The Chicken, Then The Egg
- Published: July 29, 2016
Ontario shop’s philosophy of ongoing machinery investments pays off
THE PROBLEM: Managing a business in a tough market
THE SOLUTION: Investing in new turning technology
Ask Allen Hobart, president of Pleasant Manufacturing in Etobicoke, ON, what comes first, the chicken or the egg and he’ll tell you it’s the chicken, of course.
“Our philosophy has always been if we can afford it, then purchase the equipment, put it on the floor and get the work. In today’s market, the customer wants you to start a job right away and if you don’t have the right machine on the floor, you’re scrambling to meet the customer’s needs.”
Pleasant Manufacturing has a history of investing in technology. Hobart says Pleasant was among the first screw machine shops to invest in CNC technology in 1982, a single turret, single spindle Miyano turning machine. It was also one of the first shops to invest in a Hydromat rotary transfer machine.
“We were buying $100,000 CNC machines back in the 1980s when our competitors were still buying used machines for $20,000,” says Hobart. “When we started to invest in $300,000 machines our competitors were buying $100,000 machines. We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the technology curve to remain competitive.”
Hobart’s father David formed the company in 1970. Allen joined him in 1972. Today, the family-run business housed in a 1,161 sq m (12,500 sq ft) facility includes Allen’s children, Terra Hobart, who oversees the general operation of the business and also works in the shop, Drew, who works in the machine shop, and son-in-law Marc Bessette, who is married to Allen’s other daughter Colleen and also works in the shop. The shop houses 20 machines, predominantly turning centres with two small vertical lathes and focuses on small to medium sized runs from 50 pieces to 10,000 pieces.
Running a manufacturing operation has its challenges. Running one for decades through five recessions during which customers continually offshored their business to low-labour cost countries is even more of a challenge. In fact, Hobart considers this a major milestone that Pleasant Manufacturing has not only survived but continued to evolve and grow, albeit in small, incremental stages, through it all.
“We haven’t seen business pick up much since the last recession but we’ve invested in machinery and have picked up enough additional work to compensate for lost work that disappeared from either customers closing their business or moving out of the country.”
A conservative approach to running his business has also contributed to his success. Hobart doesn’t like to finance his machinery investments. Instead, when he has the funds, he uses it to invest in technology, like the recent Eurotech and Hanwha machines.
“If you have money in the bank how much interest do you make? Just about zero. Instead if you take that money and invest in a machine and find work for that machine, then your money is making money. Every time I put a job on the machine, I make money but this only works if you finance your machinery investments with your own money.”
Turning in a new direction
Hobart is always on the lookout for new technology. For years, the company invested in Miyano turning machines, that had been distributed by SMS Machine Tools. While he liked the machines, he was also open to considering other machines. So when SMS Machine Tools suggested Eurotech, a new builder it had recently taken on back in 2014, Hobart did his research and decided to purchase the machine at the end of 2014. The machine went into operation in January 2015 and has been working smoothly since then.
“In the CNC game there are incremental technology improvements, no real groundbreaking changes. So for us the difference between the Miyano machines and the Eurotech is speed and efficiency,” says Hobart. Daughter Terra adds that “the Eurotech is a bit faster so we’re getting improved cycle times and more efficient rapid approaches.”
A bigger change was the investment in the Hanwha Swiss turn machine, purchased in September 2015.
“Swiss turning is a different concept from traditional turning and it gives us the ability to machine longer parts, but if you have experience in machining you can grasp the concept fairly quickly. Our learning curve was about a month and a half,” says Hobart.
The Hanwha machine has helped improve machining efficiencies, adds Terra.
“We used to machine longer shaft work with more traditional processes using more than one machine but with the Hanwha we can do it all in one operation, which reduces our handling of the material, reduces human error and improves overall efficiency. We’re now looking at putting more work on the Hanwha that is currently being done on our older machines because this machine can machine the parts faster. It will allow us to free up our other more expensive machines for work the Hanwha can’t do.”
Doing more with less
Pleasant Manufacturing is now a more efficient operation because of the turning mchine investments. While it runs fewer machines in its shop, the new machines, all equipped with sub spindles and sub turrets, are more productive. “If you were to look at our shop over the decades, you would think we were downsizing because we now have less equipment and fewer people than we had in the past,” says Hobart. “I counted all the spindles we used to have with our Brown and Sharpe screw machines, which was 25 since they were all single spindle machines. We had about 15 second operation machines like drill presses and milling machines and I came up with a number of about 55 spindles in operation in total. Then I counted the spindles we have today, and we don’t have as much equipment, but because we have CNC machines with sub spindles and live tooling that allows us to do drilling and milling work, I stopped counting at over 110 spindles. So we have fewer machines but they’re much more productive than older machines.”
Looking into the future
Technology evolves continuously and Hobart says he and his team are keeping an eye on new advances, including additive manufacturing. “Our long term wish list is to have a 3D metal printing machine. I believe this will be the future for manufacturing. The current hybrid machines are more milling centre type machines and we’re watching the technology to see how it evolves. It may take 30 years of fine tuning, but I think this technology could make traditional machining obsolete.”
For now though, Pleasant Manufacturing is focusing on continuing to grow and expand its turning shop with support from its supplier.
“SMS has always been a good supplier for us,” says Hobart. The company is located around the corner from us and has always provided good support. Our guys are great about figuring out new technologies but we also know SMS will support us if we need it.” SMT