Manufacturing News: CAM-Centric Machine Shop Pushes Productivity to the Max
Paddy Gavin has been the owner and operator of GQ Machine (Norwood, MA) since he started the company in 1990. Over those years he has experienced growth spurts, but nothing like what he has seen during the past five years. During that time, he has doubled the CNC equipment in the shop and the new additions have been all high-end, high speed. As a result, productivity has nearly quadrupled. Even so, he operates the company with the same number of people he had in 2009.
What differentiates GQ Machine from many shops of similar size is the company’s commitment to turning jobs around within four to five days on average and, in certain cases, overnight. This standard turn-around can be weeks faster than lead times quoted by other shops. In those shops, the short run, fast turn projects often sit at the end of a queue until the contract projects have been cleared out of the way. GQ Machine’s backlog is typically one week, so it is not difficult to fit in emergency jobs closer to the front of the queue.
Gavin set up his shop, selected versatile, high speed CNC equipment, chose personnel and established a unique workflow all based on the premise that every job that comes in the door must be sent back out to the customer as quickly as possible. Central to this style of operation is a versatile CAM system (Mastercam X7, from CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) that is readily available to everyone on the shop floor and touches everything the company produces.
Running Full Out
GQ Machine’s hours of operation are 5 AM to 11:30 PM, seven days a week. The pace of work coming off the machines picks up gradually on Monday and Tuesday, gains momentum as Friday approaches, and then rises to a crescendo of weekend warrior productivity. This is all by design.
Once the machines are fully loaded and running, the programmer/machinists continue their work in Mastercam and the machines are stopped only for short intervals to swap out three or four pallets to keep production going. On average, one person may be responsible for attending three to four machines during a given shift.
Each of the machines has multi-pallet workholding capabilities. Early in the week, the programmer/machinists are very busy writing programs and setting up workpieces so that parts can be manufactured, sometimes dozens at a time, on each machine. By the same token, the day shift will also concentrate on doing multiple programs and pallet set-up so that the night shift can run full tilt with programs that have already been written.
Gavin said, “We plan ahead especially for the weekends because we run full steam then. We have pallet changers and the productivity from them is astounding. There is no downtime aside from the small amount of time invested in setting up. But once they are set up, the machines run full tilt.”
Paddy’s Three Rules
There are currently 12 people on staff: a quality manager, eight programmer/machinists (including Gavin) and two operators. The programmer/ machinists are responsible for every aspect of the jobs they are assigned, from ordering material to meeting final specification criteria and on-time delivery. Writing CNC programs in Mastercam is central to everything they do. The company has six Mastercam Maintenance licenses set up on a network so everyone has access to the program when they need it.
Not one of the computers at any workstation are more than two years old and they are all configured with at least, and usually more than, the minimal processor speed and RAM recommended by Mastercam. No time is spent waiting for CAM programs to process, and while one program is being generated and posted to the network, the programmer/machinist is already writing another one on the same computer.
Mastercam provides a great deal of flexibility regarding how the programmer/machinists approach their work. However, there are three things that Paddy Gavin absolutely insists on:
- Always create a stock model: Even if the customer does not send a CAD file, Gavin has his programmers create one, either in SolidWorks or Mastercam. This allows the programmer to take advantage of the company’s ubiquitous large screen monitors to rotate the model and visualize the best way to hold and cut the part. This approach is ultimately faster and more accurate, even if it is only a simple part. Models are essential for simulation to check for potential gouges and interferences.
- Use Dynamic Motion Technology: Whenever possible, create toolpaths using Mastercam’s material-aware Dynamic Motion Technology. This technology automatically adjust feeds, speeds and entries to provide consistent chip loads so machines can run at optimal material removal rates without having to back off for fear of burying the tool. Using this technology, tool wear and breakage is down, and material removal productivity has increased by 25% – 50%. It allows full flute engagement of the tool for longer tool life and more uniform wear. With this technology, it now takes only 15 minutes to write programs that used to take 45 to 60 minutes just a few years ago.
- Simulate everything: Watching Mastercam’s simulation on large screen monitors allows users to visualize toolpaths and material removal at very high magnifications. This almost entirely eliminates scrap and verifies that the CNC program will allow the machine to operate at high material removal rates, one part after another.
Growing Its Own Machinists
Gavin believes his company has a bright future, as long as he can keep the pipeline of work feeding increasingly productive manufacturing processes as full as possible. One thing he is not concerned about is where the next experienced machinist is going to come from. He said his company has solved that problem by growing its own. He has some programmer/machinists in their 40s and 50s, but half of the people who work at GQ are below 30 years old and they are proficient at what they do.
Trevor Richardson is a prime example. A few years ago, Trevor was going to college to study marine biology. He quickly discovered that this was not going to be something he would want to pursue as a career. He was not sure what he wanted to do, but he was sure that he did not want to assume the heavy financial commitment of a college education without a clearer path ahead of him. So Trevor left college and took a position as shipper at the job shop of his good friend Cillian Gavin’s father, Paddy Gavin.
After 18 months of Trevor doing whatever he was asked, Gavin decided to teach Trevor how to program the CNC equipment. Trevor took to it right away and within a year, at the age of 21, had become one of the shop’s most adept programmer/machinists. Gavin’s son, who is 21, is another. He is responsible for manufacturing and fine-tuning programs for optimum productivity and efficiency.
Gavin said, “Trevor and Cillian can run the Robodrill, the Mazaks and the Haas 5-axis. Within the first year, Trevor had already attended the Mill 1, 2 and 3 classes available at Cimquest, Mastercam’s local reseller. The only time I have to give him a little coaching is when he has to make something from exotic materials. Trevor could accomplish this because of his aptitude and willingness to work hard at something he loves, and also because we do things differently here.
“Our programmer/machinists are not allowed to use any of the equipment’s conversational programming capabilities, no matter how simple the part. We only program using CAD models and Mastercam. Then we save everything back to the server so all data is in a central location. It makes little sense to teach your programmer/machinist conversational programming and then, when he has to make something more complicated, double back and teach him an entirely different method of programming. With this approach, young guys like Trevor get to be competent a lot faster.”
Mastercam is a constant in all of GQ’s manufacturing processes. No matter what machine the part will ultimately run on, the posts and workholding solutions have been set up so that anyone can write a program for it and send it out to the machine through the internal network of choice. Because of the high degree of consistency in workholding arrangements, the networked CAM programming infrastructure, material-aware Dynamic Motion Technology in Mastercam, and the willingness to send all of the programmer machinists through all levels of Mastercam training at Cimquest, GQ has succeeded in maintaining and growing its programmer/machinist work force. As far as Gavin is concerned, “it is a proven concept.”
He said, “Five years ago, my biggest concern was getting qualified people to work here and keep moving through my shop. Today, that does not even cross my mind. My biggest challenge is marketing – finding enough good work to keep my equipment fed and people going full bore.”
One of the ways he does this is by adding new equipment and appropriate workholding solutions to expand the diversity of the shop’s capabilities. This happens about once a year. Gavin said he goes to all the machine tool shows he can to check out new ideas for workholding. Having machines with dedicated workholding for such things as rotary vacuum chuck, plate and long work provides a competitive advantage because it is not continually breaking down set-ups every time new jobs are put on the machine.
Recently, GQ exhibited at a job shop show in Grapevine, TX, to energize its pipeline of work coming in from that fast growing region. When quantities are low, shipping costs are not a major concern, and that show resulted in additional work from customers in aerospace and energy markets. GQ has also worked on multiple projects for The University of Texas in development of equipment for space exploration. The shop’s guaranteed speedy deliveries on quality work have proven to be a winning value proposition that keeps work flowing in, week after week.
For more information contact:
Paddy Gavin, Owner
GQ Machine, Inc.
61 Endicott Street, Bldg. 34
Norwood, MA 02062
CNC Software, Inc.
671 Old Post Road
Tolland, CT 06084
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