When Roger Guse started M.R.S. Machining in his garage in 1986, he had no idea that the small custom shop would be recognized as one of the top 10 machine shops in the country in a short 20 years. Now, the successful company employs over 47 people and is run by Guse’s son, current president Matt Guse. They specialize in complex custom work for the aerospace, oil and gas, food service, medical, industrial, and agriculture industries.
Guse describes the shop as “high mix, low volume.” At any one time, they are working on around 450 active jobs. About 35 jobs are shipped out a day. “We don’t run thousands and thousands of parts here, we just run small batches. I’d say 50 or less is kind of our niche,” he went on to say. Each of these is unique and requires heightened attention to detail. Most of the parts are machined from 4142PH pre-hardened steel, but M.R.S. works with almost every material except magnesium and beryllium copper. Approximately 30 of the machinists on the shop floor can setup and run their own parts. They are no strangers to difficult projects.
“The most complex parts we’ve done here are impellers. We had to clean out some really hard to reach pockets. We had to consider tool reach, length of cut, and end mill selection,” Guse shared. His team relied on Mastercam® CAD/CAM software (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) to solve the problem. The software’s advanced simulation and cutting toolpaths, paired with special cone-shaped tool holders, made the process simple.
It’s been 15 years since Guse bought M.R.S.’s first seat, and he’s been pleased with how the software has kept up with his company’s growth. “What was a complex project five years ago isn’t complex anymore,” he said. The shop has one Mill seat, one Lathe seat, and one Multiaxis seat for its Mazak machines, which are all used frequently to find solutions as creative and varying as the parts the company takes on.
Because M.R.S. focuses on small batches of highly variable parts, machining speed is of less importance to Guse than other factors. However, he considers Dynamic Motion technology, which is best known for allowing machines to run at previously unheard of speeds, a vital part of the shop’s process. Dynamic Motion technology, or Dynamic Milling, uses sophisticated algorithms to constantly monitor the materials and make adjustments on the fly. As a result, air cuts are all but eliminated and tool breakage is reduced significantly. “Tool life is just phenomenal,” said Guse, “I used to spend thousands of dollars of end mill inserts before Dynamic. It more than paid for itself in a year now just by tool life savings.”
Program operator Alex Thronson agrees. He especially appreciates the OptiRough toolpaths within Dynamic. “So far, it’s worked really well for what we do. I think it’s simple to use because I choose my geometry and then use my boundary chain with a 1” ball end mill to rough that out and do our step-over. Then we’ll have finished path and use a Scallop. Overall, it seems to be the best toolpath I’ve used. Less air time for sure.” The time Thronson saves on roughing allows him to focus on the creative aspects of his job.
In general, though, most of what the shop depends on the CAD/CAM software for is deburring. “I don’t like to hand deburr because there are safety concerns. There are sharp edges and bad things can happen,” said Guse, “So once we have the customer’s model, we draw up our own model and then deburr it in Mastercam. And the part actually ends up looking nicer that way.” The software has increased the safety, accuracy, speed, and cosmetic ability of the shop.
Guse seeks to share his success and knowledge with others now. He is an active part of Eleva-Strum High School’s Cardinal Manufacturing shop. The shop was started by Craig Cegielski in the 2007-2008 school year as a self-sufficient, skills-focused high school manufacturing class. M.R.S. has been a partner since the very beginning; Guse’s father donated the program’s first two CNC machines, a lathe machine and a mill machine, to get it going. In fact, he was so excited to help the program that he barely waited long enough for it to be made official to start donating. Guse has carried on his father’s generous legacy and is proud of the Cardinal shop.
High school students who have passed Metal Working I and II are welcome to apply by creating and submitting a résumé, project portfolio, and letter of recommendation, just like they would to apply for a job after graduating. That’s only the beginning of the real-world skills the students learn. At any time, the Cardinal students may be engaged in facets of welding, accounting, construction, quality control, marketing, quoting jobs, and more. Upon graduating, the students have working knowledge in practically every aspect of manufacturing and would be a valuable asset to any shop.
Guse is always excited to recommend a Cardinal Manufacturing graduate for a job opening. “They take ownership in their parts. They know the soft-skills part. They know the manufacturing. So, when I hire somebody from there, it’s like getting an employee who has been running a shop for 10 years,” he said. His confidence stems from his trust in the program to teach its students both manual and CNC machining, as well as how to problem solve.
Cardinal Manufacturing is completely self-funded, and has been since its founding, because it functions as a student-run business. Clients from around the country send in jobs for the students to complete, and the profits are put right back into the program. The real-world experience from working on this variety of projects, the quality for which Cardinal is known, and the revenue from the projects are mutually beneficial to student, school, and client. Students are even given a profit-sharing check at the end of the school year after expenses are paid and necessary materials are acquired.
“It creates a revenue for the school, it creates a revenue for the program, and the kids get a revenue off it because they’re making money and then they get all these scholarships,” said Guse. In fact, the vast majority of the Cardinal students who continue their education in machining don’t pay a dime for it. Guse shared that not all of the students stayed with manufacturing after graduation, but he would never discourage someone from starting their machining career at an older age or from continuing their education over the span of their career.
“The important aspect is training is ongoing. We all don’t learn something today and be set for life. I tell everybody—you have to get your nose in the trade magazines—you have to get your nose into online courses and sign up for schooling. Keep your education going.” Guse helps to facilitate this lifelong learning by helping with the teacher workshops. The workshops set the foundation for other instructors and administrators to put their own program in place or to enhance an established program.
Although Cardinal has been a resounding success, Guse still has to head hunt for students. He often finds himself fighting the now-prevalent idea that going to college is the only viable option for high school students that want rewarding, high paying careers. Guse helps out by officiating school’s sports in the hopes of finding possible recruits. When he notices an athlete with a positive, team-player attitude, he talks with them about the possibility of a career in manufacturing and invites them to tour M.R.S. Machining to show them what it’s all about. He admits that his process is unorthodox. “I know most people think outside the box, and I know some people say they think around the box. Well I just decided to create a whole new box.”
This brand of ingenuity could be the catalyst for a much-needed influx of young manufacturing workers. As the work force dwindles, Guse and others like him may be the ones to save the industry and bridge the skills gap.
For more information on the Cardinal program visit http://www.cardinalmanufacturing.org/ or their Facebook page.