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Aspex CNC – Featured Customer

Aspex CNC is a CNC machine shop based out of Poway, California. They offer prototype turning and milling, as well as production level machining. Their quick turnaround times and premium quality have garnered them some serious recognition in the manufacturing industry. Aspex CNC is just one of the four businesses that Gary Colle Jr. currently owns, but they are an essential part of his business ecosystem, creating parts for the other three product-based companies while also offering machining services to outside customers.

We talked to Gary about his unique experiences in the industry, his thoughts on 5 axis machining, his advice for trying High Efficiency Milling, and more!

Tell us a bit about how you got started in machining, your businesses, and how Aspex CNC was formed.

It is a bit of an interesting story. I got started in manufacturing because my father designed, developed, and manufactured one of the first lines of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle lifts, which allow people in wheelchairs to easily get in and out of their vehicles. The company was called GoldenBoy Mobility and is still one of the four business I currently own and operate today.

At a young age, I was working in my father’s shop, answering phones and doing odd jobs as young as the age of 10. When I got to high school, I worked after school and during the summers in a more hands-on position, welding parts, cutting up cars, and helping on the shop floor. This really inspired my love for metalworking at a young age.

goldenboy mobility

My dad used to let me mess around in the shop at night, so I started welding my own parts and trying to learn as much as I could. One day, someone came in and asked if I could create a “tuna tower” (an accessory for wakeboarding/water skiing) for their boat. I relented at first, but eventually gave in and welded all the parts together for him. After I made that one, word got around that I could create these at night. I started to advertise a little bit locally, and people started ordering more and more. That summer, I ended up making 50 of these towers and got noticed by a couple of big distributors. Scaling up like that made it necessary to outsource some of our parts to local machine shops, which is where I discovered machining. I had very little prior knowledge of machining, but once I stepped into my first machine shop, I was blown away.

As that business grew even larger (now known as DBG Concepts), I needed more parts and needed them faster. We outgrew the local shops and purchased our first machine, a Fadal 4020 CNC Mill, from a local machine salesman, who also helped teach me the ropes. I learned a lot in those first 6 months about machining.

Business kept ramping up, and my father eventually retired and I took over GoldenBoy Mobility. With all the extra parts we needed, we kept machining things in-house, and buying more mills. Eventually, machining became an even larger part of the business than either DBG Concepts or GoldenBoy Mobility, so we formed Aspex CNC to move our machining out of the product line and more into prototype work and production machining for other business. We still machine most of the parts for DBG and GoldenBoy in-house, but we are doing much more for outside sources than we used to.

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

Right now, we are a Haas-only shop. We currently have eight Haas machines in our shop. Our lineup consists of a couple of lathes (ST10 and ST30), a Super Mini Mill, and five CNC Mills (VF2SS, VF2SSYT, VF4SS, VF5SS, and UMC750SS), with another UMC750 on the way!

aspex cnc

Which materials do you most often work with in your shop?

We work with a lot of the common materials, 6061/7075 Aluminum, 1018/1045 Steel, 303/304/17-4ph Stainless, as well as plastics like Acetal, UHMW, HDPE, and PVC.

How has your experience been with 5 axis machining?

If you don’t keep up with technology, you won’t be able to keep up with business, so learning multi-axis machining was a no-brainer for us. We first started with a Haas HRT210 4th axis rotary, and began to play with that. Over the next two years, we learned everything we could about multi-axis machining and made the decision to upgrade to a 5 axis machine. We actually went to IMTS that year to talk to manufacturers and find the perfect machine for us and ended up sticking with Haas because of their support platform and educational resources.

5 axis can be hard, but there are a lot of tools out there (HSM Works from Autodesk being one) that can help you learn. It does require a little more upfront work and discipline, but it eliminates a lot of setup time, creates new opportunities for our shop, and has been really good for us from a business standpoint. A big part of our business is machining one-off parts, so the 5 axis machine allows for a faster turnaround time for those odd shapes and sizes we come across.

5 axis machining

You are very active on social media promoting your business. How has the online machinist community helped your business?

Honestly, even though it can become a bit of a distraction at times, using social media to share our work and partner up with companies like Harvey Tool and Helical has been a lot of fun. We are still young in the social media space, so we haven’t seen a massive impact yet, but the best is yet to come. We have received a few bites here and there which has led to work, but as with everything, it takes some time. We expect a lot of growth this year as we work on more really neat projects and continue to get our name out there. As we grow, the opportunities are going to come.

aspex cnc

What are some of the coolest projects you have ever worked on?

Unfortunately, we can’t talk about most of the work we do, due to customer confidentiality, but we did just do a project for the State of California building a training vehicle for their driver’s education program. We designed and built a dual steering system that gave the driver’s trainer a second steering wheel on the passenger side of the car to be used during training. Another job we just finished up was some parts for the new Raiders football stadium in Las Vegas. They contacted us in a pinch and needed them in two days, and we made it happen. It is pretty cool to know you played a part in a huge project like that.

Aspex CNC also does a lot of work with racing/off-road vehicle companies, often machining parts for the chassis and suspension components. We have worked on projects for companies like Scarbo Performance, ID Designs, TSCO Racing and a whole list of others.

You can only use one machine for the rest of your life. Do you go with a CNC Milling machine or the Lathe?

I would hate to have to choose between them, but it is 100% the CNC Mill. I love ripping around with end mills and working with the 5 axis machines. It is mind blowing what these things are capable of.

Why is manufacturing products in America important to you?

Growing up in the industry which I did while working under my father (building wheelchair accessible vehicles), we had a lot of customers who were veterans coming back from Vietnam or Desert Storm who had been injured overseas and needed extra accommodations, which we could provide for them. The veterans I have worked with made me so patriotic with their stories and courage. We also get to work on a lot of projects with the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which is putting money back into the American economy by supporting companies like ours and contracting us to make these vehicles. It only makes sense that we employ more people here and avoid sending things overseas to support those who have supported us.

aspex cnc

Do you utilize High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques in your shop? What advice do you have for those who are getting started with HEM?

Absolutely, all the time!

The biggest thing is listening to your tool manufacturer for recommendations and then cut those in half to start. From there, work your way up until you are comfortable. Just because the tool can handle it doesn’t necessarily mean your machine, work holding and or set up can, so I would advise people to walk before you run when it comes to HEM.

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

Be conservative and establish good habits from the start. You can get more aggressive as your career starts to take off, but don’t run out and try to run the biggest and baddest machines on day one and try to cut corners. You need to learn what is behind machining; you can get easily lost in all the technology that is available, but you need to understand the core science behind it first. Take it slow, because if you go too fast, you might miss something important along the way.

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

The best thing is building relationships with companies like Haas, Harvey Tool, and Helical. Not only do they provide great service and support for you, but it quickly becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. As we give feedback to the tool and machine manufacturers, and even our metal supplier, it helps them improve their products, which in turn allows our shop to increase our production and efficiency.

Also, having a good team with good people makes all the difference. No matter how many machines you have and how automated you get, you still need good people on your side. I would put my guys up against any other machine shop out there in terms of skill, and it is a big part of what has made our business so successful.

aspex cnc


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Harvey Performance Hosts Local Students for Manufacturing Day Tour

Harvey Performance Company welcomed dozens of local high school students to its Gorham, ME manufacturing facility for an educational tour as part of “Manufacturing Day,” a national day of celebration of modern manufacturing meant to promote, inform, and inspire.

As part of the tour, students were led around the facility by Harvey Performance Company engineers, receiving valuable insight on how a state-of-the-art CNC grinding machine turns a carbide blank into specialty tooling.  The event concluded with a question and answer segment led by Plant Manager Adam Martin.

“It was a thrill for me to meet with the participating students, and to see just how enthusiastic they were about manufacturing,” Martin said. “The Harvey Performance team really had a great time celebrating Manufacturing Day with them.”

harvey performance company

Nationwide, more than 2,800 events took place for current and aspiring machinists as part of Manufacturing Day, held the first week of October every year. In 2016, 84 percent of participants in a Manufacturing Day event were more convinced that manufacturing provides interesting and rewarding careers, according to data from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.

Harvey Performance Company remains committed to its goal of highlighting the best of the manufacturing industry via its “Plunge Into Machining” campaign.

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

How to Become a Machinist

Machining is one of the fastest growing occupations in the US, with thousands of open positions listed all across various job boards and websites. Because graduating students are more likely to head to college than join the trades, there is currently a major shortage in the workforce for machinists. As the “Baby Boomer” generation inches closer to retirement, this shortage will only continue to grow. According to American Machinist, nearly 70% of the current machinist workforce is over the age of 45, which means there is a great need for younger workers over the next two decades. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is predicting a 10% increase in the machinist workforce with opportunities for 29,000 additional skilled machinists by 2024, so it is certainly an exciting time to start thinking about the available career opportunities in the machining industry.

Getting Started

One of the best things about becoming a machinist is that there is a fairly low barrier to entry level positions. Many machinists start working right out of high school, with 12-18 months of on-the-job training or a 1-2 year apprenticeship. This path generally does not require any experience past a high school education, but prospective machinists are encouraged to take math classes including geometry and trigonometry, and participate in metalworking, drafting, and blueprint reading classes if possible. Chris Metayer, a CNC Operator with Helical Solutions, took this same route to begin his career. “I didn’t know anything about machining when I started, but I trained side by side with other employees. I am a hands-on learner, so it was a perfect learning experience for me.” said Metayer. In the end, most of an entry-level machinists’ learning will be done hands-on in the machine shop while getting paid to learn the craft.

machinist

Others may take a two-year machining-based program at a community college or technical school, where they can learn more advanced skills like Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machining and Computer Aided Design (CAD) or Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) programming.  They would then enter the workforce following the completion of an associate’s degree. These machinists tend to earn higher salaries and are more apt to advance to a management role, but they will also need to pay for the costs of their continued education and will still require some hands-on training before they can jump into their new positions. However, there are added benefits to continuing your education. Jake Barnes, another member of the CNC team at Helical, earned his associates degree in Integrated Manufacturing Technology at Southern Maine Community College, and has worked in various departments since joining Helical. Jake started as a manual grinder, then moved to inspection before landing with the CNC team. “I personally recommend going to a trade school” said Barnes, “You will get exposure to many different classes, which opens up new career opportunities across the industry.”

Some machinists who want to work in more advanced industries like aerospace or tech may attend a four-year college and take advanced courses in calculus, physics, and engineering. All of these options are widely accepted in the machining community, so it is more a matter of personal preference and an individual’s specific situation that determine which path to take.

Location Matters

While there are open jobs for machinists all over the country, there are certainly a few areas that would be considered machinist “hot spots.” These areas of the country have increased job openings in the industry and often pay better wages, since machining skills are in higher demand. The Great Lakes Region (Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania), and the Southeast (The Carolinas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) are great places to look for work, with over 150,000 currently employed machinists. Most of the work in the Great Lakes Region is dominated by the automotive industry, especially in Michigan. In the Southeast US, there has been a recent influx of manufacturing jobs after plants owned by Apple, Boeing, General Electric, Haier, and LeNovo all opened in the area. In fact, Mississippi offers the highest annual salaries for machinists of any state in the country.

Texas, California, and Washington (especially Seattle) are also hot spots for machining jobs. The west coast holds some of the world’s largest aerospace manufacturing plants, so these areas have plenty of job opportunities for machining and manufacturing.

Salary Expectations

A career as a machinist can be rewarding and fun, especially when it comes to working with different materials and creating amazing and intricate parts. But in the end, compensation matters as well. What is often misunderstood most about this industry is that the salary range for machinists is above the national median.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2016 that those in the workforce with a high school diploma earned an annual median salary of $36,000, while those with an associate’s degree earned $42,000 across all occupations. The BLS also reported the median salaries for machinists in 2016, with median earnings at $43,200, across all levels of education.

The top 10% of machinists earn over $62,500, and depending on what projects they work on, those wages can go even higher. For example, someone working in the aerospace industry or tech industry can expect to make a higher salary as a machinist, but will likely need to have a more extensive education, which can get costly. Experience also matters, as salaries are likely to increase as machinists get more years under their belts. However, many entry level machinist jobs require little to no educational cost and no experience, so the return on investment can be very high once hired into the industry.

Machinist Career Paths

There are quite a few career paths that a machinist can take once they begin working on their craft. Some machinists will work their way up the shop ladder, going from an entry level CNC operator, to a full-on CNC machinist, and possibly finding themselves in a shop management position at some point in their careers. Others may transition away from machining and begin to work with CAD/CAM or CNC Programming applications, working with the machinists on the floor to program and troubleshoot the machines and design new parts to be created. Many machinists also move into careers in inspection, quality control, or production planning, which can be an excellent way to move up the corporate ladder.

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Working in Inspection is a possible career path for a machinist.

Those who do earn an associate’s degree in a machining-based program should consider a path in engineering. The experiences learned as a machinist translate well to this field, and having an associate’s degree allows for the flexibility of going back to school to finish up a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. For those who may be unable to go to school full-time, there are many online and part-time courses available. These courses make it possible to work full-time or part-time to advance your skills and attain hands-on experience while earning a degree. Both Barnes and Matayer talked about heading back to school to complete an engineering program at some point, taking advantage of the Harvey Performance Company tuition reimbursement program to advance their education and careers.

The skills learned as a machinist also lay a foundation for becoming an entrepreneur or starting a business. Some machinists will open their own machine shops, manufacturing outsourced parts from other companies, while others will take their skills and create a unique product to fulfill a need they identify in the market.

Do Your Research

As the manufacturing industry continues to grow in America, the shortage of machinists in the workforce will become an incredible source of opportunity for our youth. Breaking into the industry now can set young machinists up for great career opportunities. The skills learned as a machinist also translate well to many different jobs, especially in manufacturing and engineering.

machinist

However, not every machine shop should be treated equal. Potential machinists will want to research shops in their area to find the right fit. As Matayer puts it, “Finding the right shop matters. You want to find a place with newer equipment, great benefits, and clean air in a safe environment.” Poor air quality or unsafe working conditions can directly affect a machinist’s long-term health, so doing the proper research before accepting a position can prevent any serious issues.

If you are curious and want to learn more, reach out to your local trade school or college, talk to a machinist, check out some online forums, and read about the profession. You should also check out the machinist community on Instagram, which is full of amazing customer projects, helpful tips and tricks, and videos that will give you a better idea of what is possible in this field! Machinists are always more than happy to share their experiences, but the biggest thing you can do is try. Get out there, start creating, and see where it takes you – the possibilities are endless!