Machining technician Jean-François Rivet Gagné setting up an Index G200 CNC turn-mill centre.Click image to enlargeby Kip Hanson  | photos by Francis Vachon

Quebec aerospace supplier redefines the standard for machine shop efficiency


Difficulty meeting surface finish tolerances on a turned part without a secondary grinding operation.

Purchase an Index G200 CNC mill-turn centre with grinding capabilities.

When the manufacturing team at APN, supported by maintenance director Alain Bélanger, and the team at APN wanted to eliminate a secondary grinding operation on a 316 stainless steel bolt for an aerospace customer, they decided to invest in a G200 turn-mill centre from Index, one equipped with optional grinding capabilities. To their chagrin, however, they’ve never had to mount an arbor or dress a wheel, as the machine was able to achieve an 8 Ra surface finish using standard turning tools. 

“The G200 is so rigid, so accurate, and generates such excellent finishes that we never had to grind the parts,” says Bélanger, who serves as the maintenance director at this 125-employee, 2,300 sq m (25,000 sq ft) job shop. “I have many positive things to say about that machine.”

One of APN's "cobots" from Universal Robots tending one of the Index CNC machines.Click image to enlargeWhen one became three
That was in 2017, and in January of this year the company purchased the G200’s multitasking big brother—the G220—to sit beside it, for a total of three Index CNC lathes (the first was a C200, installed in 2015). All were bought from the area’s Index distributor, Mitcham Machine Tools Inc., and all have helped this subsidiary of Quebec-based APN Global increase throughput and part quality. 

If that were the end of this machine tool tale, you might chalk it up as a bittersweet ending to a story about yet another ordinary—albeit well-equipped—machine shop. But as Bélanger will tell you, APN is anything but ordinary. “APN is not a typical manufacturing company,” he says. “We’re different. You have to get to know us to understand that better, but believe me, we don’t do things the normal way.”

Every machine shop and manufacturing company thinks their processes and part mix are unique; their business model not quite like that of “the guys down the street.” What makes APN so special? For starters, this AS 9100 and ISO 9001:2000 certified shop places a disproportionate amount of engineering effort into every job. 

“We process the heck out of everything before it hits the floor,” he says. “All the preparation work is done up front, the programs are proven out, the tools assembled days in advance. Everyone here is focused on reducing setup time as much as possible, so that we can keep the machines producing parts as much as possible.”

APN co-president Yves Proteau (left) stands next to maintenance director Alain Bélanger.Click image to enlargeContinually improving
With complex and expensive machines like these, who can blame them, but there’s more behind APN’s engineering initiatives than setup time reduction. Joël Lessard, director of continuous improvement and optimization, can point to a number of projects that might seem bleeding edge to most shops, but are just a routine day at APN. 

One of these is APN’s homegrown quality software, which Lessard and his team of six C# programmers began developing around eight years ago to meet the extensive inspection requirements of its aerospace customers. Rather than track dimensional data in a logbook, they built a custom software package to manage that data as well as tell the machinists what characteristics to measure and when—if a value approaches the tolerance limits, APN’s software recognizes this and adjusts the inspection interval accordingly, resulting in a “nearly 100 per cent quality level,” Lessard says. That same software was leveraged when APN moved into automated machine tending two years ago, with the purchase of a collaborative robot, or cobot, from Universal Robots, equipped with a Robotiq brand camera and gripper.

“We taught our first cobot to clean the parts coming off a CNC lathe and load them into a tray,” he explains. “When our software system sees that a part needs to be inspected, it signals the robot to set that one aside. The operator then loads it into a vise that’s mounted to our internally-developed pallet system. The vise has an RFID chip containing all the relevant part information, so all the operator has to do is set it onto the pallet changer in front of a nearby CMM, which reads the chip, inspects the part, and sends the results back to the software. If a dimension is approaching a tolerance limit, the operator is notified accordingly and he or she can then make the appropriate tool offset.”

The frame in the forefront is a two-slot magazine used to store parts while the MiR100 AGV (automatic guided vehicle) is moving between the machine tool and CMM.Click image to enlargeToday APN has nine such robots, and in order to simplify the management of several hundred different inspection programs, Lessard’s team has developed a parametric robot program, which is uploaded automatically at each new production run. They are currently working to further enhance the system with automated tool offset capabilities, integrated part scheduling and tool crib management functionality, and an AGV (automatic guided vehicle) that will carry the part from the machine to the CMM, freeing the machine operator to do more important things. 

Their efforts are paying off. The facility is about to double in size, additional machine tool investment is in the works, and Lessard says revenue has increased by a whopping 40 per cent each year over the past three years, with only a 10 per cent per year increase in headcount. “When we started this project, Industry 4.0 wasn’t even a term yet. Now we’re at what I consider the leading edge of what’s possible with automation—I’m pretty sure there’s no other software program that can do what ours does. It’s been a lot of fun.” SMT

Additive manufacturing for motorbikes

Additive manufacturing technology from Renishaw improves bike's front suspension system

TransFIORmers, a Moto2 race motorcycle, is defying conventions by racing with a front suspension system that is radically different compared to any other Moto2 race bike; a suspension system inspired by Christian Boudinot's mentor Claude Fior, a maverick bike designer.

Cutting Tools in Israel: Pushing the Innovation Envelope

Iscar customers go behind the scenes to gain insights into cutting tool R&D, manufacturing

If you want to reduce your total production costs, increase your productivity. And the best way to do that is to increase speeds and feeds. Focus on that, and you will cut the cost of production in the first year by 15 to 20 per cent.

Fueling the Force

by Noelle Stapinsky

Cultivating and managing a healthy workforce can be a key differentiator in today’s competitive landscape

Stoking up Business

by Noelle Stapinsky

Ontario job shop redefines itself with OEM products

Back to the future

by Mary Scianna

Shop Metalworking Technology revisits manufacturers we've profiled in previous issues to see how they're preparing for the future

Elliott Matsuura to sell Excetek EDMs in Canada

Elliott Matsuura Canada Inc. has signed a distribution agreement with Excetek Technologies Co. Ltd., to suppy sinker, drill and large wire EDM machines in Canada.

Heavyweight machining capabilities

The Annihilator from Quickmill. The rigid gantry design, the high speed axis drive system, the heavy duty spindle options, all allow for very fast processing times. The Annihilator is for those who need a lot more than regular performance, it's for those who need heavyweight machining capabilities.

$740,000+ for Canadian manufacturing innovation

The Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada want to strengthen Canada's manufacturing sector and are offering a non-repayable contribution of more than $740,000 to Quebec organization Economie du savoir Mauricie (ESM) for two projects to help guide manufacturing SMEs in upgrading their technological innovation and delivering investment and market development projects.

EMEC, Milltronics sign distribution deal

Milltronics USA, Inc., and EMEC Machine Tools, Inc., have signed a partnership agreement for distribution, service, and support of Milltronics Machine Tools. EMEC will distribute Milltronics products on an exclusive basis across the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

The Machining Center

Location: Belleville, ON

Years in Business: 24

Key manufacturing processes: Custom machining, fabricating, design, millwrighting

Recent investments: 4,000 sq ft fabrication shop and office expansion

Mitcham Machine Tools named Canadian distributor for Haas Multigrind

Mitcham Machine Tools has announced its appointment as exclusive Canadian distributor for Haas Multigrind grinding centres.

Calculated risk

by Kip Hanson

The Problem: Machining capabilities come up short with larger part orders

The Solution: New larger and more flexible machine tool

Ontario machine shop takes a gamble on new equipment

All Hands on Deck

by Noelle Stapinsky

Old school manual rules allow an east coast machine shop to maintain its quality standards

Factory operations and machining control software

Okuma America Corp. has released Connect Plan, a software-based system for collecting and measuring data to adjust processes for increased productivity.

Boeing creates lightest metal ever using additive manufacturing

Microlattice is the lightest metal ever made. At 99.99 per cent air, it's light enough to balance on top of a dandelion, while its structure makes it strong. Strength and record breaking lightness make it a potential metal for future planes and vehicles. Learn more about Boeing Innovations at

Stay In Touch

twitter facebook linkedIn