Helical brands?

I first heard about both Harvey Tool and Helical from your Instagram pages. KeyBar® really took off when I started posting the finished product on Instagram, so I have always been an active user and firm believer in the power of social media.

keybar

What made you decide to go with these brands for your cutting tool needs?

I was told that Harvey made the best tool for cutting carbon fiber, which we do a lot of while manufacturing KeyBars, so it was a no-brainer.

How easy was the purchase process?

With only a quick email or phone call, I usually have my tools within 1-2 days, which is important for us to keep up our production and never lose a single second of time in the shop waiting for a tool.

Did you receive any help from our customer service teams? How was that experience?

It was great. I needed some initial speeds and feeds for all my composites, and in just a few minutes they had me all squared away. Time is money, and the customer service team saved me lots of time when we first started working with composite materials.

Tell us about your favorite product that Harvey Tool or Helical products helped to create.

We are currently producing a run of custom KeyBars with inlays. The Harvey end mills for composite materials allowed us to achieve a perfect fit and made the project a success.

keybar

What is your favorite operation to work on with Helical end mills?

I really like working on 1/4″ roughing passes with a Helical chipbreaker.

What was your first impression of these brands’ tools?

“Damn! That worked pretty good!”

You use a lot of Harvey Tool miniature drills in your work. Why is high quality drill performance important to you?

We drill a lot of holes, and every second counts in production. Most importantly, being able to depend on a tool and get consistent results is worth more than anything else.

How have the Harvey Tool and Helical products impacted your overall performance?

I never have to worry about getting a less than superior finish on our composite products. Harvey Tool products do an excellent job with composite materials– like I said, this is a huge part of our manufacturing process and so it is very important to our performance.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only one Harvey Performance tool, which would it be, and why?

I would choose the Harvey Tool 933316-C6 (1/4″ Corner Radius End Mill for Hardened Steels up to 55 Rc) because you never know what you are going to run in to, and there isn’t much that a 1/4″ end mill can’t do!

keybar

Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Photos courtesy of KeyBar

3 Ways to Help Solve the Machinist Shortage

The manufacturing industry is on the rise, but there is a shortage in the workforce that is limiting the abilities of machine shops to find great talent and fulfill their needs. As manufacturing continues to move back to the US, the shortage will only grow larger. With nearly 70% of the machinist workforce over the age of 45, there has to be an injection of youth in the industry over the next 20 years to keep American manufacturing alive and well. Currently employed machinists are the best source to encourage today’s youth to join the profession, so the community will be an integral part of solving this machinist shortage.

1. Reach Out and Get Involved

The best thing machinists can do to make an immediate impact is to begin reaching out to their local communities, sharing their craft with families and students in the area. If we want to solve the machinist shortage, we have to get students excited about the industry. One great way to get students interested is to hold an open house at your machine shop and open your doors to local schools for visits. Since machining is a very visual craft, students will appreciate seeing finished projects in-person and watching the machines at work. Shops could also open their doors to vocational schools and have a “Career Night,” where students who are interested in the trades can come with their families and learn more about what it is like to be a machinist. It is important to get the families of interested youth involved, as colleges will do the same at their open houses, and it gives the family a better sense of where they may be sending their son or daughter after graduation.

machinist shortage

As great as it is to get students and families inside the machine shop, it is equally important for machinists to branch out and attend career days at local schools, as the trades are often underrepresented at these events. Bringing in a few recent projects and videos or photos of more advanced machining processes will be sure to open a few eyes, and might inspire a student who had never considered machining to do some research on the profession.

2. Join Communities on Social Media

According to a report from the Pew Internet Research Center, 92% of high school students use social media daily – a staggering number that must be taken into consideration when it comes to inspiring the younger generations. One easy way machinists can share their work is by using social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Instagram in particular has a great community of machinists, who are constantly sharing videos, tips and tricks, photos of their finished work, and talking to each other about best practices. Many machinist-related Instagram accounts have thousands of followers, and every machine shop should be jumping on this trend not only for their own marketing efforts, but also to get in front of the younger audience present in that space.

machinist shortage

Machinists love sharing their work with the community on social media, like this example from Reboot Engineering (@rebooteng) on Instagram.

If Instagram is not an option, there are several Facebook groups with tens of thousands of machinists talking about the trade, and quite a few influential machinists on YouTube who have substantial followings and are working to raise awareness about their trade. The machinist community on Twitter is smaller than the others, but it is growing and could be a valuable resource going forward.

3. Share Your Knowledge

New machinists will be more likely to embrace the profession and stick around if they are welcomed with open arms and in-depth, hands-on training from the senior machinists in a shop. This will decrease turnover, and keep younger machinists connected to the trade from the start. A machine shop full of veteran machinists can be an intimidating environment for a new hire, so this is a vital step in solving the machinist shortage.

It is also a great idea to share knowledge and stories with younger relatives. Nieces and nephews, younger cousins, grandchildren, and sons and daughters may find inspiration to follow in the footsteps of someone they look up to, but they’ll never know unless those experiences are shared with them.

If you already know someone who is considering a career as a machinist, share our “How to Become a Machinist” blog post with them, which is a great resource for all machine shops looking to hire young talent. This article could be handed out at open houses, career days, or school visits, and is part of Harvey Performance Company’s ongoing effort to improve the manufacturing industry and help solve the machinist shortage.

You can also share our new infographic, which outlines the current state of the industry, and provides a visual representation of how you can help solve this shortage as a current machinist. Use the hashtag #PlungeIntoMachining and share to your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages to help us start a movement!

Solving the Machinist Shortage