Posts

Featured Customer: New Dublin Ship Fittings

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

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

How did you start New Dublin Ship Fittings?

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

Where did your passion for marine hardware come from?

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

What can be found in your shop?

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

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

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

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

Why is high-quality tooling important to you?

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

What Micro 100 Tools are you currently using?

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

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

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

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

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

5 Things to Know About Helical’s High Feed End Mills

Helical Solutions‘ High Feed End Mills provide many opportunities for machinists, and feature a special end profile to increase machining efficiencies. A High Feed End Mill is a High Efficiency Milling (HEM) style tool with specialized end geometry that utilizes chip thinning, allowing for drastically increased feed rates in certain applications. While standard end mills have square, corner radius, or ball profiles, this Helical tool has a specialized, very specific design that takes advantage of chip thinning, resulting in a tool that can be pushed harder than a traditional end mill.

Below are 5 things that all machinists should know about this exciting Helical Solutions product offering.

1. They excel in applications with light axial depths of cut

A High Feed End Mill is designed to take a large radial depth of cut (65% to 100% of the cutter diameter) with a small axial depth of cut (2.5% to 5% diameter) depending on the application. This makes High Feed End Mills perfect for face milling, roughing, slotting, deep pocketing, and 3D milling. Where HEM toolpaths involve light radial depths of cut and heavy axial depths of cut, High Feed End Mills utilize high radial depths of cut and smaller axial depths of cut.

2. This tool reduces radial cutting forces

The end profile of a High Feed End Mill is designed to direct cutting forces upward along the axis of the tool and into the spindle. This reduces radial cutting forces which cause deflection, allowing for longer reach tools while reducing chatter and other issues that may otherwise lead to tool failure. The reduction of radial cutting forces makes this tool excellent for use in machines with lower horsepower, and in thin wall machining applications.

3. High Feed End Mills are rigid tools

The design and short length of cut of High Feed End Mills work in tandem with the end geometry to produce a tool with a strong core, further limiting deflection and allowing for tools with greater reach lengths.

4. They can reduce cycle times

In high RDOC, low ADOC applications, High Feed End Mills can be pushed significantly faster than traditional end mills, saving time and money over the life of the tool.

5. High Feed End Mills are well suited for hard materials

The rigidity and strength of High Feed End Mills make them excellent in challenging to machine materials. Helical’s High Feed End Mills come coated with Tplus coating, which offers high hardness and extended tool life in high temp alloys and ferrous materials up to 45Rc.

In summary, High Feed End Mill tools with specialized end geometry that utilizes chip thinning and light axial depths of cut to allow for significantly increased feed rates in face milling, slotting, roughing, deep pocket milling, and 3D milling applications. The end profile of a High Feed End Mill applies cutting forces back up into the spindle, reducing radial forces that lead to deflection in long reach applications. Combining this end geometry with a stubby length of cut results in a tool that is incredibly rigid and well suited for harder, difficult to machine materials.

Benefits & Drawbacks of High and Low Helix Angles

While many factors impact the outcome of a machining operation, one often overlooked factor is the cutting tool’s helix angle. The Helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge.

A higher helix angle, usually 40° or more, will wrap around the tool “faster,” while a “slower” helix angle is usually less than 40°.

When choosing a tool for a machining operation, machinists often consider the material, the tooling dimensions and the flute count. The helix angle must also be considered to contribute to efficient chip evacuation, better part finish, prolonged tool life, and reduced cycle times.

Helix Angles Rule of Thumb

One general rule of thumb is that as the helix angle increases, the length of engagement along the cutting edge will decrease. That said,
there are many benefits and drawbacks to slow and high helix angles that can impact any machining operation.

Slow Helix Tool <40°

Benefits

  • Enhanced Strength – A larger core creates a strong tool that can resist deflection, or the force that will bend a tool under pressure.
  • Reduced Lifting – A slow helix will decrease a part from lifting off of the worktable in settings that are less secure.
  • Larger Chip Evacuation – The slow helix allows the tool to create a large chip, great for hogging out material.

Drawbacks

  • Rough Finish – A slow helix end mill takes a large chip, but can sometimes struggle to evacuate the chip. This inefficiency can result in a sub-par part finish.
  • Slower Feed Rate – The increased radial force of a slow helix end mill requires running the end mill at a slower feed rate.

High Helix Tool >40°

Benefits

  • Lower Radial Force – The tool will run quieter and smoother due to better shearing action, and allow for less deflection and more stability in thin wall applications.
  • Efficient Chip Evacuation – As the helix angle increases, the length of cutting edge engagement will decrease, and the axial force will increase. This lifts chips out and away, resulting in efficient chip evacuation.
  • Improved Part Finish – With lower radial forces, high helix tools are able to cut through material much more easily with a better shearing action, leaving an improved surface finish.

Drawbacks

  • Weaker Cutting Teeth – With a higher helix, the teeth of a tool will be thinner, and therefore thinner.
  • Deflection Risk – The smaller teeth of the high helix tool will increase the risk of deflection, or the force that will bend a tool under pressure. This limits how fast you can push high helix tools.
  • Increased Risk of Tool Failure – If deflection isn’t properly managed, this can result in a poor finish quality and tool failure.

Helix Angle: An Important Decision

In summary, a machinist must consider many factors when choosing tools for each application. Among the material, the finish requirements, and acceptable run times, a machinist must also consider the helix angle of each tool being used. A slow helix end mill will allow for larger chip formation, increased tool strength and reduce lifting forces. However, it may not leave an excellent finish. A high helix end mill will allow for efficient chip evacuation and excellent part finish, but may be subject to increased deflection, which can lead to tool breakage if not properly managed.

High Efficiency Milling for Titanium Made Easy With Helical’s New HVTI Cutter

Titanium is a notoriously difficult material to machine, especially in aggressive toolpaths, such as those associated with High Efficiency Milling (HEM). Helical Solutions’ new line of tooling, the HVTI-6 series of end mills, is optimized specifically for this purpose, and proven to provide 20% more tool life than a competitor’s similar tool.

At face level, these new Helical end mills feature corner radius geometry, 6 flutes, and are Aplus coated for optimal tool life and increased cutting performance. But there is much more to these end mills than the typical geometry of standard 6 flute tools. The HVTI-6 was designed with a combination of a unique rake, core, and edge design that give it a leg up over standard 6 flute tools for Titanium while cutting HEM toolpaths. Click here to watch the HVTI-6 in action!

End Mills for Titanium

The design of the HVTI-6 was the result of significant testing by the Harvey Performance Company Innovation and New Product Development teams. These teams spent many months testing tools, doing in-depth analysis on materials and tool geometry, and pushing these tools through dozens of hours in the cut at testing sites across the country.

The new HVTI-6 cutter experienced higher metal removal rates (MRR) and 20% longer tool life while performing HEM in Titanium when compared to a standard 6 flute tool offered by a Helical Solutions competitor. This type of tool life improvement will produce huge cost savings on tooling, as well as shortened cycle times and lower cost per part.

Helical HVTI Titanium

The Harvey Performance Innovation team targeted Titanium grade Ti6Al4V for their testing, which accounts for the vast majority of the Titanium being machined in North America. The test part was designed and programmed to allow for a more defined agility test of the tool, taking the tool into key geometry cutting exercises like tight corners, long straight line cuts, and rapid movement.

Many hours were spent with Lyndex-Nikken, manufacturers of high-quality rotary tables, tool holders, and machining accessories, at their Chicago headquarters. By working with the team at Lyndex-Nikken, the Harvey Performance Company team was able to test under optimal conditions with top-of-the-line tool holders, work holding, and machining centers. Lyndex was also available to provide their expert support on tool holding techniques and were an integral part of the testing process for these tools. Video of the impressive test cuts taken at the Lyndex facility can be seen below.

WATCH THE HVTI IN ACTION

In these tests, the HVTI was able to run HEM toolpaths at 400 SFM and 120 IPM in Ti6Al4V, which served as the baseline for most of the testing.

While the standard 6 flute tools offered by Helical will still perform to high standards in Titanium and other hard materials (steels, exotic metals, cast iron), the HVTI-6 is a specialized, material-specific tool designed specifically for HEM toolpaths in Titanium. Advanced speeds and feeds for these new tools are already available in Machining Advisor Pro, and the complete offering is now available in the Helical CAM tool libraries for easy programming.

To learn more about the HVTI 6 Flute End Mills for Titanium, please visit the Helical Solutions website. To learn more about HEM techniques, download the HEM Guidebook for a complete guide on this advanced toolpath.

Simplify Your Cutting Tool Orders

With the launch of the new Helical Solutions website, Harvey Performance Company is proud to introduce a new way to order Helical cutting tools. Now, users of our new website are able to send a “shopping cart” of Helical tools they’re interested in directly to their distributor to place an order, or share it with a colleague. Let’s dive into the details about this functionality and learn how you can take advantage of the time savings associated with sending a “shopping cart” to your distributor for simplified ordering.

Get Started with a HelicalTool.com Account

First, you must create an account on HelicalTool.com. Having an account on the Helical website allows you to save and edit “shopping carts,” which can be sent to a distributor to place an order; choose a preferred distributor; auto-fill your information in any important forms; and to manage your shipping information.

Create Helical Account

 

Now that you have an account, it is time to start creating your first “shopping cart.”

Creating a “Shopping Cart”

To begin creating a new shopping cart, simply click on the “My Carts” text in the top right menu. This will take you to the management portal, where you can add a new “shopping cart” by selecting “Create New Shopping Cart.”

Helical Solutions Order

Once complete, you can name your “shopping cart” anything you would like. One example might be creating a collection of tools for each of your jobs, or for different machines in the shop. In this case, we will name it “Aluminum Roughing Job.” You can create as many different “shopping carts” as you would like; they’ll never be removed from your account unless you choose to delete them, allowing you to go back to past tooling orders whenever you’d like.

Helical Solutions Website

Now that you have a “shopping cart” created, it is time to start adding tools to it!

Adding Tools to Your “Shopping Cart”

There are multiple ways to add tooling to your “shopping cart,” but the easiest method is by heading to a product table. In this example, we will be adding tooling from our 3 Flute, Corner Radius – 35° Helix product line. We want to add a quantity of 5 of EDP #59033 to our “shopping cart.” To do this, simply click on the “Add To Cart” icon located in the table row next to pricing and tool descriptions. This will open up a small window where we can manage our selection. The first step will be to choose which “shopping cart” we want to add this tool to, so we will select our “Aluminum Roughing Job” collection.

Helical Online Ordering

Since this tool is offered uncoated and Zplus coated, we need to select which option we would like from the drop down menu. For this example, we will select the Zplus coated tool. Now, we simply need to update our quantity to “5”, and click “Add To Cart.” That tool will now appear in your “shopping cart” in the quantity selected.

If you need more information on a tool, you can click on an EDP number to be brought to the tool details page, where you can also add that EDP to your collection.

If you know the EDP number you need and want to check stock levels, use our Check Stock feature to check quantities on hand, and then add the tools to your “shopping cart” right from the Check Stock page.

check stock

Now, it is time to send the “shopping cart” to place an order with your distributor!

Placing An Order With Your Distributor

Once you have completed adding tools to your “shopping cart,” navigate back to the My Carts page to review it. From here, you can update quantities, see list pricing, and access valuable resources.

On the right side of the My Cart screen, you will see an option to “Send to Distributor.” Click on the text to expand the drop down. If you have previously added a preferred distributor from your account page and they are participating in our Shopping Cart Program, you will see their information in this area.

If you have not yet selected a preferred distributor, select “Update My Distributor.” This will bring you to a new page where you can select your state and see all participating distributors in your area. Select one distributor as your preferred distributor, and then head back to the My Cart page.

Now that you have a distributor selected, you can do a final review of the “shopping cart,” and then simply click “Send Cart.” This will send an email order directly to your distributor with all of your shipping information, your list of tools and requested quantities, and your contact information. You will also receive a copy of this email for your records.

Helical Distributor

Within 1 business day, the distributor will follow up with you to confirm the order, process payment, and get the tools shipped out and on the way to your shop. No more phone calls or emails – just a single click, and your order is in the hands of our distributor partners.

To get started with this exciting new way to shop for Helical cutting tools, click here to begin creating an account on HelicalTool.com!

How Boring Bar Geometries Impact Cutting Operations

Boring is a turning operation that allows a machinist to make a pre-existing hole bigger through multiple iterations of internal boring. It has a number of advantages over traditional drilling methods:

  • The ability to cost-effectively produce a hole outside standard drill sizes
  • The creation of more precise holes, and therefore tighter tolerances
  • A greater finish quality
  • The opportunity to create multiple dimensions within the bore itself

 

Solid carbide boring bars, such as those offered by Micro 100,  have a few standard dimensions that give the tool basic functionality in removing material from an internal bore. These include:

Minimum Bore Diameter (D1): The minimum diameter of a hole for the cutting end of the tool to completely fit inside without making contact at opposing sides

Maximum Bore Depth (L2): Maximum depth that the tool can reach inside a hole without contact from the shank portion

Shank Diameter (D2): Diameter of the portion of the tool in contact with the tool holder

Overall Length (L1): Total length of the tool

Centerline Offset (F): The distance between a tool’s tip and the shank’s centerline axis

Tool Selection

In order to minimize tool deflection and therefore risk of tool failure, it is important to choose a tool with a max bore depth that is only slightly larger than the length it is intended to cut. It is also beneficial to maximize the boring bar and shank diameter as this will increase the rigidity of the tool. This must be balanced with leaving enough room for chips to evacuate. This balance ultimately comes down to the material being bored. A harder material with a lower feed rate and depths of cut may not need as much space for chips to evacuate, but may require a larger and more rigid tool. Conversely, a softer material with more aggressive running parameters will need more room for chip evacuation, but may not require as rigid of a tool.

Geometries

In addition, they have a number of different geometric features in order to adequately handle the three types of forces acting upon the tool during this machining process. During a standard boring operation, the greatest of these forces is tangential, followed by feed (sometimes called axial), and finally radial. Tangential force acts perpendicular to the rake surface and pushes the tool away from the centerline. Feed force does not cause deflection, but pushes back on the tool and acts parallel to the centerline. Radial force pushes the tool towards the center of the bore.

 

Defining the Geometric Features of Boring Bars:

Nose Radius: the roundness of a tool’s cutting point

Side Clearance (Radial Clearance): The angle measuring the tilt of the nose relative to the axis parallel to the centerline of the tool

End Clearance (Axial Clearance): The angle measuring the tilt of the end face relative to the axis running perpendicular to the centerline of the tool

Side Rake Angle: The angle measuring the sideways tilt of the side face of the tool

Back Rake Angle: The angle measuring the degree to which the back face is tilted in relation to the centerline of the workpiece

Side Relief Angle: The angle measuring how far the bottom face is tilted away from the workpiece

End Relief Angle: The angle measuring the tilt of the end face relative to the line running perpendicular to the center axis of the tool

Effects of Geometric Features on Cutting Operations:

Nose Radius: A large nose radius makes more contact with the workpiece, extending the life of the tool and the cutting edge as well as leaving a better finish. However, too large of a radius will lead to chatter as the tool is more exposed to tangential and radial cutting forces.

Another way this feature affects the cutting action is in determining how much of the cutting edge is struck by tangential force. The magnitude of this effect is largely dependent on the feed and depth of cut. Different combinations of depth of cuts and nose angles will result in either shorter or longer lengths of the cutting edge being exposed to the tangential force. The overall effect being the degree of edge wear. If only a small portion of the cutting edge is exposed to a large force it would be worn down faster than if a longer portion of the edge is succumb to the same force. This phenomenon also occurs with the increase and decrease of the end cutting edge angle.

End Cutting Edge Angle: The main purpose of the end cutting angle is for clearance when cutting in the positive Z direction (moving into the hole). This clearance allows the nose radius to be the main point of contact between the tool and the workpiece. Increasing the end cutting edge angle in the positive direction decreases the strength of the tip, but also decreases feed force. This is another situation where balance of tip strength and cutting force reduction must be found. It is also important to note that the angle may need to be changed depending on the type of boring one is performing.

Side Rake Angle: The nose angle is one geometric dimension that determines how much of the cutting edge is hit by tangential force but the side rake angle determines how much that force is redistributed into radial force. A positive rake angle means a lower tangential cutting force as allows for a greater amount of shearing action. However, this angle cannot be too great as it compromises cutting edge integrity by leaving less material for the nose angle and side relief angle.

Back Rake Angle: Sometimes called the top rake angle, the back rake angle for solid carbide boring bars is ground to help control the flow of chips cut on the end portion of the tool. This feature cannot have too sharp of a positive angle as it decreases the tools strength.

Side and End Relief Angles: Like the end cutting edge angle, the main purpose of the side and end relief angles are to provide clearance so that the tools non-cutting portion doesn’t rub against the workpiece. If the angles are too small then there is a risk of abrasion between the tool and the workpiece. This friction leads to increased tool wear, vibration and poor surface finish. The angle measurements will generally be between 0° and 20°.

Boring Bar Geometries Summarized

Boring bars have a few overall dimensions that allow for the boring of a hole without running the tool holder into the workpiece, or breaking the tool instantly upon contact. Solid carbide boring bars have a variety of angles that are combined differently to distribute the 3 types of cutting forces in order to take full advantage of the tool. Maximizing tool performance requires the combination of choosing the right tool along with the appropriate feed rate, depth of cut and RPM. These factors are dependent on the size of the hole, amount of material that needs to be removed, and mechanical properties of the workpiece.

 

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.


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

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.

Workholding Styles & Considerations

Machinists have a number of variables to consider when setting up workholding devices for a machining operation. When it comes to workholding, there are some major differences between holding a loosely toleranced duplicate part with a 10-minute cycle time and holding a tightly toleranced specialized part with a 10-hour cycle time. Determining which method works best for your machining job is essential to maintaining an efficient operation.

Workholding Devices

Ideal workholding devices have easily repeatable setups. For this reason, some machines have standard workholding devices. Vises are generally used with milling machines while chucks or collets are used when running a lathe machine. Sometimes, a part may need a customized workholding setup in order to secure the piece properly during machining. Fixtures and jigs are examples of customized workholding devices.

Fixtures and Jigs

A jig is a work holding device that holds, supports and locates a workpiece and guides the cutting tool into a specific operation (usually through the use of one or more bushings). A fixture is essentially the same type of device, but the main difference is that it does not guide the cutting tool into a specified operation. Fixtures are typically used in milling operations while jigs are generally used in drilling, reaming, tapping and boring. Jigs and fixtures are more precise relative to standard workholding devices, which leads to tighter tolerances. They can also be indexable, allowing them to control the cutting tool movement as well as workpiece movement. Both jigs and fixtures are made up of the same basic components: fixture bodies, locators, supports, and clamps.

The 4 Fixture Bodies

There are 4 basic types of fixture bodies: faceplates, baseplates, angle plates, and tombstones.

Faceplates: Typically used in lathe operations, where components are secured to the faceplate and then mounted onto the spindle.

Baseplates: Common in milling and drilling operations and are mounted to the worktable.

Angle plates: Two plates perpendicular to each other but some are adjustable or customized to change the angle of the workpiece.

Tombstones: Large vertically oriented rectangular fixtures that orients a workpiece perpendicular to the worktable. Tombstones also have two sides to accommodate multiple parts.

workholding

Locators

Locators are characterized by four criteria: assembled, integral, fixed, and adjustable. Assembled locators, can be attached and removed from the fixture, which is contrary to integral locators that are built into the fixture. Fixed locators allow for no moving components, while adjustable locators permit movement through the use of threads and/or springs, and can adjust to a workpiece’s size. These can be combined to provide the appropriate rigidity-assembly convenience ratio. For example, a V-locator fixture is the combination of assembled and fixed locators. It can be secured to a fixture but has no moving components.

workholding

Supports

Supports do exactly what their name suggests, they support the workpiece during the machining process to avoid workpiece deformation. These components can double as locators and also come fixed, adjustable and integral, or assembled. Generally, supports are placed under the workpiece during manufacturing but this also depends on the geometry of the workpiece, the machine being operated and where the cutting tool will make contact. Supports can come in different shapes and sizes. For example, rest buttons are smaller support components used in series either from underneath the workpiece or from the sides. Concurrently, parallel supports are placed on either side of the part to provide general support.

workholding

Clamps

Clamps are devices used for strengthening or holding things together, and come in different shapes, sizes and strengths. Vises and chucks have movable jaws and are considered standard clamps. One atypical example is the toggle clamp, which has a pivot pin that acts as a fulcrum for a lever system. One of the more convenient types is a power clamping system. There are two type of power clamping methods: hydraulic and pneumatic.

workholding

Example of a standard fixture setup.

Hydraulic Systems

Hydraulic Systems create a gripping force by attaining power from compressing a liquid. This type of power clamp is generally used with larger workpieces as it usually takes up less space relative to pneumatic clamps.

Pneumatic clamps

Pneumatic clamps attain their gripping force from the power created by a compressed gas (usually air). These systems are generally bulkier and are used for smaller workpieces that require less room on the worktable. Power clamping offers a few advantages over conventional clamping. First, these systems can be activated and deactivated quickly to save on changeover time. Second, they place uniform pressure on the part, which help prevent errors and deformation. A significant disadvantage they pose is the cost of a system but this can be quickly offset by production time saved.

Key Guidelines to Follow

Lastly, there are a few guidelines to follow when choosing the appropriate fixture or jig setup.

Ensure Proper Tolerancing

The tolerances of the workholding device being used should be 20%-50% tighter than those of the workpiece.

Utilize Acceptable Locating & Supporting Pieces

Locating and supporting pieces should be made of a hardened material to prevent wear and allow for several uses without the workpieces they support falling out of tolerance. Supports and locators should also be standardized so that they can be easily replaced.

Place Clamps in Correct Locations

Clamps should be placed above the locations of supports to allow the force of the clamp to pass into the support without deforming the workpiece. Clamps, locators and supports should also be placed to distribute cutting forces as evenly as possible throughout the part. The setup should allow for easy clamping and not require much change over time

Maximize Machining Flexibility

The design of the fixture or jigs should maximize the amount of operations that can be performed in one orientation. During the machining operation, the setup should be rigid and stable.

Bottom Line

Workholding can be accomplished in a number of different ways and accomplish the same task of successfully gripping a part during a machining operation with the end result being in tolerance. The quality of this workholding may differ greatly as some setups will be more efficient than others. For example, there is no reason to create an elaborate jig for creating a small slot down the center of a rectangular brick of aluminum; a vise grip would work just fine. Maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of an operators’ workholding setup will boost productivity by saving on changeover, time as well as cost of scrapped, out of tolerance parts.

Form Factory – Featured Customer

Form Factory is a machine shop located in Portland, Oregon focused primarily on prototype work, taking 3D CAD models and making them a physical reality through CNC precision machining. Over the past 14 years, Form Factory has grown from a one man operation with a single CNC mill into a highly respected shop in the Northwest US, making prototype models for clients all over the world. Harvey Tool customers may recognize the name Form Factory from their photo on the front cover of the Fall 2018 Catalog, as they were the first place winners of the #MachineTheImpossible Catalog Cover Contest!

We talked with Brian Ross, Founder/Owner of Form Factory, to learn about how he suggests entrepreneurs and inventors think about prototyping their ideas, his unique experience working on many different models, his winning part in the #MachineTheImpossible contest, and more!

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us for this Featured Customer post. To get started, tell us a little bit about Form Factory, how you got started, and what sort of products you manufacture.

Prior to starting my own business, I had worked as a machinist at 4 different prototyping firms which is where I learned the trade and got the itch to run my own shop. I started Form Factory myself just over 14 years ago with a single Haas VF1. I had no client base and a bunch of loans. It was a scary time for me to jump in to entrepreneurship. Now, we have three CNC machines, various other components and machines, and four full-time employees.

At Form Factory we focus primarily on industrial design models and prototypes. We do a lot of work in the electronics industry, making prototypes of cell phones, laptops, printers, and other consumer electronics. Many of our models are created for display at trade shows or in Kickstarter and other product announcement videos, but we also do a fair share of working prototypes as well. It all depends on what the client wants, and we pride ourselves on the ability to deliver exactly what they need.

form factory

What sort of machines and software do you use in your shop?

We currently have 3 CNC mills – a Haas VF1, Haas VF2, and Haas VF3. We like using machines made in the USA because we like making products in the USA. Haas is what I knew and had run predominantly, and Haas is fairly common in the Northwest so it was easier to find skilled employees in the area who knew these machines well.

We use Mastercam for our CAM software, which is what I learned on. It also seems to be very common in this area which makes for an easy transition for new employees.

form factory

What were some of the keys to success as you built Form Factory from the ground up?

I based much of Form Factory’s business model on my past experiences in manufacturing. Many of the other small companies I had worked for ended up closing, even though the guys on the shop floor would be working lots of overtime and we had plenty of business. What I realized was that these other places often closed because of greed, over-expansion, and rapid growth which they could not sustain. They ended up overextending themselves and they could not keep the doors open as a result.

I like the spot I am in now because while we can certainly expand, we have found a happy medium. We have kept our customers happy and consistently deliver parts on time, so we get a lot of repeat business. Being a small company, word of mouth is one of our only forms of marketing. 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.

form factory

Working Prototype of a “Smart Ball” Charger for Adidas

Prototype manufacturing is a very competitive segment of this industry. What sets Form Factory apart from the competition?

Understanding how model making relates to industrial design separates us from a typical machine shop. We can take a prototype design or simple drawing and we are able to implement all of the functionality into a prototype model. We do not deal much with the actual production run, which will come later, so we have the ability to focus more on the prototype and a customer’s exact needs to get a product off the ground. This level of expertise and focus sets us apart from your typical shop.

For example, if the model is for photography purposes, a trade show display, or a promotional video, appearance will be key. We will spend more time working on building what we consider to be a true work of art; something that will immediately stand out to the consumer, but may lack in complete functionality. If the client requires a fully functioning prototype, we will spend more time making sure that all of the components work as intended over multiple stages of design. The final result may be a bit “uglier” than a prototype designed for appearance alone, but it will work as intended.

Let’s say I have an idea for a new product. What should I know about getting my design manufactured?

Right now, especially with 3D printing and cheap overseas manufacturing, it can seem very easy to prototype a new product. However, these options are not always the best route to take to get a quality prototype. With 3D printing, you get a huge step down in resolution and quality, although you can save in cost. You can also save on cost by having things made overseas, but the communication can easily breakdown and the quality is often lower. The other factor is that virtually anyone can end up copying your product overseas and you have very little protection against that.

form factory

By going with a local machine shop and sticking with CNC-machined parts, you are guaranteed to get a higher quality finished product with better communication. We do a ton of back and forth communication with our clients to understand their exact design intent. With a prototype, there are often a lot of blanks that need to be filled in to completely understand the product, and we do our best to communicate with the client to deliver the perfect piece, and always on time. Sure, your cost may be higher, but the entire process will be smoother and the time saved on revisions or scrapping poor quality prototypes is invaluable.

It sounds like you guys take a lot of pride in the work you do, which is great!

Absolutely! Our models are all one of a kind works of art. We can take things from the early stages where a client might have an idea drawn on a napkin, all the way to a fully functional piece.

Our goal is always to make parts look like they grew that way. In my opinion, taking a solid block of material and making it into a finished part is truly a work of art. We work hard to determine where the burrs are, what the radiuses are, and how the finish should look, amongst many other variables. We take a lot of pride in the finished appearance and want everyone in the shop to produce the same level of quality as their co-workers. We hold all ourselves and our work to very high standards.

form factory

Finished Laptop Display Models

How has the online machinist community helped your business/changed your thinking/helped you grow as a machinist/business owner?

I follow tons of great machinists and other companies on Instagram.  It’s funny how quick you can get an idea from a simple picture or short video of another project somebody else is working on.  I love machining because after 25 years, I am still learning so much every day.  The machines, the software, and the tooling are changing so fast its hard to keep up.  Every day I see something on Instagram that makes me say “Oh WOW!” or “Hey, I can do my part that way!”  I was machining before there was an internet, so I really appreciate having an on-line community, and body of knowledge to draw from. You can find us on Instagram @FormFactory!

We loved the ball in chain part you created for our #MachineTheImpossible Fall 2018 Catalog Cover contest, and so did our followers, as they voted you into first place. Tell us a little more about that part.

So that piece was something I had been wanting to try for a while to challenge myself. It was not a part for a customer or part of a job, but simply a practice in more complex machining. The entire part was actually machined from one solid piece of aluminum on a 3 axis mill. With some clever fixturing and a few setups, I was able to make it work!

machine the impossible

Harvey Tool’s Tapered and Long Reach End Mills played a huge part in the creation. There would have been no way for me to get at those impossible angles or hard to reach areas without the multiple available dimensions and angles that you guys offer. In total, that piece took me about 20 hours, but it was a great piece to learn with and it definitely paid off in the end! As a small business, getting that exposure and marketing from being on your catalog cover was huge, and we appreciate the opportunity you gave us and the entire machinist community.

To a small business like yours, what did it mean to you to be highlighted on the Fall 2018 catalog cover?

I found out we had won when one of my customer’s emailed me congratulations! I was blown away! Even to be chosen as a finalist was exciting. The Harvey Tool Catalog is the ONE catalog we always have around the shop at the ready. I have been a Harvey fan for two decades, so making the cover of the catalog was pretty awesome!

In your career, how has Harvey Tool helped you #MachineTheImpossible?

Being able to overnight tools straight to the shop on a moment’s notice has saved us too many times to count. Harvey Tool makes some of the most impossible reach tooling; I still don’t know how they do it. ‘Back in the day” I would grind my own relief on an old Deckel. There’s nothing quite like looking for that extra 50 thou of reach and snapping off the tool! Now I let Harvey do ALL of that work for me, so I can focus on the machining. It takes nice tools to make nice parts. If you need tools that are always accurately relieved to just under the tool diameter, crazy sharp, and balanced, then look no further than Harvey Tool.

form factory

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

Find the ‘Distance to Go’ setting or view on your machine’s control, and hit ‘feed hold’ with the first plunge of every new tool you set, and every new work offset, 100% of the time. It will save your mill and your parts from disaster. Machining is the art of doing thousands of simple things, exactly right and in the right order. The hard part is to keep your focus and pay keen attention through the entire process. Understand how easy it is to make a simple mistake, and how quickly you can be starting over. Allow yourself room for mistakes along the way by triple checking BEFORE your mill lets you know it’s too late. If you have other things on your mind, don’t machine parts.


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