Job Shops | British Columbia: Old School, New Tricks

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by Andrew Brooks

Zum Hingst Technologies
Port Coquitlam, BC

  • •Years in business: 39
  • Shop floor: 1,300 sq m (14,000 sq ft)
  • Part capacity: Machining up to approximately 1,041 x 762 x 533 mm
    (41 x 30 x 21 in.); lathe turning dimensions 254 mm (10 in.)
    diameter x 457 mm (18 in.)
  • Key processes: CNC precision machining, live manual tooling
  • Key equipment: Hermle CNC machining centres, 12,000 – 18,000 rpm;
    Okuma lathes, vertical mills and taper vertical mill; Roku vertical mills,
    5,000 – 12,000 rpm


Bottom from left: Patricia Zum Hingst, Kim Sheldon, and Rick Wong, machinist/programmer.A successful job shop in BC has carved a rewarding niche for itself by catering to a demanding customer base and combining

an old-school quality ethic with a pioneering commitment to advanced CNC operations.

Zum Hingst Technologies operates from a 1,300 sq m (14,000 sq ft) building in Port Coquitlam, BC., just east of Vancouver, where ten employees deliver the company’s trademark high precision machining services to customers in the aerospace, defence, sensing and commercial and industrial machinery sectors.

The company offers short run production in an almost exclusively CNC environment, with an impressive lineup of four and five axis CNC machining equipment. There’s also a live tool turning department. The product runs are relatively small, from 20 to several hundred pieces, though there are also occasional high volume runs into the thousands. But these are the exception.

“We generally do fairly small to medium ‘boutique’ parts,” says vice president Kim Sheldon. “We don’t do the bigger pieces where you need a forklift to move them around. I guess the best definition for what we do would be high mix, low volume.” There are about 250 different kinds of parts in the system.

The small runs are something that most competitors tend to shy away from, Sheldon says, simply because of the cost involved in setup. “We look at things from the point of view of the customer and the value of the account. We advise the customer what would be the best, most cost effective batch for us. We find the optimum batch size, the most effective volume against cost.”

Precision aerospace, optical and medical work is a big part
of what Zum Hingst does, and not surprisingly, quality control is paramount. “Our quality assurance is done in-line,” says president Patricia zum Hingst. “We monitor quality as the parts are being made. We have an extremely low scrap rate, as well as very high on-time delivery performance.”

To ensure that deliverables are met, the company sets its internal quality thresholds higher than the customer’s. For example, if a customer mandates a one centimetre tolerance on a part, Zum Hingst will cut that as low as two millimetres to ensure that it stays within specifications. The same approach holds when it comes to on-time delivery, with the company’s internal delivery deadline set well in advance of customer requirements.

For the aerospace sector, components include structural aircraft parts, such as horizontal and vertical stabilizers, but also run the gamut of customer requirements including details like hinges and seat belt clamps. “Basically it’s any kind of structural part, small to medium size, as the customer needs,” Zum Hingst says.

The  high mix, low volume machine shop houses a variety of CNC machines and services a wide array of markets, including aerospace, optical and medical.On the commercial side, work includes print heads and lens mounts for optical printers, as well as high precision pulleys and pulley guides that must be microscopically precise so that the print heads travel smoothly.

One longstanding customer is a small business that sells Leica camera accessories. This company has built a reputation for accessories like high speed winders. As Sheldon relates, a journalist who purchased one of the winders reported back that it saved his life when he was working in a conflict zone. “A bullet ricocheted off the winder,” Sheldon says. “It saved his life, but of course it also ruined the winder, and he came back to the website to order a replacement.”

That kind of testimonial would probably have warmed the heart of Patricia’s father, company founder Uwe Zum Hingst, who was a top toolmaker for Mercedes-Benz in Germany before emigrating to Canada. He imbued the company with a mix of old world craftsmanship and forward thinking on technology. Among other things, he was a CNC pioneer. “He made the first CNC machine in western Canada,” says his daughter, “when he melded a banded CNC controller to a three axis Ex-Cell-O machine.”

Zum Hingst is a challenging place to work, Sheldon says, but that turns out to have its advantages. “What we do is so specialized, so focused, that sometimes employees wonder if they’re limiting themselves. Sometimes people leave to see what they can do ‘on the outside.’ One employee left to look around, but he came back to us before too long; he said it was boring to work anywhere else! We have a high retention rate because we make life interesting.”

Being owned and managed by women puts Zum Hingst in a select category in its field, and while Sheldon doesn’t read too much into it, she does feel that the fact the management is female may contribute to a relatively democratic approach to decision making, another factor that helps to boost the retention rate.

“We have a proactive, positive environment here. We all get on quite well because it’s really a normal, natural type of environment. A mixed environment like we have brings the energy level down to a calm, moderated level.

“If we have a problem, we talk about it from the point of view of the product, not the person. Everybody gets their input. There’s definitely a chain of command, but we also have very much an open door policy. If people need help we give them help. It’s our job to create the environment to allow them to excel, to grow and develop.”

Zum Hingst’s HR approach still sometimes reflects the company’s European heritage. “We do have a tendency to look at Europe when we’re hiring,” Sheldon says. “We’ve brought in tradespeople from Europe before.” But Zum Hingst also supports apprenticeships at the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) and hires BCIT summer students.

“We may select from those students. We grow from the bottom. If someone comes along with the high end qualifications that allow them to fit into the top of the company, that’s fine, but right now we have a well developed structure. We keep senior staff. We grow from bringing in people at an apprenticeship level and we develop them within the company.” SMT

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