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High-Performance CNC Machines Add Capacity, Bring Family Success to Campbell Engineering
Many draw upon the support of and commitment to family as motivation to succeed. James “Jay” Campbell is no different. Family has motivated him for nearly 30 years in the industry—beginning early in his career when he joined his dad and brother to build the family business, and later working with his own children as owner and CEO of Campbell Engineering in Lake Forest, Calif.
Jay had no idea that when he and his brother Larry were paid pennies per unit to help their dad deburr injection-molded parts each evening during their high school years, the experience would shape the future. It first led to a position at the family company, where Jay worked for over 10 years alongside Larry and their dad. Then Jay left to start his own company. After 19 years of running Campbell Engineering, Jay still considers himself more machinist than CEO, and continues to value ties to the family business. He consults Larry for advice and is thrilled that his own daughters and son-in-law now work with him at Campbell Engineering.
“Both the PS95 and a51 have enabled us to accomplish our goal of expanding capacity…cutting 60 to 70 percent more aggressively than the other machines on our shop floor.”
Over the years, the company has found its niche milling highly complex, low-volume components—primarily aluminum parts for medical laser instruments. It has developed a reputation for having high standards of quality and customer service while delivering parts on time. Recently, Campbell Engineering has been evolving from a job shop into more of a contract manufacturer, as current clients ramp up part quantities. It has been able to expand its capacity as it shifts its business model, thanks to its investments in two high-performance CNC machine, the Makino PS95 vertical machining center and a51 horizontal machining center.
“Both the PS95 and a51 have enabled us to accomplish our goal of expanding capacity beyond what was capable from previous conventional vertical machining centers,” said Jay. “In fact, both machines are cutting 60 to 70 percent more aggressively than the other machines on our shop floor.”
Prior to acquiring its new machines, Campbell Engineering had used conventional vertical machining centers (VMCs) for its operation. While that equipment had fulfilled Jay’s dream of starting his own shop and had served the company well for many years, he knew that adding high-performance CNC machine technology would help the company better accommodate its growth.
“We didn’t seek new equipment because we were having problems,” said Jay. “We just needed to better manage our expansion. There were new opportunities we did not want to pass up. Customer needs have changed in the last five to 10 years, and we are going from prototypes to production. To meet this new business opportunity, we wanted to increase capacity, and that required a new strategy that would enable our business to thrive without adding additional labor.”
The company had already grown from a one-man shop to a two-shift operation, and had expanded from an 800-square-foot to 11,500-square-foot building. Recognizing similar growing pains as those his father’s business had once experienced, Jay spoke to Larry about the Makino machining solutions they had put in place during their growth spurt.
“Larry told me that he was extremely impressed by the quality, service and productive performance of the Makino machines they had acquired,” said Jay. “So our Campbell Engineering team scheduled a meeting with SST, our local Makino distributor, to learn more. Our SST representative responded immediately to all of our inquiries and did a great job explaining what the machines could do. In fact, he was unlike any other sales representative we had encountered before. He provided an exorbitant amount of detail about the machines available and analyzed our company’s goals and current position to advise on which would be the most cost-effective and efficient solution. We really felt that he understood our business. This helped us make the right selections to steer us toward future opportunity. He acted more as a partner than a salesman. He wasn’t just out to put another machine on our shop floor.”
“SST had the machine installed and running at the shop within 48 hours of delivery and also brought in a Makino engineer for on-site training with three of the company’s operators.”
In addition to consulting his SST sales representative, Jay attended trade shows to see various machines in use and researched horizontal machining centers (HMCs) online to learn more.
“I noticed that every time I did a search, Makino was in peoples’ top three for horizontal machining centers,” he said. “The more I read the threads and blogs, I saw very favorable comments about Makino from other machinists and owners all over the world. This gave me a lot of confidence in the brand.”
Despite all the research into HMCs, Campbell Engineering first purchased a PS95 vertical machining center (VMC) in December 2013.
“I was still hesitant to take a chance with a horizontal machining center, so I decided that my first high-performance CNC machine purchase would be a VMC,” said Jay. “I knew we couldn’t go wrong due to the production capability, product quality and pricing, which were all the main factors in my decision. SST had the machine installed and running at the shop within 48 hours of delivery and also brought in a Makino engineer for on-site training with three of the company’s operators.”
A few months later, Jay invested in a Makino a51 horizontal machining center.
“The HMC would help us combine operations and improve quality, since the products we are making require five to eight operations and a true position of 0.001 inch,” he said.
SST served as a single source not only for both machine installations but also all related fixturing and consumable needs, even suggesting that Campbell add a Techni-Grip™ work-holding system to the a51.
“We appreciated all of SST’s guidance,” said Jay. “The company responded to all of our questions and stayed with us until we were completely up and running. The Makino service personnel were everything you would expect from a premium machine manufacturer. We received progress updates from their technicians throughout the day during the installation process. It could not have gone better.”
Following installation, four days of training took place on site at Campbell. Even though the machine had more features than the company was used to with its previous machines, there were no issues with training.
“Makino service personnel were everything you would expect from a premium machine manufacturer.”
“The learning curve for high-speed horizontal machining went very smoothly, and it did not take long at all for us to catch on,” said Steve Butner, machinist supervisor at Campbell Engineering. “The representatives from Makino were a step above the rest, and everything lived up to expectations.”
A Winning Combination
Only eight months into operating its new high-performance CNC machines, Campbell Engineering is already seeing big improvements as it expands its capacity.
“Our cutting performance has improved significantly,” said Butner. “On both machines, we have increased spindle speeds and feedrates by 50 to 70 percent.”
The PS95 became the company’s number one workhorse for larger applications with limited operations that require high metal-removal rates (MRR) and precise true positioning.
“The PS95 is pretty impressive compared to our previous machines,” said Butner. “We like the speed of the tool changes and the machine rigidity. We feel like it has the performance equivalent of two to three other machines in the shop. We used to run our commodity machine at 800 rpm while feeding it at eight inches per minute [ipm]. We run the spindle on the PS95 at 3,200 rpm and feed it at 30 to 35 ipm. What a difference!
“One part that we produce is a beam splitter for the medical market. This detailed part requires tight tolerances. We used to run it on our commodity VMCs, but after putting it on the PS95, the cycle times dropped from 42 minutes to 25 minutes—with improved repeatability. The horsepower and torque on this machine allow us to be 60 to 70 percent more aggressive in our cut, even using smaller tools.”
Campbell Engineering also uses the PS95 to perform high-performance roughing operations and establish datum points on the first operation.
“We try to nail the first position perfectly, because all subsequent operations come off of it,” said Butner. “This strategy has enabled us to use the PS95’s strongest advantages across the widest number of applications.”
Similar to the PS95, the a51 has seen positive results. When Campbell Engineering encounters applications requiring three or more operations, the a51 is its go-to solution to machine the part complete.
“We feel like [the PS95] has the performance equivalent of two to three other machines in the shop.”
“With the added benefit of the B-axis table, we are able to access more part features, consolidate operations, reduce setups and use fewer tools—all of which maximize spindle utilization,” said Butner. “We came up with 50 percent faster cycle times without much effort.”
One of Campbell Engineering’s a51 operators describes the machine as “a beast that is always hungry.”
“We continue to keep pushing the machine’s cutting parameters further and further, and it just keeps taking on more and more,” said Butner. “We can’t get parts programmed fast enough to run through the machine. With the 14,000-rpm spindle, we feel like the sky’s the limit on the feedrates. You can be as aggressive as you want when programming it. You just need the proper tools. And even with the increased machining speed, we do not see an increase in tool wear. We attribute this to both the rigidity of our Makino mills and our quality tool holders.”
“Six months after the a51 was up and running and training was complete, we knew that we made the right choice,” said Jay. “Any worries about ROI went away as soon as we fired it up and saw what it could do. The machine has proved to be what we’ve hoped for, and more. Not only have cycle times been reduced, the equipment is much more repeatable and accuracy has improved. This means that we spend less time struggling with setups and first articles, saving time and money in our quality department.”
The high-performance CNC machines enable the company to take existing jobs and complete them using more efficient solutions.
“We came up with 50 percent faster cycle times without much effort.”
“It’s fun to find new ways of doing things,” said Jay, “That kind of creativity makes this job fun. I want to do things faster and more accurately than the competition. And the speed and rigidity of both of the machines allow us to accomplish that.”
Campbell Engineering operates each machine with its individual strengths in mind, maximizing value. Between the two, the company tries to run as many jobs as it can.
“Since we have been using these machines, we have not only seen a significant reduction in cycle times, but we have also been able to run additional volumes of certain parts,” said Butner. “Moreover, from a programming standpoint, we are much more aggressive in the way we approach cutting material.”
And even being more aggressive in the cut, Campbell’s throughput and profitability are improved.
“Not only have cycle times been reduced, the equipment is much more repeatable and accuracy has improved.”
“We feel that this equipment is far superior compared to our previous equipment,” said Butner. “At Campbell, we hold tight tolerances. In fact, plus or minus 0.0005 inch is not uncommon. We have already observed a decrease in setup time and in holding positional tolerances. We used to spend time trying to locate the sweet spot for the part. But the PS95 and a51 are so repeatable. This saves a lot of time, maintains quality and eliminates scrap. We can produce high-quality parts in a fraction of the time than we did with our previous equipment.”
As the company continues to expand with more high-mix, low-volume work, it has already purchased additional high-performance CNC machines, including a Makino a51nx horizontal machining center and U6 wire EDM to give the company even more control over quality and scheduling.
“We currently outsource $8,000 to $10,000 per month in wire EDM work,” said Jay. ”And based on the user-friendly design of Makino’s U6, we believe we can quickly eliminate those expenses while obtaining additional flexibility for the future.”
Campbell Engineering knows that acquiring new technology can help it maintain its competitive edge.
“Our company likes to stay one step ahead,” said Jay. “We know that the companies that are growing are the ones that have the nerve to invest in technology to obtain power, speed and accuracy. As bidding for work remains competitive, we need this kind of advantage to stay ahead.
“At Campbell, everything that each of us accomplishes is driven by our desire to provide for our families, and our machining technology is one way for us to accomplish that.”
“Because we have high-performance CNC machines, our customers will know that we’re serious about making accurate parts. They are some of the most top-rated, cutting-edge tools out there. We enjoy showing them off when someone visits our shop. It makes them feel confident knowing that we have the capacity to handle their needs. We believe that quality breeds quality, and we look forward to growing our business as we acquire more Makino machines.”
As it expands, Campbell Engineering is currently working toward Stage 2 ISO certification after Larry challenged Jay to complete it.
“We enjoy pushing each other toward success,” said Jay. “Especially because what matters most to our business is family. At Campbell, everything that each of us accomplishes is driven by our desire to provide for our families, and our machining technology is one way for us to accomplish that. It’s fun, challenging and ever-changing, and it brings purpose.”