For decades, the do-it-yourself (DIY) mentality has been popular in American culture. There’s a certain satisfaction and pride that come from taking raw materials and, through hard work, turning them into something valuable.
“OUR MAKINO EQUIPMENT OPENS UP OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR EMPLOYEES TO ACCOMPLISH.”
But to be a successful DIYer, one must have the right tools; no company knows this better than Superior Machining & Fabrication Inc. in Muenster, Texas. At Superior, the employees are the experts in custom machining—with decades of experience—and DIY is truly a way of life that can be traced to the town’s rural location and hard-working German ancestry. There are many ways in which DIY has been applied to the business. Superior not only built its own brand-new 100,000-square-foot facility, but it also has a material division that supplies the aluminum used to create its parts. It has a tooling operation. It has rigged its own machinery, created its own fixtures and performed its own maintenance. No matter what the task, Superior controls nearly all aspects of its manufacturing operations—from the raw materials to the manufacturing processes.
“Our ability to do everything in-house gives us more authority over a project’s workflow and cost,” said Jeff Walterscheid, operations manager and son of the company’s founder. “Our continued investment in technology is what supports this DIY way of life. It gives us the flexibility and productivity to optimize our operations, not just get the job done. Our Makino equipment opens up opportunities for our employees to accomplish more work on their own, to the benefit of our customers and the growth of our business.”
Equipping the Toolbox
For 24 years Giles Walterscheid worked for another manufacturer before becoming an entrepreneur. In addition to it being his career, machining was a hobby, and he used the two manual machines at his home to repair farm and oil-field equipment. Soon this passion led him to venture out on his own, and he purchased the CNC equipment needed to start Superior Machining & Fabrication in 1995. Today, most of Superior’s business is in the aerospace industry, but the company also performs work in the defense, oil and mining industry for both local and international customers. After nearly 20 years, the company has grown to 140 employees, and it has 90 machines on its floor.
In a job-shop environment, flexibility is a necessity. In the early years, Superior handled its work on vertical machining centers, but over time it began to understand the competitive advantage that horizontal machining centers could bring to the operation through better spindle utilization. In 2000, the company began adding horizontal machining centers. By 2007, the aerospace industry was growing and Superior continued to purchase HMCs to bring in additional capacity.
“At that time, the manufacturer we had worked with in the past had no machines in stock,” said Jeff. “Since we did not want to miss an opportunity to take on new business, we decided to move into high-performance machining with Makino. It had the equipment we needed ready for delivery.”
Superior purchased three Makino a51 horizontal machining centers—a change that had a lasting impact on the operation.
“We immediately saw a difference,” said Jeff. “Tool changes and cutting speeds were so much faster. We realized that the three to four seconds saved with each tool change really added up. The a51 machine’s compact, rigid spindle had little downtime. On a $100 aerospace seating component, all of this timesaving allowed us to produce four more parts per machine, per day, compared to previous HMC technologies. This translated into an extra $1,200 per day.”
The a51 also added a level of reliability to the operation, which wasn’t there before. On its previous commodity HMCs, Superior had to replace several spindles. On the a51 machines, the only time the panels were opened was for preventive maintenance—and this with the machines in operation 24 hours a day, five days a week.
In addition, parts were of higher quality on the a51 machines. Tolerances of 0.0001 inches were common, with greater repeatability. These kinds of results led the company to purchase three more a51 machines.
After several years of success with the a51s, Superior obtained five Makino a61nx horizontal machining centers to acquire a larger work zone and produce more parts in a single setup. These were purchased along with a Makino MMC2 automated cell for improved productivity. Makino expedited the process of integrating these four a61nx machines on Superior’s shop floor so that the company could begin making parts before the MMC2 components arrived.
“PARTS WERE OF HIGHER QUALITY ON THE a51 MACHINES. TOLERANCES OF 0.0001 INCHES WERE COMMON, WITH GREATER REPEATABILITY.”
When it was time to install the automated portion of the cell, Superior operators traveled to Makino’s Mason, Ohio, facility for a weeklong training course. Because of the purposeful timing, when they returned from Mason, the cell was up and running, ready for the operators to put their training in action and begin production. Makino was able to minimize overall downtime, and the training made that week a very productive period.
Automated Machining Brings Additional Tools to the Job
Superior’s automated cell is equipped with 56 pallets and five a61nx machines. The Makino MAS-A5 cell controller coordinates the tool magazines, pallets and part programs. A servo-controlled vehicle on the MMC2 transports material to and from machines with little to no operator intervention. Pallets can be loaded and unloaded for nine-hour runs without stopping the machine. It is not unheard of for the spindles on the a61nx machines to be running 95 percent of the time. The system has truly elevated Superior’s production.
In fact, over the last few years, Superior has seen its largest growth to date. The Makino machines have given this job shop the capacity of a production operation, and it is shipping over 40,000 parts per month.
The ability to make more parts via the MMC2 cell has brought significantly more revenue to the company over what it was doing with its original commodity HMCs. Because Superior can make 15 more of the aerospace seating components per machine, per day, on the MMC2 cell than it did on its original commodity machines, that $100 part adds up to an additional $7,500 each day. Multiplied by 250 production days a year, this investment brings an additional $1,875,000 per year in revenue.
“TO BE COMPETITIVE, YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY AND THINK BEYOND VMCS. WE HAVE FOUND THAT IN THE MAKINO MMC2 SYSTEM.”
“The a61nx machine’s rigid 14,000-rpm 40-taper spindle gives us the speed and ability to tackle challenging parts with a variety of features, but adding automation has really extended our capabilities,” said Jeff. “That additional revenue has really made our shop more competitive.”
The MAS-A5 controller also enables Superior to run more part varieties and prioritizes the machines to run certain applications at night or on weekends. If a customer asks Superior to quickly fit in an unexpected job, there is no need to stop a run or tear down existing fixtures to complete it. The controller can put the added pallet into production while the job that was already in operation continues to be machined on the other equipment in the cell.
“To be competitive, you have to have the latest technology and think beyond VMCs,” said Jeff. “We have found that in the Makino MMC2 system. With these machines, we are no longer limited by capacity. This equipment has given us an edge not only at home but also globally. Overseas competition used to be a problem for us, but not since we’ve acquired the MMC2 pallet system. These tools have improved our quality and delivery.”
The Right Tools for the Right Task
Superior still uses vertical machining centers for some of its one-off jobs, because not all of the work requires an automated HMC. To obtain additional speed and power, the company purchased two Makino PS95 vertical machining centers to replace its commodity VMCs.
“We used to accomplish hole drilling through pecking operations with our vertical machines,” said Wesley Sicking, operations manager. “With the PS95 machines, the high-speed spindle and through-spindle coolant allows us to keep drilling. We can run a faster feed rate and take heavier cuts. We are also experiencing longer tool life and a smaller footprint.”
The 33.5-horsepower high-speed 14,000-rpm spindle is similar to that found in the a51. The additional 2,000 rpm offered over Superior’s previous commodity VMCs, along with faster tool changers and axis movements, enable Superior to save 10 to 15 percent in cycle time over previous VMCs.
“Whether using vertical or horizontal equipment, we appreciate the flexibility and productivity that the Makino machines have brought to our operation,” said Jeff. “These new capabilities enhance our job-shop requirements, and have raised our production quality and on-time delivery. We have the tools we need to continue to control all aspects of our manufacturing process.”
Moving forward, Superior plans to purchase more Makino machines. The company has already purchased four more stand-alone a61nx machines and would like to add an MMC2 to those machines.
“WHETHER USING VERTICAL OR HORIZONTAL EQUIPMENT, WE APPRECIATE THE FLEXIBILITY AND PRODUCTIVITY THAT THE MAKINO MACHINES HAVE BROUGHT TO OUR OPERATION.”
“For the last six years, we have bought strictly Makino milling machines, and we see the difference it has made in our operation,” said Jeff. “The MMC2 cell has given us a technological advantage over our competitors. We have a better chance of succeeding in the industry because we can produce more parts. Being able to perform all of these machining operations ourselves in-house ultimately makes us price competitive. We plan to stay with Makino.” Superior has also been pleased with the service it receives from the company’s Makino representatives.
“If we ever have a question, we can get an answer immediately by phone or in person,” said Michael Hutchins, lead machinist. “The technicians from Makino have been responsive, knowledgeable and helpful. A 10- to 15-minute phone call can get us back up and running within the hour.”
Technology Supports Employees
Superior is a family-owned-and-operated company employing three generations of the Walterscheid clan and the extended family members of many of its employees. What matters most to Giles is creating stable jobs for these employees so that they can care for their own families.
“Technology truly supports our DIY operation, but we know that our number one asset is our employees,” said Giles. “If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are today. We treat them all like family, and, in many cases, they are family. Most have been around for 15-plus years, including our first 10 employees. It is my belief that if you can take care of your employees, you will be able to successfully take care of your customers, and vice versa.”
Giles says that Superior continues to be committed to obtaining the best technology possible in order for the operators to be successful in their jobs and make quality parts. The work ethic of its employees and the DIY nature of its operation, combined with the Makino technology, is a winning combination. And building a strong work environment for employees ultimately contributes to the community stability of this small hardworking town.