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Automating a Job Shop


Adding automation to a business typically producing small lots while holding tight tolerances.

What is the #1 issue in a high-mix/low-volume machine shop? Adapting to the changing demands of customers. Whether it’s an expedite request, a sudden change in quantity, or the ability to alter the customers priorities, it’s been a constant through my tenure in the machining industry. One of the major struggles we encounter is the combination of customer requirements of consistent products while also trying to deliver new, typically low quantity prototypes or custom options.

In 2021, this culminated with the purchase of an automated FANUC Robodrill Plus-K machining center. What stuck out about this equipment? First off, the legacy of the FANUC Robodrill. Dependability and quality for decades. Next, the addition of a Haberle 5-Axis trunnion. This machine would be our third machine with 5-axis capabilities. Lastly, the “Plus-K” option. An attached carrousel of 60 small vises and 40 additional tools, all loaded/unloaded by a FANUC robotic arm.

What attracted us most to this set up was the following:

  • High-tool capacity to allow for multiple parts to be run at one time.
  • 60 Vises/Robotic Arm to allow for lights-out production.
  • 5-Axis Trunnion to increase run-time and efficiencies.
  • Fast travel, high spindle speed (20K) for better finishes, longer tool life, and more production.

Since then, we have run short-run, close tolerance work through the machines utilizing the trunnion for maximum run-time while also running production work utilizing lights-out production time. At one point, the machine did not shut off for 408 straight hours!

With the continued demands of our customers and some production opportunities that arose from the capabilties these machines allowed, we decided to add a second machining center in 2022 for the same exact reasons.

As we continue to invest and look for new opportunities, automation will be at the forefront of our decision making.

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