Process Insights

Ansco Finds Success Producing Complete Components

“In today’s manufacturing environment, focusing on just one part or one niche could get you in trouble,” says Mike Sterling, owner and founder of Ansco Machine Company of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “You have to have a large base of customers, and then dig deeply into your customers’ product lines, supplying them with whole families of parts, not just single items here and there. We want to be a partner to our customers, not just another supplier.”

To apply this philosophy, Ansco has invested heavily in a wide range of equipment, from turning centers to horizontal machining centers, in a wide range of sizes to suit nearly any application. While many shops machine single parts, Ansco has made a name for itself by producing complete families of parts. This broad range of production allows Ansco to not only serve their customers better, but to also optimize the parts over their customers’ entire product lines, oftentimes making the parts easier and less expensive to produce.

“We go into a lot of shops and see a whole line of machines dedicated to one part size,” says Sterling. “That’s not our strategy. We want a machine that fits the part so we can leave the other machines open for different-size work.”

Ansco has positioned itself to its customers as a partner, not just a supplier, by providing the ability to supply all their parts, no matter the size, as well as helping them optimize and standardize their manufacturing processes. The end result, according to Sterling, is a more effective overall solution.

“That’s what many shops fail to see—delivering the best overall value and the simplest means of production—those are the reasons our customers keep coming back, and how we achieve success.”

Growing Quickly

Sterling started Ansco in 1991 with his sons, Jeff, Jon, and Dave. His son-in-law, Tom Cook, is the finance manager. Ansco is a full-service contract machine shop specializing in milling and turning up to 63-inch diameters. Ansco produces hydraulics, press rings, steel mill components, and automation/motion control components. They work with both high-volume production and small lots in a wide variety of materials, from carbon and alloy steels to ductile and gray irons, plastics, and exotics.

As Ansco grew from a $1.5-million-per-year company with just a few employees to a $9-million-per-year company with 43, they found a need for a machining solution to complement their turning abilities and to speed production. When shopping for a machine tool, Ansco wanted to apply the same “family” mentality to their purchase.

“We have a wide range of part sizes due to our strategy,” says Cook. “We wanted machines that could handle everything from the small components to the largest ones. The parts are often nearly the same—just scaled up to fit a larger application.”

In order to provide this service, Ansco has invested in a whole line of different-size horizontal machining centers, from two Makino a51s capable of handling workpieces up to 24.8-by-35.4 inches to an a92 that can go up to 59-by-59 inches. This wide range of HMCs gives Ansco the ability to produce the same part in many different sizes, at the same time and without wasting workzone space on their machines.

In addition, Ansco wanted to deal with a machine tool manufacturer and a product they could rely on, just as the family members rely on each other to get the job done.

“Speed and reliability are important to us,” says Mike Sterling. “We have tight delivery times, and we need to be able to produce parts in the promised time frame. But we also look at a machine as a long-term investment, and we want to get as many years out of it as we can.”

“Everyone promises you great tool life, great reliability, super repeatability,” adds Cook. “There are companies that go out there and buy a machine and throw it out in three years. We aren’t like that. We’ll keep a machine until it doesn’t suit our needs anymore. We need a machine that will be a 10-year investment. We’re not interested in a machine that will only run at peak performance for a few years. That’s why we went with Makino. It is a machine that will perform as promised for a long, long time.”

Ansco purchased five Makino HMCs—two a51s, one a81, one a82, and one a92—enabling the company to quote and deliver any size part. With pallet sizes ranging from 15.7 inches to almost 40 inches, and the ability to accommodate a variety of tool sizes, the Makinos enable Ansco to match the appropriate machine to the appropriate job without over-investing in capital equipment. They also provide Ansco the redundancy they need should production volume increase.

“We went with the Makinos because we felt their quality and reputation would help us increase our revenue,” adds Mike Sterling. “We knew they would deliver what they promised. We looked at a few brands, but when it came to fit and finish, Makino was the best. Makino also impressed me with the level of attention they paid to the details, such as the tool-changer door. When it comes to machine selection, people concentrate on the big stuff, but it’s often small things—like a poorly designed door—that can shut you down.

“We come from a background of doing larger steel mill work. Our first priority was to cover the size range we wanted, which we’ve done. Our second goal was to be redundant in every size so we can run jobs on any machine. I don’t like to refuse jobs. A machine can’t hold us back from quoting a job.”

“With our customers, accuracy is a given,” adds Jon Sterling, the plant manager. “You have to meet their specs exactly and deliver when they need it.” With Ansco’s family of Makino horizontal machining centers in place, they are pursuing their goal of producing entire families of parts for their customers.

Standardizing Customer Product Lines

Mike Sterling is an engineer by trade, and he uses that engineering background to not only understand the part, but also to understand the larger context in which the part is to be used. Applying that knowledge to the manufacturing process helps Ansco produce parts that are easier to manufacture and also work better in their final application. In addition, Mike Sterling feels that producing whole product lines, not just one part, is the best way to improve the customer relationship and reduce costs.

“We don’t want to produce tens of thousands of parts,” says Mike Sterling. “We would rather concentrate on families of parts, servicing all the needs of a particular customer. That way, we can be more involved in the process and help them overcome design and manufacturing challenges—to foster true partnerships.”

Many of Ansco’s customers had multiple suppliers, with different companies providing coatings, casting, or milling services. Fortunately for Ansco, these customers were unhappy with the lack of consistency throughout the product family and looked to Ansco to standardize the product lines.

“Now we receive the drawings, get the raw material, machine the parts, do any finish work required, and send the finished part to the client,” explains Mike Sterling. “Before we took over, the client was getting parts with different configurations because different suppliers had their own way of doing things.

“We took the time to standardize the customer’s product line and asked why there were different bolts and why there were different configurations. One of our steel-manufacturing customers was stocking six sizes of bolts when they only needed two for a turning pump housing family of parts. They got stuck in doing things one way without looking at the overall process. We made the counter-bores all the same depth and changed the configuration to make it more efficient. The result is an overall better product.

“When it was all said and done, we reduced production costs on the product family by 17 percent and improved the product. The company no longer stocks the product. We stock kanban quantities for them up to a week and then send them out when they’re needed.”

One recent area of growth is renewable energy. Ansco has provided their services to produce parts for solar panels and other renewable energy products. Their strategy of helping engineer whole families of parts is useful in this market, where many times a design is scaled to allow production of energy for particular applications, such as a single home or a whole community.

“Bidding jobs like these often requires an engineering touch,” says Cook. “Yes, it’s a hot industry right now, but cost is almost always a pressing concern when it comes to producing energy. So there’s pressure to make sure the parts are priced right, which encourages us to standardize part production to make the manufacturing process efficient. Fortunately, that’s something we’re very good at.”

Improving Consistency, Setup, and Production Times

Makino machines have delivered exceptional performance and value to Ansco. In addition to helping the company secure more business, Ansco has dramatically increased consistency while reducing setup and production times. Mike Sterling explains that improving setup times is critical, since complex parts typically require complex machines.

“Setup times have been one of our biggest challenges,” he says. “We’ve seen dramatic improvements in setup and production times. One example is a rotary actuator housing made from aluminum. Using a 4-axis vertical machining center, it took us an hour and 20 minutes to complete the part. On a Makino horizontal, running two operations on two pallets, we can produce the part in 22 minutes. Because of the machine’s speed, we can leave the parts to process longer, reducing setups.”

Consistency Is Another Area Where the Makinos Excel

“We built 770 units of a part for one of our customers. The part has 81 features that are checked for consistency on our CMM,” says Mike Sterling. “We were the only shop to provide the part with zero defects. That’s how good our guys and these Makino machines are.”

Family of Parts from a Family Company

Ansco has always prided itself on being a family company. Even with 43 employees, the family atmosphere is evident.

“We’re not just growing our business to support our family. We’re growing our business to support 43 families—everyone who helps Ansco succeed,” says Mike Sterling. “Our employees depend on us to make good choices so they have a place to come to work every day, and we depend on them to produce high-quality components.” For this reason, Ansco sent several of their machinists to Mason, Ohio, for hands-on training at Makino’s headquarters. With Makino’s training, employees at Ansco are all well prepared and educated on how to efficiently use their machines to produce high-quality parts for their consumers.

So far, growth hasn’t been a problem for Mike Sterling. He credits his employees and a dedicated management team—son Jeff manages turning; son Jon is plant floor manager; and son Dave oversees CAD/CAM programming and tooling—for getting the company where it is today. Add Sterling’s son-in-law, Tom Cook, and Ansco really is a family affair.

“Having five family members pulling in the same direction is very valuable to our business,” says Mike Sterling. “Management tasks overlap in a family business, and we are all equally passionate about where we are heading. It definitely makes for an interesting Thanksgiving dinner.”