Machining in new directions

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The problem
Aging equipment stymies growth into new markets

The solution
New CNC machines for close tolerance machining to meet new market needs

CNC technologies turn job shop into thriving business

by Ed Robertson

Small business owners, whether accountants, architects, or job shops, are well-aware of the punch line to the old joke that asks: “What would you do if you won a million dollars?” The answer: “practice machining until it’s all gone.”

Happily, family-owned Lumar Machining & Manufacturing Ltd., St. Thomas, ON, is realizing excellent returns on its investments, particularly in new equipment. Says Brendan Cunningham at EMEC Machine Tools Inc., Mississauga, ON, of his customer: “Lumar is located in a particularly hard-hit town. Ian Wagter, the owner, was buying equipment during the downturn. He bought the company when it was a small local shop with no CNC equipment. He now owns several state-of-the-art Okuma machines and does work in the oil patch, aerospace, and automotive industries and is continually growing.”

As always, there’s more to the story. Jack Wagter, Ian’s father, has been involved in mechanical engineering and manufacturing, particularly metal stamping and tool and die, his entire career. Ian pursued Materials Engineering at the University of Western Ontario, achieving his P.Eng. in 1994. After four years in process engineering in the bearings business, he went to work for Jack at Universal Engineering, London, ON, rising to plant manager for the St. Thomas and Barrie facilities.

Jack’s thoughts toward retirement, along with Ian’s growing ambitions, led the two to start looking for a business. Lumar, a small family-owned shop established in St. Thomas in 1984, seemed to fit the bill. “The couple that owned it had a good customer base, mostly low quantity tool adaption and fixture work for local customers,” says Jack. “He worked the manual equipment in the shop and she ran the office. The most sophisticated piece of equipment in the whole operation was the fax machine.”

The Wagters bought the business in 2000, lock, stock, and customer base. “It was a great learning experience,” says Ian, going from process engineering and running large plants, to taking on a general machining job shop. “Every job was different. It was great exposure to what it takes to make a part.”

Then came 9/11 and the recession that followed. “This was certainly not in our original business plan,” says Jack. “Like everyone else, we cut everything to the minimum and sweated it out.”

Based on good customer relations and a “decent cash turnover,” Lumar slowly returned to a more stable business condition. As Lumar’s business was almost 100 per cent automotive-based, Jack and Ian also used the time during the downturn to dig hard for new business and market expansion. “This went hand-in-hand with looking seriously at acquiring CNC equipment and embracing their capabilities,” says Jack. Part of Lumar’s expansion included obtaining ISO 9000 in 2005 and as of September 2012, Lumar is registered in the Controlled Goods Program.

2012 saw the addition of overhead cranes for improved material handling and significant building upgrades, including better lighting and air conditioning. With the broad increases in capabilities since 2006, Lumar likes to say its specialties are not necessarily automotive or aerospace, but close tolerance machining and client-focused services. 

In addition to machining services, the company also provides design assistance and support, providing parts more closely tailored to customer specifications that are more cost-effective to manufacture.

One customer’s jobs originally called for Lumar to blank the centre portion of a worm shaft for the customer to finish. “As we accomplished that on the mill-turn machine, the customer came back and asked ‘can you finish it?’” explains Ian.”Having the right equipment, the right tooling, the right experience and people, helped us to complete the process. By finishing
the part on the mill-turned centre, Lumar was able to eliminate the hobbing process.”

CNC turning equipment gave Lumar the ability to accomplish API (American Petroleum Institute) threads for an oil and gas customer. “We’ve done lots of threads, but API threads are a whole different animal,” Ian says. 

“It may take a week to fight through a job, but to really go through the learning curve and acquire the knowledge, tooling, gauging, and confidence is more a matter of months. It definitely takes equipment powerful enough and rigid enough to complete this type of operation.”

Like Lumar’s original owners, staying connected to customers remains vital. “The success of Lumar is customer relations, quality, and on-time delivery,” Ian states. “On top of that, it’s a good network of suppliers and dedicated employees that help make that happen.”

“The learning never stops – it’s continual,” he adds. “During the last few years we have been through many learning curves. Lumar has benefited from federal and provincial refunds through the SR&ED program. This program has allowed Lumar to access new customer jobs and achieve technological advancement by creating new, or improving existing materials, devices, products or processes.”

“Tremendous opportunities remain in manufacturing,” says Jack. “Canadian manufacturing can compete on the world stage. It’s a matter of acquiring the technology, training the people, and staying connected to the customer.”

Now, how does Lumar answer to the question: “What would you do with a million-dollar manufacturing business?”  “Just watch.” SMT

Ed Robertson is a manufacturing journalist and contributing editor in the Detroit, MI, area.  [email protected].

Lumar Machining and Manufacturing Ltd.

EMEC Machine Tool Inc.

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