|Cells let NEO Machine produce more with less labor. |
In 2005, Scott Smith started NEO Machine L.L.C. with 20 years of experience, $5,000.00 cash in his pocket, one employee, and two machine tools. He said he was scared to death when he took that first step and rented a facility in which he had to install his own air lines and power. He didn’t even have a machinist’s toolbox at the time.
What Smith did have was one customer and one job. The customer was willing to pay him weekly — when he delivered — so Smith didn’t have to worry about payments carrying 30 days or 60 days.
Smith met every one of his deliveries and the job’s quality requirements. That level of performance transformed the job into a repeat one.
Today, NEO Machine resides in a 2,500-sq-ft. facility that houses six machines and 10 employees. And that one job grew into two more customers with more jobs, most of which are for the government and the oil field industry. And, Smith said, most of his jobs now are longrunning and repeating.
The shop now has enough work to run 50-hour workweeks, two shifts on days and a weekend shift, all of which allows it to meet its 4-week deliveries on jobs.
The shop has increased capacity as it won more work, but Smith warns that a shop has to build up its production capacity gradually. For his shop, he said he tries always to purchase machines on a cash basis.
|NEO Machine gets creative with a setup to machine 19-in.- diameter parts on a 12-in.-chuck lathe. |
“My shop’s growth is product based. I have cultivated customers that have their own products, and these customers then transfer their products to me as repeatable work,” Smith said.
“Our repeatable work is our own product line, and we are the only ones that manufacture those particular components. Plus, we hope to some day develop our own product line,” he said.
The shop does not have set contracts for its repeat jobs. Work comes in because of relationships with customers. Smith said his key to having good relationships with customers is meeting every delivery time — a delivery record Smith is proud of — and fulfilling every part-quality requirement.
While NEO Machine thrives on repeat work, it constantly cultivates new jobs. But, while getting as much work as possible could be a good thing, Smith said he believes that a shop has to be careful about the number of customers a shop takes on, because too many can make it difficult to meet delivery schedules.
“If I took on all the work from customers that approach me, I would flood myself to the point of not being able to keep up. It’s a fine line to walk,” he said.
Smith points out that there are benefits to repeat work.
For one, a shop that does repeat work does not have to start from scratch every time an order comes in, because it is likely that the work has been done before.
Another benefit is that once NEO Machine has run a job, it gains familiarity and can streamline cycle times for that job easily.
NEO Machine streamlines job production by researching new technologies constantly. It especially focuses on technologies that have to do with tooling to maximize speeds and feeds while maintaining part quality.
The shop also groups its machines into cells, so one operator can run multiple machines. That helps it to keep labor costs in check. And, if cycle times are long enough in one cell, the operator also may run another cell.
Above all though, Smith said he tries to keep operators at their cells. The shop will use an employee in training to cut stock and keep cells well stocked with raw parts, so operators don’t have to leave their cells. That would leave their machines sitting idle.
As for adding manufacturing technology, Smith said after NEO Machine’s first year in business, he had the opportunity to win larger-sized work. Unfortunately, the Haas lathe and Haas mill that he had – the shop’s original machines, and an 8-in.-chuck Mazak lathe that it purchased later – lacked the capacity for the bigger parts.
Smith said that every dollar he made went back into the shop.
So, to take on larger parts, he purchased a Haas SL 30 big bore machine, a Haas SL-30 12-in.-diameter chuck lathe, and, later, a larger Haas VF-3 mill that is equipped with Renishaw probing technology. Six months ago, he purchased another VF-3 with probing. Those machines boosted the shop’s part diameter capability to 21-in. diameters.
In the coming year, Smith said NEO Machine will most likely add multitasking machines with live tooling and Y-axis capabilities. Those machines will allow the shop to reduce, or even eliminate, steps in part processing, and will fulfill Smith’s goal of expanding machining capabilities to handle high-volume, small-diameter parts that are more complex.
“In any machine shop, the biggest expense is labor, and any machine that can reduce it is vital,” Smith said. In addition, he said multitasking machines will make it easier for the shop to meet part tolerances and delivery times when it gets additional work.
According to Smith, spending extra money on tooling that will increase production is worth it. For example, the shop switched to a tool that increased feedrates from 15 ipm to 60 ipm for one job. It was a more-expensive tool, but it provided a significant improvement, especially considering that the part it was making was 17 in. in diameter.
Other technologies the shop incorporates include JobBoss software to run and schedule jobs and track production. It also develops and saves job setup sheets that indicate needed tooling and fixturing for each job to speed the setup process. Some of the shop’s special fixturing lets it run larger parts on its smaller machines.
NEO Machine pays close attention to setup times and always uses wellexperienced personnel to do setups. In fact, Smith said that two of his guys do nothing but job setups.