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CAM Plus Automation is Shop’s Formula for Success

Metri-Tech was an early adopter of ESPRIT, and the program remains a critical asset in its progress — and its long-term vision

Metri-Tech Engineering Inc. isn’t your typical job shop. You’ll understand at a glance that this Huntington Beach, Calif., business has a refreshingly forward-thinking approach to automation. The workspace is filled with automated production equipment, none more prominent than the wall-mounted Live Scheduler, which resembles a six-foot tall iPad. COO/CTO Hans Gratzer, Jr., the son of Metri-Tech’s two founders, developed the scheduling program to help his 38 employees visualize better what is going on in the shop at any given time — and to plan for the jobs just ahead.

“Most job scheduling systems are number-driven. But people like pictures,” Gratzer said. “With this system, what you see is what you get, kind of like ESPRIT.”

Metri-Tech has used ESPRIT almost since the program’s inception; Gratzer estimated the shop first installed the CAM software in 1988. “My dad bought the software, and he was very happy with it because we were mainly in the fitting business at that time; he liked that it could program families of parts very well — because they’re similar geometries, they can be adjusted very easily with ESPRIT. It was a huge time-savings."

Just as valuable to Metri-Tech have been ESPRIT’s accurate, full-color simulations — the first in the industry. “That allowed us to give more visibility to our programming and reduce mistakes in our set-up the first time around.

“Most of our machinists do both the set-up and the machine operation,” he explained. “They know what they’re doing. Now they do not have to worry during the set-up process and first-piece run; they know the program will be right due to the precise nature of ESPRIT simulation, set-up sheets, and posts.”

Thirty years later, ESPRIT is keeping Metri-Tech atop its game thanks to its ease of use and quick support. The company uses the software for full five-axis, contour composite milling, swarf milling and multi-axis multi-spindle turning.

“ESPRIT is very progressive in the five-axis and multi-axis realms,” Gratzer noted. “ESPRIT is just easier, faster, stronger and more accurate than other CAM programs we have tested or demoed over the years.”

In the 30,000-square-foot shop Metri-Tech manufactures ultra-precision, high-volume critical components for aerospace, medical, defense, and commercial customers in all types of materials, including some exotic materials like Inconel, titanium, Nitronic, Invar, Kovar, ferrium, polyurethane, Teflon, PEEK and Ultem, to list a few.

“Customers use us as a solution: they have problems and we fix them,” Gratzer said. “We’re experts in most manufacturing processes, and our customers come to us for the precision and quality of the parts we produce.”

The company started out making fittings, and in that process it developed a broader sense of how such parts "fit" into the larger assemblies.  Gradually, Metri-Tech had the understanding needed to produce more complicated parts. “Doing fittings evolved into us going in the opposite direction: manufacturing the parts that the fittings fit into, which were housings and manifolds. Then obviously when you get into the more complex and assembly side of medical and aerospace, you get into the critical finishes and close tolerances of the internal workings of the manifolds and housings like spool and sleeve assemblies and shaft work,” according to Gratzer. “It was a very interesting and methodical transition.”

Today the company operates 42 machines, including a number of three-axis Mori Seiki lathes and Nakamura-Tome lathes with up to 13 axes, which allow the programmers and operators to be more creative with small parts.

Metri-Tech also runs three- and four-axis vertical mills and several Matsuura full five-axis vertical trunnion machines with up to 42 pallets and 520 tools. Combined, Metri-Tech’s machine tool arsenal provided programmers with hundreds of pallets and thousands of different tool options.

Many of the shop’s palletized machines are served by robots, and the company is working now to bring in mobile robots that will transfer parts from machine to machine, and virtual augmentation to help programmers view their custom manufacturing software and scheduler easily on the shop floor.

Metri-Tech boasts an ISO AS9100D certification, and it offers polishing and ultra-critical finishes. It has a high-end quality control facility in-house. “What sets Metri-Tech apart from the competition is quality on larger volumes,” according to Gratzer. “Anybody can make a few good parts, but consistency and repeatability over larger volumes is the key to our success.

“Most customers say that quality is a given nowadays,” he continued. “It’s truly not. We take so many steps to ensure a quality part gets to the customer. We have a group of very dedicated employees, and everybody’s looking out for the quality of the product. The main reason that customers come to us is 100% quality, all the time. If they need a job done fast and they need it done right the first time, they come to us.”

Metri-Tech’s performance has been strong since its start-up in 1978, but since 1998 when Hans Gratzer, Jr., arrived and instilled his vision for technology, automation and reinvestment, the business has recorded significant growth. Forecasts show it may double its business soon. “I give credit to our passion for this industry, striving for automation and all the products we use, including ESPRIT,” he said. “I feel our next 40 years are going to be stronger than the last 40.”

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