Up and running for more than four decades, it’s safe to say that the Atscott Manufacturing Company has perfected a tried-and-true recipe for success. Owner John Norris purchased the Pine City, Minn., business in 1978 and has implemented technologies that have helped him remain competitive through the years.
“Our two core competencies are the assembly of products and machining,” Norris said, adding that roughly 60% of the company’s labor is devoted to machining, while 60% of its sales are devoted to assembled products. “Of course, those assemblies include machined products that we then put together.”
Atscott machines both metals and plastics, and among the assembled products that the Tier One supplier manufactures are glue guns, tape dispensers, and portable towers manufactured for use by the armed forces. It performs jobs for a numerous industries, including aerospace manufacturers. Repeat customers account for about 95% of the company’s business, and about 80% of its jobs are repeat orders. Many of those jobs require the precision machining of parts with tight tolerances, and in average lot sizes of fewer than 50 pieces.
“We work with a lot of customers to develop prototypes that end up becoming assemblies, and of course all of our customers want rapid turnaround,” Norris said. “We also do some design improvement, which provides added value to our customers. We’re working with the customer to find a cost-effective way to make the products.”
Atscott has 78 workers, including nearly 50 on the shop floor, and it operates a total of 35 machine tools to accomplish manufacturing in up to four axes. Included among its machining capabilities are turning centers, and horizontal and vertical milling centers.
Beginning in 1991, to maximize its investment in machinery and manpower Atscott first subscribed to the Edgecam computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) software, developed by Vero Software. “With each of the updates, Edgecam has really stayed ahead,” machine shop manager Joe Plasek said. “With the updates, we can do more and more — and be more efficient.”
Norris’s choice was heavily influenced by the ongoing availability of new, educated manufacturing talent, as a nearby technical college uses Edgecam as a teaching tool for CNC programming.
“The fact that the local school teaches Edgecam had a lot to do with why we got it,” Norris said. “We knew that it would be easier to find people who already had experience with the software.”
Shop manager Plasek, who has been with Atscott for 33 years, reported his team is making parts now that could not be made a decade ago — nor did the customers request such parts.
Changing Demand, Quick Response
Now, they’re in demand. For them, Edgecam is an important tool in the production process for high-quality, high-precision parts.
“I’m making things that I couldn’t 10 years ago — smaller parts and with tighter tolerances than I ever could have believed,” Plasek said. “We’re continually tearing down and setting up a variety of parts.”
Process efficiency is another critical feature, he emphasized, as “90% of the new orders that come in are handled by one person, … one person can handle all of that.”
Edgecam is designed for the users’ flexibility and customization, so that programmers are able to select and customize features that suit their needs. The software also offers different levels of automation — fully automatic, semi-automatic, and full control — which allows users to adjust methods of operation to the manufacturing environment.
For instance, a shop that produces a high volume of identical parts, or similar families of parts, could implement fully automatic programming for all of, or some of, its programming processes.
Shops like Atscott, which takes on 150 to 200 different open jobs at a time, could automate some processes for repeat jobs. However, the variety of parts manufactured by Atscott make a uniform approach difficult at best. As such, the shop utilizes Edgecam in full-control mode.
“Every part that we see is completely different,” said Plasek. “From materials to tolerances, none of them are the same.”
Atscott enjoys a particular benefit from the reduced cycle time that Edgecam helps to achieve, as the software is able to program production for complex components in fewer, or single, set-ups. A reduction in set-ups decreases positioning errors while increasing overall dimensional accuracy.
CNC programmer Mark Biebl, who has been with Atscott for 35 years, noted that, while his workload has not decreased over the years, he nonetheless spends less time on the shop floor. “Ten years ago, I was working 10 to 12-hour days,” he said. “I’m working less than nine hours now.”
As an experienced programmer, Biebl is tasked with designing and manufacturing custom fixtures for the company’s wide range of parts. He sees working with solid models and producing drawings in Edgecam as simply part of a day on the job.
Working with solid models from a range of computer-aided-design (CAD) systems is made easier with Edgecam’s ability to simplify model importing, with no need for translation. This means that the integrity of the CAD data is maintained during the importation process and that, instead of dealing with transfer glitches, programmers are able to get to the task at hand more quickly.
Biebl also takes advantage of the Edgecam Code Wizard, which assists him in customizing his own post-processors. With the Code Wizard, which walks the programmer through the steps of post customization, Biebl has fine-tuned posts for each of the company’s machine tools.
To ensure that his toolpaths are free of collisions and will create the final product he’s envisioned, Biebl uses Edgecam’s simulation and verification tools.
“I use the verification feature 90% of the time just to make sure I don’t have gouges,” he said.
For Atscott Manufacturing, implementing Edgecam has helped it to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving manufacturing sector, with changing and increasingly complex demands. Software updates that include efficiency-boosting features have assisted the operators there to stay ahead of its competitors.