The revival of Spyder Manufacturing in Placentia, Calif., shows how the fortunes of a machine shop are linked to its investment decisions. It also shows how CNC programming can be intuitive and empowering.
Originally a manufacturer of lawn and garden parts and accessories, Spyder Manufacturing has been through several transformations. Once employing more than 30 people, the company endured downsizing due to global competition. Spyder was spending thousands of dollars for outsourced machining, locally and overseas, especially for more complex parts.
“There was nothing advanced about the shop,” according to Matt Monnig one of the sons of Spyder Manufacturing owner Gary Monnig.
“So I asked my dad if I could look into how investing in CNC-based machining might revitalize our shop. He said ‘Absolutely!’ – and no more than five minutes later, entirely by coincidence, a CNC machine tool dealer walked in the door.”
Soon, a new Fryer Machine Systems’ MC40 milling machine with a Siemens 840D CNC control was delivered and installed on the shop floor.
After graduating from high school, Matt had helped his dad run the company, but he had only dabbled in machining. “I didn’t know anything about machining when the new machine arrived,” he recalled. “I didn’t even know how to turn it on.”
Eventually, Fryer Machine Systems’ field service engineer Trever Lowe arrived to begin what was scheduled to be four days of training. Matt Monnig missed most of that training with a bout of the flu, but he was ready to learn CNC machining once he returned.
The power of intuitive CNC
Having earned a living as a tool-and-die maker, Lowe joined Fryer Machine Systems because he wanted to work for an American machine tool builder, and he wanted to teach. One of his first assignments was to teach Matt Monnig how to set-up, program, and operate Spyder’s new Fryer machining center.
“When Matt returned to the shop after being hospitalized for two days, I realized that we had about four hours of scheduled instruction time left,” Trever recalls. “So far, we had only walked through how to create tools and basically move the machine around. But now we’d run out of training time. So I decided to go right into the complex stuff — contour milling.”
Calling upon his many years as a machinist, Lowe understood that what his new student needed to learn was the one thing that every future machinist needed to learn.
“Today's machine tool and manufacturing market needs more than button pushers,” Lowe says. “Intuitive CNC is the first step. Fryer machines enable the machine operator to shine. They can start to write their own programs at the control. Other companies try to compete in the conversational market, but Fryer Machine Systems chose Siemens CNCs because they are truly intuitive, first and foremost.”
When learning to program a Fryer machine, if you understand the complex stuff then you will figure out the simpler stuff, Lowe concluded. “So that’s what I did. In less than four hours, I showed Matt the most complex programming.”
In the span of a few hours, Matt learned to use a CNC machine for the first time. Not only that, but he was learning on one of the world's most powerful controls, the Siemens Sinumerik 840D, to program complex contour milling, right at the machine.
"After those few hours of training, I left with doubt in my mind. I figured nothing would work, that he would crash the machine and it would be a complete catastrophe,” Lowe recalls. “But that’s not how it went. It went completely the opposite. Ever since, when customers ask me how much training time is needed on one of our machines, I tell them we schedule 16 hours. Then I tell them about Matt, someone who didn’t know anything about CNC, but who in less than a day picked up enough CNC know-how to relaunch his business.”
Programming at the machine
Ahead of Trever’s arrival, Matt was a restless student in waiting. Influenced by conventional wisdom, he had invested over four thousand dollars in CAD/CAM programming software.
“I bought and trained on the software,” Matt admits. “But I never used it, because it turned out that the Siemens control has something called ‘conversational programming.’ That’s what Trever showed me during our short training session. I just found it so much easier to understand and to work with than the complicated offline software.”
The ability to program at the control brings a competitive advantage to a shop. It empowers both the operator and the shop owner to efficiently produce more than they could otherwise. Instead of waiting for a CAD/CAM programmer to feed a G-code program to a machine, an operator can quickly set up the next program and keep production rolling.
Spyder Manufacturing is also the story of how a greater return on CNC can strengthen a shop’s workforce, enabling a business to leverage the skills and knowledge of its people to create new opportunities for the company.
Matt Monnig explained how, from the earliest days of Spyder Manufacturing, Edward Jones had been an especially resourceful machinist. Jones seemed always to find ways to create new product ideas, using whatever were the tools of the day, long before the dominance of CNC machining.
“Not long after we bought our first Fryer machine, I drew up an improved version of our climber product,” Matt recalled. “But the immediate feedback I got was, ‘No. That will never work.’ But then I showed the sketch to Edward, and he said, ‘Let me make a sample.’ And so he hand made a sample, and we looked at the tools and what the new Fryer machines could do, and we all said, ‘Wow, that will work!’”
The new product design was soon validated by the CAD/CAM capabilities of the Siemens control. Using the intuitive, graphically-guided functions such as the contour calculator, the shop could readily conduct “design for manufacturability” refinements right on the machine. And at the same time, they were establishing the program to produce it. With no G-code language barriers in the way, the shop could conceive, design and produce a new generation of products.
Today, Spyder Manufacturing is transformed. For Gary and Matt Monnig,, achieving a greater return on their CNC investments includes taking greater control of their business, enabling people and operations to become increasingly efficient.
Spyder produces parts for customers overseas, rather than the other way around. It is also able to bring next-generation products to market and efficiently keep pace with the demand for those products. Including products made possible by bridging “old world” machinist skills and knowledge with creative leadership to capitalize on the most intuitive and powerful CNC available.
“The Fryer machines have paid for themselves many times over,” Matt Monnig said. The company owns three Fryer MC40 milling centers, all equipped with Siemens Sinumerik 840D controls.
Before the investment in Fryer and Siemens, it took their shop a month to produce 50 sets of tree climber products. Now, Spyder produces nearly 500 sets each month. Higher production capacity and efficiency have brought a near tenfold increase in the sale of the company’s flagship product, the same product whose evolved design was first thought never to work.
Looking ahead, the Monnigs plan further investments in Fryer machines and Siemens CNCs, knowing that anything is possible given the right set of circumstances.