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Mathews Sets Sights on Technology
Horizontal Milling Machines Bring a New Degree of Productivity and Reliability
Matt McPherson has been passionate about bowhunting all of his life. It began as a child, hunting deer with his dad and brother. They used bows because his mother forbade them from using guns, and McPherson ended up loving the sport. By age 6, he was assembling his own stick bows, and by age 13 was making compound bows. Today McPherson is still creating them at his company, Mathews Inc., where he aims for bringing continual improvement to the archery industry through innovation, impact and integrity.
Mathews is a household name in the bowhunting world. As the company’s sole designer, McPherson strives to make his bows better while also making them simpler to use. He is committed to this continuous innovation, which is also one of the company’s core values. He and his team are continually working to introduce new designs, technology and products. And they have been successful in doing so. Mathews revolutionized the industry with its Solocam® single-cam technology, making a bow that is lighter, faster, quieter and more accurate. McPherson has also created a parallel limb design, instead of an arch design as found in other products. These are the types of innovations that his company has implemented throughout the industry.
“When we’re thinking about creating the ultimate bow, it has to have speed, a smooth draw-cycle, tack-driving accuracy and a dead-silent shot—all wrapped in a lightweight package,” said Bob Ohm, director of public relations at Mathews. “Technology is key to achieving this. It has enabled us to put forth new designs while bringing quality control fully in-house.”
The company recently set its sights on its productivity and reliability by using Makino a51nx horizontal milling machines to bring as much as a 40 percent improvement in cycle times, helping it run more parts faster. This is just one aspect of the continuous innovation for which the company strives.
STRAIGHT SHOT TO SUCCESS
Mathews sells a diverse line of archery equipment, components and accessories at independent retailers around the world. Its roots go back to McPherson’s early passion for bowhunting that resulted from those hunting trips with family. In 1985 McPherson patented the InnerCam, a new type of high-letoff eccentric bow, and started McPherson Archery. A few years later, he sold his controlling interest in the company, and in 1992 began Mathews Inc. in Austin, Minn.
“That first year the company had two employees and sold 175 bows,” said Ohm. “But by the next year, there were already 26 employees and 4,500 bows sold. Today there are over 400 employees; we are producing hundreds of bows daily, and are the largest grossing bow manufacturer in the world.”
The company moved to Sparta, Wis., in 1995. McPherson was originally from the area and spent a lot of time hunting in Wisconsin, so the location was a natural fit. Nearly all staff relocated, and McPherson credits a large part of the company’s success to these employees, who reflect the company’s core values of integrity, impact and innovation. The company always puts people before business as part of its core value of integrity. It strives to make a positive impact on its coworkers, customers and community, and the new designs and new products that Mathews produces is part of the company’s commitment to innovation.
Because of its ongoing innovation, McPherson radically redesigned the company’s main bow from a single into a split-limb configuration. As a result, the way in which the limbs are attached to the bow had to change. Previously, Mathews used a cup system made of aluminum. The new bow design required transitioning from a simple cup produced on a lathe to a more complicated cup system. Production needed to ramp up for this new limb cup, but Mathews didn’t want to outsource the job. The company first tried using its existing horizontal milling centers, but the machines just didn’t have capacity. This led the company to evaluate machine tool manufacturers.
“Our productivity increased anywhere from 17 to 40 percent on some of our parts…this level of performance changed the way we looked at our technology investments.”
“Matt knew someone who recommended Makino machines for the job,” said Scott Jenkins, machine shop manager, equipment and design at Mathews. “Intrigued, we went to another company using Makino to check out the machines in action. We invited in our local Makino representative, Lynn Bachman, who made a solid case for the Makino machine by showing us a lot of test data. Frankly, we had a good relationship with the other machine tool company and had never really thought about changing machines before. But the reliability issues, coupled with the recommendation and company reputation, piqued our interest, so we decided to evaluate Makino further.”
Still testing the waters, Mathews purchased three more of its existing machines and one Makino a51nx horizontal milling machine to meet its production demands. The local SST dealer for Makino delivered this machine, and several Mathews operators participated in the in-house training that SST applications engineer Mike Johnson conducted.
“For us it was an easy adjustment to the a51nx,” said Mike Schlagenhaufer, machine shop production manager at Mathews. “We were already familiar with Fanuc-based controls, and the touch-screen interface was very intuitive and user-friendly. Right off the bat, we were very happy with the machine performance. We were hoping to see 85 percent efficiency and were quickly at 87 percent efficiency on the a51nx. Our productivity increased anywhere from 17 to 40 percent on some of our parts. Plus, our other machines were still having issues. This level of performance changed the way we looked at our technology investments.”
HITTING THE MARK
The a51nx decreased cycle times right out of the gate, on one part going from 42 minutes on the existing horizontal milling machines to 32 minutes on the a51nx. The machine has a 14,000-rpm spindle, but most of the time saved was in in-cycle, out-of-cut operations. Mathews was running the limb-cup part using window fixturing to get behind the part, which required frequent B-axis rotations. Because the a51nx machine simultaneously conducts its tool changes and the B-axis rotations, having faster in-cycle non-cut times makes a difference, especially as Mathews creates 224 of these limb-cup parts per day.
“On some of our parts, we are using 15 tools and up to 20 tool changes,” said Jenkins. “When we are making 16 parts per hour, this adds up. Having the combined movements of the tool changes and B-axis rotations was a big timesaving. Additionally, the machine is built to be solid and reliable. We are able to speed up the Makino machine and have less tool breakage due to the rigidity of the machine, which translates to less vibration in the cut.”
Less vibration led to better quality surface finishes and tolerances on bearing holes of plus or minus 0.0002 inch. The reporting features of the Pro5 control also helped operators track this saving and make adjustments to further improve the productivity of the machine.
“On some of our parts, we are using 15 tools and up to 20 tool changes . . . Having the combined movements of the tool changes and B-axis rotations was a big timesaving.”
“We have the ability to see where cycle-time improvements can be made to reduce feed time on a part,” said Rich Jerome, prototype technician, fixture design at Mathews. “But on some parts, the saving was already obvious. We gradually began transferring other jobs to the a51nx. On a separate riser part that requires a lot of drilling, the improvements in rapid speeds, which comprised 50 percent of the movement, reduced machining time by almost a full minute per part. This resulted in a 36 percent reduction in cycle time, from two minutes, 32 seconds to one minute, 38 seconds per part, in the full run. Makino has eliminated time on wasted motions that can be used for other processes.”
Enjoying more capacity and productivity, Mathews purchased another a51nx for its shop in the spring of 2014 and began moving other jobs to this machine. One example was a quiver accessory that was transferred from its other vertical machining center to the a51nx when the vertical machine couldn’t keep up with demand.
“Frankly, we recognize now that back in the beginning, when we bought three competitive machines and one Makino, we should have instead bought three Makinos.”
“We know that it’s a no-contest situation when trying to make comparisons on parts transferred from vertical to horizontal milling machines, but at the end of the day, it’s all about productivity and meeting demand,” said Jerome. “By bringing these parts over to the a51nx, we increased throughput by 180 percent. We were able to fit more parts on the fixture, producing eight parts instead of two, and were able to push tooling and cutting operations to the manufacturer limit without any issues. We improved cycle time by 41 percent, going from seven minutes, 23 seconds to four minutes, 20 seconds per part, and meeting our production requirements. The a51nx horizontal milling machines have more than proven themselves. We are most happy with the reliability of the machine and the extra capacity it brings. Frankly, we recognize now that back in the beginning, when we bought three competitive machines and one Makino, we should have instead bought three Makinos. Of the 46 machines on our shop floor, the two a51nx machines are the ones we don’t have to worry about.”
DRAWING ON CORE VALUES
All of this technology has helped to facilitate the innovation that McPherson strives for each day, making his complex designs come to life during production in an affordable and profitable way. McPherson’s company has produced over 1 million bows in the 22 years since it began, and it has over 100 patented or patent-pending innovations.
“Of the 46 machines on our shop floor, the two a51nx machines are the ones we don’t have to worry about.”
“McPherson is self-taught, studying metallurgy, composites, compression molding, plastic-injection molding, metal-stamping processes and engineering, all on his own,” said Ohm. “Many of his innovations have changed the industry. For example, he has consistently pioneered lighter and faster bows. His Harmonic Damper system introduced in 2000 has become an industry-standard accessory. The Helim cam produces speeds of up to 332 feet per second and weighs only 3.5 pounds.”
Investing in high-performance manufacturing technology has not only enabled Mathews to innovate, but it has also given the company a foundation for quality that is in keeping with company integrity. All products are American made and carry a lifetime warranty. Mathews does not sell its products in the big-box stores, preferring instead to preserve the brand experience by selling through 1,200 licensed dealers that are highly trained.
“This allows us to maintain quality control throughout the product cycle,” said Schlagenhaufer. “We ensure that our retailers can deal with any issue that can arise and keep our customers happy. We aim to put quality into everything we do.”
“The machine shop is the heart of the company. It is there that our innovations in technology are achieved, and this is in part due to quality vendors like Makino.”
Keeping that quality means having full control over everything in the manufacturing process, which starts in the machine shop, where everything is made in-house except the castings and camouflage film that is put on the product. Tools are designed based on solid models, fixtures are created and runoff is done on the machines before releasing a part into production. A prototype group designs the fixtures and custom carbide tooling. Then, the parts are run 24 hours a day, five days a week. They are finished and assembled in-house, before Mathews warehouses and distributes its products.
“Everything starts in the machine shop,” said Jenkins. “It is the heart of the company. It is there that our innovations in technology are achieved, and this is in part due to quality vendors like Makino. They build equipment that is efficient enough to give us the capacity to handle record growth and to give us the freedom to pursue new and innovative designs.”
That kind of growth also has impact in the community. One of the company’s core values, impact, means giving back through many charitable organizations. The company has worked with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to form the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP). The organization involves students in grades 4 through 12 in archery through their physical education classes. It has reached over 11 million students in 47 states and five countries. CenterShot Ministries is another organization the McPhersons founded. It is similar to NASP but is conducted in churches. Mathews’ companies also support other organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs and 4-H Shooting Sports.
“Makino gives us the capacity to handle record growth and the freedom to pursue new and innovative designs.”
The McPherson family is very active in the company and its charities. McPherson’s three sons are involved in Mathews, Brennan Industries and Mission Archery, which produces high-quality bows at a budget-friendly price. McPherson is also committed to running McPherson Guitars, where he is also passionate about and deeply involved in product design.
AIMING TO MAKE WHAT MATTERS
Due to box-office hit movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire,” there has been continued growth and popular interest in the archery industry. McPherson has already put an a51nx on the shop floor at Mission Archery, to increase capacity on its Genesis bows. These bows are geared toward those just getting into the sport, like young people and families.
“With this kind of growth, I see no reason why we wouldn’t put more Makino machines on our shop floor,” said Jenkins. “We want to continue being involved in growing the sport of archery. Whether it’s through our companies or through our philanthropic work, everyone is a part of this—from our employees, to our retailers, to our customers.”
Ohm agrees. “At Mathews, what matters most are people. In everything that we do and in everything that we sell, we want to have a happy customer base. That means putting out the highest quality product that we can. It also means hiring with care. We want our employees around for life. We have never had a layoff in 22 years. We truly try to put people before business, and our employees work hard because they want Mathews to be the best.”
As Mathews continues to bring innovation to its bows, it strives to bring families together in the sport, just as it has done with McPherson’s own family.