It’s not that Marzel and Randy Neckien didn’t have the experience. Raised on hard work, they pushed brooms as teenagers and bagged and tagged parts in their father’s machine shop, W Machine Works (San Fernando, California). When they were old enough, they drove the truck, running parts to heat-treaters, platers, or directly to aerospace customers.
It’s not that they didn’t have the education. Both attended Cal State Northridge and attained undergraduate degrees (Marzel in business, Randy in communications). When Marzel began making plans for an MBA, his father made him an offer. He’d pay tuition if Marzel would apply his classroom knowledge in the family business.
“It was a good deal,” Marzel recalls. “I didn’t have tuition to worry about and I had a lab to apply the concepts I was learning in school.” That lab, W Machine Works, was established in a two-car garage in 1978 by Wolfgang Neckien, a German immigrant who took to machining “like a duck to water,” his sons recall. It was an aerospace job shop from the start, taking on small volumes of airframe and component parts for three main customers on an engine lathe and a Bridgeport. “It was a small shop built on hard work and service,” Marzell recalls. “We didn’t get by on choice connections, strictly hard work.”
But like the economy at large, the shop grew, adding headcount and floorspace until it stabilized at around 40 employees today. In 1996, Marzel came on full-time with the company and Randy joined two years later. “We were passionate about growing the business and our father was equally passionate that we learn it in its entirety,” Randy describes. Both took on assignments in the three main areas of the business, the machine shop, the quality department, and sales and marketing.
In 2003, W Machine Works was relocated to its current building in San Fernando with Marzel as president and Randy as vice president. “W Machine Works was built on hard work, but hard work can only take you so far,” says Marzel. Adds Randy, “We always knew there was growth potential, but it was about a year after we moved in that we realized we didn’t know how to go about achieving it.”
Both had heard of lean manufacturing and seized on the opportunity when a major customer offered to come in with its own team to bring the shop into compliance for a major program. “We had a day of these people on our shop floor and the end result was the recommendation that we add a heat-treat oven to our shop floor,” says Randy. “We realized we weren’t the only ones who didn’t understand how to apply lean.”
Kennametal Inc. (Latrobe, Pennsylvania) occupies a space markedly different from W Machine Works. With 14,000 employees in 60 countries, the tooling supplier recently topped $2.6 billion in annual sales and is celebrating 70 years in the metalworking industries. The company realized that in a highly competitive field, it had to step in and begin helping customers improve their own profitability in their own challenging business environments. It began rethinking traditional vendor/purchasing relationships and began approaching manufacturing customers and upper management with an enhanced value-added menu.
With numerous competitors vying for business, purchasing tooling is most often a relationship based on past experience, deliverability, application for the tasks at hand, and of course, price. New to the scene, however, is a class of supplier investing in the ability to effectively partner with customers to realize production savings in such areas as process optimization, new project engineering, and comprehensive onsite programs that extend beyond tooling, such as carbide recycling and supply-chain management. Such a supplier can bring extraordinary customer value while also significantly improving its own business.
After a few false starts exploring lean manufacturing, W Machine Works agreed to host a team from Kennametal in September 2006. “We were convinced that the main problem we wanted to work on was cycle-time reduction,” says Randy. “The Kennametal team convinced us to step back and take a look at the big picture. We had raw material everywhere; machines stopped waiting for tooling orders or because parts were being inspected; setups were taking too long; and we were manufacturing parts for inventory.”
“It was a real eye-opener discovering how much we didn’t know,” agrees Marzel, calling the experience “a 180 from anything in my college experience.”
After the initial discovery session, value-stream mapping was the topic of the shop’s first kaizen event with the Kennametal team in December 2006. “It took three days for our first event,” says Randy. “Needless to say, we quickly discovered cutting cycle time was the least of our problems when total lead time was eight weeks for parts that were finished cutting in four days.”
W Machine Works has hosted a number of kaizen events since. They have also leaned heavily on their Kennametal sales engineer, Marco Ortega, who says he’s on their shop floor once or twice a week. “I’ve been working with them about 11 months and most of my influence has been on the lean side,” he says. “They are a very proactive company and we’re continually working to standardize and simplify their processes. One project we’re working on is getting their setup sheets standardized to where they know exactly what they’re getting when they walk up to the ToolBoss® automated vending system. They’re so into it; it’s refreshing to work with them.”
In April 2008, W Machine Works hosted another kaizen event from Kennametal on value stream mapping job traveler flow. Traveler flow improved an overall 45%. Number of moves was reduced from 25 to 12 (52%), movement time from 73 minutes to 31 minutes (57%), number of waits from 24 to 17 (29%), and wait time from 28 days to 19 days (32%). “We got excited that our new standard operating procedure would increase traveler speed, consistency, and reliability throughout the shop with no increase in capital spending,” Randy says.
“We were hooked,” Marzel says. “Establishing a team with our employees and getting them involved in the process got everyone energized.”
At the same time, aerospace customers were increasing demands for quality and deliverability, and the owners’ nascent understanding of setup reduction, improved throughput, and reduced lead time quickly led to investing in new equipment.
“Our first acquisition was a Nakamura Tome WT-150, an opposed-spindle, two-turret multi-tasking machine with a high-torque milling motor on the upper and lower turrets,” says Randy. “We began moving parts from three setups on separate mac
hines to a single setup on this one.”
Multi-tasking quickly grew to include automation for W Machine Works’ high-mix/low-volume business. Its next major acquisition was a Matsuura MAM72-35V, a five-axis machining center with 240-tool capacity and 32 pallets, sized right for the company’s varied part mix. “We got this one right from the beginning,” says Marzel. “We defined our processes properly, bought it new, tooled it properly, and trained on it properly. Our parts run the gamut from fittings, ballasts, and housings to spars and rails, all out of every series stainless up to high-temperature alloys and castings. With 32 pallets, we can run 500 pieces and jump in with a first article, all running lights out. It gives us tremendous capability in minimum floor space.”
With its 240-tool Matsuura and 48-tool Nakamura, W Machine Works also quickly saw the value of standardized tooling. “That’s another thing we learned on our process-improvement journey, that it’s more important to have standardized tooling on hand for all our machines than to chase the cheapest or fastest tool for every job,” says Randy.
And it wasn’t that long ago when company machines stood idle because tools weren’t on hand or on order. That changed with the inclusion of Kennametal’s ToolBoss automated vending system. Not only does ToolBoss automated tool management software simplify and optimize inventory management, but it can also capture, compare, and trend tooling costs associated with the part produced. “With this data, problem areas are easily identified for continuous-improvement efforts. These systems are also fully capable of automatically generating e-commerce replenishment orders that help minimize machine downtime.”
Automated orders and standardized tooling also means access to the latest tooling options. “I have been working with W Machine Works for about the last year and a half, and I would call them fearless in seeking out complex, tough-to-machine parts,” says Jonathan Saada, sales and technical representative for Hanita Cutting Tools, a Kennametal brand. “It was a big breakthrough to have the latest roughing and finishing tools available in the radius sizes they need. On the first 4340-series job we looked at, we were able to reduce cycle time 80%.”
The success gained on W Machine Works’ process-improvement journey has also given it the courage to share information in a competitive Southern California aerospace machining arena. “Learning a lot from our partnership with Kennametal, we felt confident in joining a peer group with other shops where we could share best practices with other companies our size,” says Marzel. Called the Southern California Manufacturing Group (www.thescmg.com), it has been holding meetings since 2004 and currently consists of seven companies. “The group allows us to exchange ideas and improve our processes, vital for all of our continuous improvement efforts,” says Marzel.
One new practice the company is implementing is Net Inspect, a Web-based quality and inspection service where W Machine Works customers can see their first-article parts, quality documentation, and buy off from their own desktops.
What other benefits has W Machine Works garnered so far? “We’ve seen sales increases of 15% the last two consecutive years,” answers Randy. The company also received a 2007 silver-level performance award from Boeing and is a platinum-level direct-to-stock supplier to Northrop Grumman. “We were our own worst nightmare, now we’re building a sales order backlog while shipping a record number of orders,” says Marzel. “We’re just scratching the surface of lean, process maturity, and metrics. OEMs will continue to outsource manufacturing, and we’ll continue to reduce the risk of doing business with W Machine Works.”