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
Within a 52 km radius of where The Machining Center is located in Belleville, ON, there are 20 job shops all competing for the same business.
“There are more job shops than there are Tim Horton’s,” jokes Dick Wolters, president, who formed the company with wife Arlene in 1988. “As soon as you stand idle you go backwards in this industry. You have to keep up with technology to ensure you can meet your customers’ needs.”
For The Machining Center, it means creating innovative manufacturing solutions with its customers to help them improve their processes.
“What we sell is mechanical solutions to make our customers’ manufacturing processes more productive. It’s a constant challenge, but it is a value-added service and keeps us competitive.”
An example is a box winder Wolters created for a customer’s corrugated tubing process.
“The customer was removing corrugated tubing out of an extruder and hand feeding it into a Gaylord box. But plastic doesn’t cure in 24 hours so how it went into the box that’s how it came out, wrinkles, tangles and all. We helped create an automatic box winder—a noodle shape that spun in a circle and laid the tube out nicely in the box bottom in layers. We went from putting 2000 ft of corrugated tubing in the box to 17,000 ft in that same box. So now the customer is shipping more product than air. Once the OEMs saw this they told our customer he had to do it with all of his lines or they wouldn’t accept his product. That was an instant year’s work for us,” says Wolters.
The Machining Center began business as a chip shop, but added fabricating services along the way, in part to help make frames and guards for machines the shop was using. The fabricating service has added value to the shop, making it a “one stop” shop for machining and fabricating.
The 10,000 sq ft operation expanded last summer with another 4,000 sq ft to house a larger fabrication shop—which offers punching, bending, forming and welding (TIG, MIG and stick). The entire machining and fabricating shop houses a mix of manual and CNC machines because “for some jobs, there’s no replacement for old school machining so we maintain it, although we’re steering more and more towards CNC machines.”
As a job shop owner in a competitive environment, Wolters says the biggest challenge is staying on top of technology.
“When we started in 1988 we were drawing on graph paper and a drafting board. We moved to Generic CAD, the predecessor to AutoCAD. Then we later moved from 2D to 3D technology. We use SolidWorks for 3D CAD design and transfer through GibbsCAM CAD/CAM software to create the machine language for the CNCs. We spent a lot of time on this to ensure the software format for part design and machining was right because it was one way to help us improve data transfer efficiencies, manufacturing quality and service for our customers,” explains Wolters.
And while some shops have difficulty with retaining skilled workers, The Machining Center has employees that have been with the company for 22 years “and many have been here five to ten years. Trying to find the skill set we need is a challenge when we’re looking for new employees, so we do a lot of in-house training. We typically have two to three apprentices in a shop of 18 people and we cross train them so the young fellow who comes into the trade will learn how to weld, machine and do some CNC work.”
Wolters and The Machining Center are certainly not standing idle. There’s simply no time for that.
“We have 10 to 15 jobs that come through our door and leave every day. It means we have to be able to quickly organize a job, figure out what needs to be done, schedule it for production and then inspection, and then out the door. Our turn around time is typically two to three weeks, but there have been emergency situations in which we’ve had to turn a job around in 24 hours.”
Wolters often puts in long days at the machine shop, but home is just a short walk away—Wolters and his wife own the large property that houses the business and the family home, separated by a creek.
“When I’m not at the shop, it’s usually thinking time. I’m constantly taking courses that can help with the business. I’m in school right now and the phrase that caught my attention was ‘how to go from working in your business to working on your business. I’m learning new strategies about how to make the business more productive and how to focus on what’s important. For our shop, it’s about quality and customer service and finding the best manufacturing solutions for our customers.”