Machine Shop Puts Customer First, Always First
J&R Machine prides itself on going the extra mile for customers while solving problems with complex machined parts.
When Timothy Tumanic, president of J&R Machine Inc. (www.jrmachine.com), talks about Made in America, he mentions his customers, quick parts turnaround, repeated customer visits, one-day deliveries, and the customers—always, the customers.
“If a customer needs a part today, we’ll drive it to them,” he told D2P in an interview. “They might have made a mistake in their planning. We get them what they need.”
J&R Machine Inc., founded in 1992, employs three engineers and a total of about 30 people at its 20,000-square-foot plant in Shawano, Wisconsin. The company, which specializes in solving manufacturing engineering problems related to complex machined parts, offers services that include CNC machining, multi-spindle machining, thread rolling, fabrication, and assembly.
“I think most manufacturers would prefer to do business here, but price has forced them to offshore products,” Tumanic said, referring to the off-shoring of mostly commodity products, not the complicated pieces that require elaborate machining.
This obsession with price—the supposed deals that companies get by purchasing off shore—bothers Tumanic. Some companies get great deals, and some companies buy headaches. What companies appear to forget, he said, is that a price isn’t just the figure on the bottom line of a purchase order.
The PO price isn’t the cost, Tumanic argues. After all, does that price include the shipping? Does it include the extra weeks in transit, the delays, the repairs made in the U.S. because the part that arrives isn’t machined properly? Does it include the extra machining costs, the reject rate, the coating, and the plating? How about re-coating and re-plating? Price should include the true costs, Tumanic said, not just the figure printed on the purchase order.
The purchase order price is so important at some companies, Tumanic said, the purchaser’s bonus is based on the PO price being lower than whatever the PO price was before. He shakes his head.
“So if I charge $5 on the PO and another $5 for shipping, do they think my price is $5?” he asks rhetorically. “If the rejection rate is 25 percent or 40 percent, what does that do to the PO price? How much of a deal is that? I’m not sure some companies are even asking the question,” Tumanic said.
According to Tumanic, the opportunity open to U.S. manufacturers is for the more complicated parts—the parts that are critical for the customer’s business. “You don’t want to be missing a key part that could interfere with millions of dollars in shipments,” he said. “That’s what we go after: parts that do not lend themselves to the overseas competition. You wouldn’t take a part that is critical to your operations and source it overseas. It wouldn’t make very good sense.”
The manufacturing services offered by J&R Machine are used by OEMs, defense contract suppliers, and clients in a variety of industries, ranging from medical technology to oil and gas, machinery and equipment, hydraulics, and auto racing.
“We’ve had situations where we put a person on a plane and hand delivered five parts,” he continued. “The customer needed a program up and running tomorrow. He can’t get that from China. He can’t get that from Taiwan,” Tumanic said, and in those situations, his company is working hand-in-glove with the customer. Sort out the inconvenience or expense later; J&R Machine’s goal is service and response time. “If the customer calls with a question, we get back to them within an hour—one hour,” he said. “It might be just to say, ‘I don’t have the answer for you yet because some people haven’t gotten back to me, but I just wanted to let you know we’re working on it and we’ll call back with the answer.’ We call back.”
As Tumanic talks to people nowadays, he’s starting to hear people consider the total cost of parts, but even that won’t stop firms from offshoring completely, he said.
“There will always be global completion out there. Some people have great experience; some people have an awful time. Now, of course, a lot of people are sourcing parts to India,” Tumanic said. But people are also thinking about the total cost of doing business at a distance. A personal touch is often required. “We have customers all over the country. We can get it there. We probably have more customers in Texas than we do in Wisconsin. We’re doing business all over.”
One reason why the personal touch is so important is that some parts are extremely complicated, and both the customer and the machine shop cooperate on its design.
Vacuum Nozzle Without a Twist
When one pharmaceutical firm approached J&R Machine with a complicated part, eight other shops had already turned it down.
“Our customer went all over the country to find someone to do it. He found 12 people—eight of them turned him down, four gave him a quote. We were the lowest price, but we worked with the customer designing the part—one really complicated part,” Tumanic said. “We probably made thousands of these before a design was settled on. We worked with the customer to solve the problem.”
The problem was designing a part that would pick up 250 gel tabs at once and place them onto the right spot without dropping a pill. The 250 vacuum nozzles all fit into one manifold plate. The manifold reaches down, picks up the 250 gel tabs, and puts them on another spot.
The vacuum nozzle, as finally designed, was about two inches long and ? inch wide. Inside, J&R Machine assembled and installed a small ball valve. The valve consisted of two ball bearings and a narrow stem about 8/1000 of an inch wide connecting them. Everything was made of stainless steel.
But if the vacuum nozzles were even a fraction out of place, a tiny twist left or right, the nozzle dropped the gel tab. The angular relation of the milling on the nozzles needs to be perfect, Tumanic said. The whole part was roughly the size of a thumb. “If they [the nozzles] are not perfect, if they’re off at all in their angular relationship to the manifold, they will not seal on the gel tab, and the gel tabs will drop,” he said. Hundreds of designs were tested, and thousands of nozzles were manufactured and tested. “Even the assembly job was a challenge. They’re not very big.”
In the end, J&R Machining made about 5,000 of them at $50 each.
Lean Manufacturing Lowers Costs
Following the recession and hard times after 9/11, J&R Machine began lean manufacturing.
“We’ve been on the lean journey since 2002. We completely remade the company,” Tumanic said. “Everything from inventory levels, set-up times, even our tooling, is vendor managed—even our preventative maintenance.”
Tumanic said lean manufacturing lowers the company’s costs, citing an example in which labor costs dropped from 18 percent of a part’s total cost to 11 percent of the cost. In another case, tooling and supply costs fell by 2 percent. “Now we’re more competitive for our customers,” he said.
J&R Machine’s manufacturing floor is designed into cells, where one person can sometimes run multiple machines at the same time.
“We try to maintain a two-to-one ratio of machine to personnel,” Tumanic said. To accomplish that, machines are placed in a U-shape so that the worker can turn from one machine to another while hardly moving at all.
Tumanic said that the company didn’t just look at lean manufacturing, decide that it was done, and then walk away from it. Instead, it’s engaged in an on-going process of continuous improvement. “You’re never done. It’s something you’re always working toward.”
Tumanic said the fact that the company began its lean manufacturing journey 14 years ago helped it win a Top Shops award in 2014 for Shopfloor Practices.
J&R Machine uses machine performance software to track how well it uses its machines. The software uses color codes that people can see all day long across the factory floor. A green light indicates a machine is working properly. A yellow says there are gaps in its operations that need to be resolved. A red light means a machine is down for maintenance. “It’s visual—you know if a machine is operating properly,” Tumanic said. “With this tool, you maximize your time; you get the most out of your machines. We want to eliminate as much of the yellow time as possible.”
The data that the software generates about how machines are used is accumulated, and it tells J&R Machine which machines are the most productive and which aren’t. It helps the company decide what equipment to buy and when.
“Without that, a lot of shops would say ‘We’re busy. We’ve got to buy another machine,’” Tumanic said, but they’re deciding on gut instinct, not facts.
Fixtures and Lead Time
According to J&R Machine, its fixtures allow it to manufacture numerous parts without a person interfering. That makes a better part, Tumanic said. A person who is constantly inserting a piece into a machine, cutting it, removing it, inserting the next part, cutting it, moving it, and replacing it may be able to make every part to proper specifications. However, if all of those parts were put into a high density fixture on the work surface for machining, the process would be done much faster and more accurately.
Tumanic attributes some of his success to the work that the shop does with a local high school. The shop has helped the high school buy machines and tools to train students. One of J&R’s employees helps the school with the new equipment and training.
“We have our training person. He works as a liaison with the high school and as an instructor. He also works here with employees to help them meet the tasks of the training. They become masters of their machines,” Tumanic said. “Our training program is the first thing a new customer asks us.”
Workers learn each machine. They train in measurement, programming, control plans, packaging, and other skills.
“They’re in charge of their work cells,” Tumanic said. The company favors Mori Seiki equipment over other brands, and a benefit of having the same equipment all around the shop is that if one worker needs help, another worker is already familiar with the machine.
“If I had numerous brands, I wouldn’t be able to move jobs around easily,” Tumanic said. If a customer calls, and all of the sudden a bunch of parts are due tomorrow instead of next week, J&R Machine can shift staff around to meet the new (surprise) deadline. Tumanic said it isn’t about blame. “We do what the customer needs.”
When talking about the future, J&R Machine is looking at enterprise resource planning, known as ERP, to better manage and understand its data. A typical ERP tool looks at procurement, production, distribution, accounting, human resources, customer service, sales, and corporate performance. At the same time, the firm is looking into a dashboard system to create a visual representation of the company’s performance over time.
Dashboard systems and ERP systems give management a visual representation of how the company is doing at any given moment over time. It is one way managers use to see if the company is meeting goals, including sales goals, production goals, and business plan targets.
Another new project for J&R Machine is a sub-spindle system, or two of them, to expand the company’s machining and manufacturing capabilities.
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