An eye for machining

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by Mary Scianna

Investing in leading edge machining technology to remain competitive

Job Shops In Canada | British Columbia

Shop Vitals

Years in Business: 28

Size: 929 sq m (10,000 sq ft)

Part Capacity: 1,524 mm (60 in.) maximum machining length on multi-tasking turning centre

Key Processes: milling, drilling, turning, multi-tasking, five axis, saw cutting

Key Equipment: Haas, Hitachi Seiki, Mazak, DMG MORI, Okuma, Toyoda, Hyd Mech

After 42 years of machining you learn a thing or two about how to manufacture parts. So when an engineer submits a design, Leon Massa, president of Southern Cross Machining Inc. in Surrey, BC, knows within minutes whether the part is machinable. And through the years, he’s come across many parts that aren’t machinable.

“Engineers sometimes come up with some great designs, but they’re not practical designs and often can’t be machined. We had an engineering student who was going to be off for a few months and wanted to work in a machine shop to get some hands-on experience so that when he’s designing something, he’ll have a better understanding of how it can be machined. Finally, I thought to myself, someone is thinking, and I said he was hired. Then he decided to take a job in engineering instead, which was too bad.”

Massa began his career in Australia when he was 16 and apprenticed as an aircraft machinist at Quantus Airways. In 1983 he came to Canada and set up Southern Cross Machining, named after the cross-shaped stars seen in the Southern hemisphere.

From the start, Massa invested in leading edge technologies including machining centres, multi-tasking machines, and most recently, a five axis vertical machining centre, a Haas UMC 750 purchased from local distributor Thomas Skinner & Son, Richmond, BC.

“I purchased the machine because I thought for a full five axis machine with the envelope it has (762 x 508 x 598 mm/30 x 20 x 20 in.), it was the best bang for the buck. You can come to work in a Volkswagon or in a Lambroghini, either one will get you there. There are higher end machines with twin spindles and B axes, but unless you’re doing super critical work, you don’t need some of the really expensive machines. The best priced machines can do the job, if you know what you’re doing.”

Happy accident
Southern Crossing is a general machine shop that operates in a competitive market so when an opportunity to expand and diversify the business presented itself, Massa decided to expand his operation into the manned light aircraft engine business. But the expansion was more of a happy accident than a planned strategy.

Massa wanted one engine that he could use to fly his manned light aircraft.

“I contacted the owner and asked about purchasing an engine and he said I can sell you enough parts to make 50 engines. So we got talking about it because I thought I could have my own product line since a lot of the parts are machined. So I bought the part of his company that made engines for light manned aircraft.”

From its approximate 10,000 sq ft facility, Southern Crossing services a variety of markets in the general industrial market, in addition to serving the manned light aircraft sector.

While Massa is the owner and employs 12 people to run the shop, he still likes to work on the 12 machines in his shop.

“I’d rather be on a machine programming it and debugging it to prove it out and then hand the machine over to the person making the parts.”

Asked what he thinks sets his machine shop apart, he is quick to respond.

“We don’t spend a lot of time figuring out what to do; we look at it and know what we have to do. I’ve had customers come into the shop with a part made by another shop that couldn’t solve a problem and the customers got fed up by how long it took. We have the experience and the eye for what will work and what won’t.”

Experience, says Massa, is an important distinction in today’s competitive environment because there are so many job shops in the market, in part because the cost of entry is relatively low.

“I hear of job shops opening in the area and then find out they have no experience, but they’re getting in the market because the cost of CNCs is much less expensive today. The problem is that many of these shops are learning as they go and using customers’ jobs to do it.” SMT

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