OEMs, even those with in-house machining capabilities, often need to offload specific metal parts to a precision machine shop. This may be because the parts are complex or difficult, the volume of parts is small, the duration of the production run is short, or existing machines are already being used to produce other parts. However, despite the wide availability of machine shops, OEMs still can receive parts that are not finished precisely to specifications. When this occurs, the ramifications range from lost time and cost incurred for re-working parts to burdensome documentation requirements when parts are off-spec, for industries such as automotive, aerospace, and defense.
“We've had issues with quality from machine shops before, no question about it,” explained Pete Freely, quality assurance manager for Medico Industries’ manufacturing division. “In machining you can find vendors that will cut corners. If a part is off by a half thousandths of an inch, they might say ‘Don't worry about it, Ship it,’ and you won’t know about it until later – if at all.”
Since 1967, Medico Industries has produced over 20 million metal parts for U.S. government defense programs and over 7.6 million commercial parts for automotive and oil and natural gas drilling manufacturers.
Despite having a full range of equipment for metalworking – from forging and heat treating to machining and finishing – Medico Industries still sends out parts when its machines are running at full capacity, the job is short term, or production volumes are sporadic and uncertain.
“There are times when it makes sense to say, ‘Let’s get someone else to do it,’ ” Freely said.
When this is required, Freely said it is important to achieve a level of comfort that the company to which the work is outsourced will deliver parts of consistent quality every time. This is critical because ultimately the OEM is responsible for any parts they ship – even those that have been outsourced.
As a result, OEMs must be able to identify and partner with a machined-parts supplier that can deliver quality, consistently. “We don't always go with the cheapest supplier,” said Freely. “You can take that into consideration, but you go more for best value.”
For many years, Medico has outsourced parts to Belrick Corp., a precision manufacturer of components and assemblies in Swoyersville, Pa. This includes threaded metal parts, machined forgings, and several others machined from bar stock.
Belrick uses advanced horizontal and vertical machining centers to perform CNC turning and milling, robotic welding, fabrication, prototype, inspection, and assembly. The company has extensive machining experience with bar stock, sheet, castings, forgings, plate, special shapes, and fabrications.
“They are very competitive [in price] – which is obviously important – but their track record for meeting the schedule and the quality of their work in the years we've been dealing with them has been really good. Any issues have been very, very minor. They are very conscientious,” said Freely.
This quality is reflected in the type of equipment and advanced coordinate measurement (CMM) systems it uses. It is also reflected in the machine shop’s ability to handle more complex or difficult jobs, such as machining castings and forgings. Freely added that when dealing with the automotive, aerospace or defense industries, addressing a problem with a part can involve much more than just replacing or reworking the items.
“When there is a problem, for certain industries you have to go through an exercise to prove what happened and demonstrate why it won’t happen again,” said Freely. “When you bring a third-party supplier into it, it makes it even more difficult to troubleshoot, and to convince your customer that you've found the root cause.”
“When you get good quality products consistently, you don't have to deal with any of that,” adds Freely. “To find a vendor that allows you to sleep at night, and not have to worry about that stuff … it goes a long way.”
Even with that confidence in Belrick, when parts are received, Medico performs regular quality assurance checks to ensure the parts meet specifications.
“We can't go back to our customer and say, ‘Well, it wasn't our fault, our sub did it,’” according to Freely. “It’s ultimately our responsibility.”
OEMs also often require parts quickly, and so require a machine shop that can be flexible and responsive when necessary. Many shops are hesitant to stop production and make changes, yet customers both large and small often show up with unexpected demands. When this occurs, smaller, more nimble operations often can help OEMs immediately.
That was the case for Landon Monte, inventor of the ZeroDay Survival Kit. The small, lightweight, minimalist survival kit recently surpassed its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Each survival kit has 10 components, each with varying complexity and machining needs. This required an intimate knowledge of not only machining process, but also a solid understanding of how each part interacts.
“I went out on a search for a machine shop I could trust,” Monte recalled, estimating there are six machine shops within a 25-mile radius. “Most of them seemed too busy to care about a smaller individual.”
Impressed with Belrick’s responsiveness, as well as its standing as a veteran-owned business given his own military background, Monte admitted he went to them with a bunch of paper that he characterized as “the scribblings of a madman.”
“It was very chaotic – all dreams and aspirations,” Monte explained. “They looked the drawings over and said it looked good and that they could do the work, but there were a couple things they recommended altering for efficiency and to reduce costs but that wouldn’t affect the product.”
Over the course of production, Belrick kept in continual communication. That included informing Monte of each machining step in the process. “They even found time to allow me in to take pictures of the kits being machined so I could capture the behind-the-scenes process for my Kickstarter backers,” said Monte.
The initial production run was 120 ZeroDay Survival Kits (100 aluminum models and 20 titanium variants). The second production run was for 150 aluminum models and those were delivered ahead of schedule. Monte said the results have far exceeded his expectations.
This includes satisfying his concern about meeting the tight tolerances of one specific component of the kit, a “fire piston” at the core of the precision-machined body that relies on compression to transfer kinetic energy into thermal energy.
“The fire piston has to have a remarkably tight tolerance [+/- 0.001 in.] in order to be used to best effect,” explained Monte. “Belrick not only assured me it would meet the demanding tolerances but went above and beyond by contacting outside anodizing shops to ensure the protective layer added was accounted for in the final dimensions.”
Monte is now working with the company for some new add-on accessories for the ZeroDay Survival Kit, as well as other products he wants to bring to market.
“Their attention to even the most seemingly minute detail produced machined parts that I proudly attach my name to,” said Monte. “They realized every aspect of what I imagined my product to be.”