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Why A 5th Axis Machine For Your 3 Axis Parts, Part 2

The problem, finding a skilled workforce that can keep pace with growth.


a) Several years ago, before COVID-19 even existed, I had an employee that started out just as a guy off the street.  They were coming along nicely and I put a lot of faith into this individual.  He started out on the saw and in shipping, moved through some of the machining departments, lathe, and vertical mill.  Did well in both, showed real promise.  Then we had an opening on our 4th axis horizontal machining center. By this time, he has already been with us for a few years now, things are going well, so we move him over to the NH4000DCG, Mori Seiki’s (who is now DMG/Mori) 400mm horizontal machining center.  He’s investing in machinist tools, and a large tool box and we’re investing in him, along with that his wages are increasing, he’s happy, we’re happy. A real shining star in the ranks.  I was so proud of him, everything was developing nicely.

b) EMERGENCY! All of a sudden, we find out, that he has been rushed to the hospital, something is wrong with his heart and he’s out for several weeks.  I visit with him in the hospital as well as others sending there get well soon wishes. Over time he makes a full recovery, other than a scar he is ok and soon comes back to work. During the time off colleagues fill in and we keep the work flowing once he’s ready to come back he falls right back in and things are back to normal.

c) Weeks past, and one day he comes to me and says he met someone in the hospital who’s father-in-law has a machine shop and they were offering a job to him and he was thinking about taking it, and I needed to at least match the offer or he was going to walk…I WAS FLOORED, I had to sit down.  I was so angry.  I’ve built this person from scratch, taught them everything I could.  They’ve made mistakes and we worked through it.  They just received a raise only a month before. Why was he doing this to me?  I couldn’t blame him for wanting to better himself, in fact I promote it, but this wasn’t the way to do it, it hurt me to my core.  In the end, the wage was only an increment higher than where he was so I gave it to him with my tail between my legs.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to lose him, I needed the machines to be running and at the time the Horizontal was and still is in high demand. It’s always scheduled with work.  Months after these events we had to let him go for substance abuse.  Years of effort, training, seam to all go down the drain.  Or did it??

d) I learned a few valuable lessons and I needed to act.  We discussed this experience with my management team and we decided that is was time to automate our production and that we were going to buy a pallet pool for our horizontal.  I just concluded the financing of several years before, for the expansion of our sheet metal department with a new Trumpf 3000 watt fiber laser and 5170 press brake and had the budget to reinvest into the machining department, who hasn’t seen a new piece of equipment since 2008.

The competitive edge.

a) Every bone in my body is competitive and I don’t like to lose and when it comes to machine parts, I think I know what I’m talking about but I am humble enough to know that I certainly don’t know everything and every day I am learning new things (I’m still confused that a customer, after only meeting once, told my colleague that I was arrogant, that’s another previous blog post.  I have a history of mistakes under my belt so I know how to fall flat on my face and fail with a capital “F” but I dust myself off and always chalk it up to experience, then I move on. I always thought the way to beat the competition was to setup my horizontal with a pallet pool, fixture parts and have it ready to go for the customer, with 120 tools in the machine I would set them up and leave them, reducing the need for as many skilled machinist, that I can’t find. In theory, a customer would call, we would load up the parts, call the pallet into the schedule and go! Sounds great, with a practically zero setup time how could we lose? (To this day, I still don’t have any customers buying in to this concept) Well to start I did buy the horizontal in 2007 but I couldn’t afford the pallet pool and for the next 15 years I was still waiting, but now I was ready, I was going to do it!

b) REALITY CALLING PERRY, HELLO! ARE YOU THERE??? So we travel to DMG/MORI’s Huffman Estates, in the Chicago area to look at the new machines and talk about a pallet system.  I was going to buy a new horizontal with a LPP (linear pallet pool) start off with 24 pallets and setup so I could add dozens more and marry my old machine to it.  This was a great plan. I loved Mori’s new machines and I could visualize as I have always done before.  Now I also looked at Fastems, and other automation / robotics solutions from other companies.  Was I really going to invest so much into a 15 year old machine, buy a duplicate machine that didn’t expand my capabilities, and do it all on a shoe string budget? and then all of a sudden, look at all the pallets, tombstones, fixtures for jobs that may or may not repeat or to build 50 pieces a year or to have customers just jump ship for pennies less per part.  What was I thinking?  Why wasn’t I considering a 5th-axis? I didn’t know anything about a 5th-axis and I don’t do 5-axis parts.  I don’t know how to program them and I don’t have the confidence that I can do it, but regardless of all my doubts, it was the way, it hit me just like that, the ultimate competitive edge wasn’t the horizontal with pallets. My brain started to work again and was bringing me back to 2006 when I first saw the MAM, Matsuura’s 5 axis vertical machining center, It was at IMTS…


IMTS 2006:

I’m at the Mori-Seiki’s booth, after just leaving the Matsuura booth, and saw the “wine rack” style tooling holders and how easy they were to expand you could start out with 120 and go up to, I think at the time 240, I don’t remember exactly but it was an engineering marvel. I told my salesman, “hey you guys need to build something like this”.  The salesman is very gracious towards me and entertained my antics but I wanted Mori to build the machines that I saw as the future because I wanted to stick with the brand. At the time I wasn’t ready for a 5th-axis machine but new someday I would get there.  At this point in time I was ready for a 4th-axis horizontal and after already purchasing several Mori Seiki machines I knew that they were the machine tool builder for me.  I loved the machine and my local dealer.  Back then, Matsuura were known to be expensive, I know because I did received quotes for one, years before when I was looking for a vertical machining center.  Looking back, I had no idea that I would not revisit the pallet pool until 15 years later.

Back to 2021 we’re ready!

The future is in front of me.  The CAD/CAM technology was there. I felt confident in my team that we could get past the learning curves.  We’ve been successful with our horizontal for all these years.  Everything we do is “high mix, low volume” production. The ideas of building fixturing for low volume parts was out of the question, today’s world is get it in, get it out, machine complete in one operation. I still believe in, leaving the job in the machine or make it so it only takes a couple minutes to reload the fixturing (did anyone say zero clamp?). Keeping the tooling in the machine is also a must to get to zero setup time. So for every customer that wants “Just In Time” monthly deliveries, it’s not a problem.  Solve the labor issue buy running additional lights out hours, even if it’s only a few it’s still extra hours.  Ok so my mind is made up, we’re going to do this!  No, but wait, I HAVE NO BUY IN FROM THE TEAM.  Nobody thinks we should buy anything at this time, certainly not one of the most expensive setups out there. 

NEXT MONTH: I need to sell it to my own team but how?  Why do I need too, isn’t it obvious!

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