How does a small volume job shop become a parts-producing powerhouse? Forward Technologies Inc. (FTI), of Blue Ash, OH, made the climb with guts, determination, smarts…and by putting the right machines on the factory floor.
Just Making It
FTI was getting by making prototype parts in low run batches, but the company truly lifted off the launch pad when a new team showed up in Mission Control. Following the purchase of the company in April of 2014, Brad Meyers took over as President, with Brian Collins signing on as VP of Quality and Sales. Scott Mason became VP of Manufacturing and Andrew Schultz rounded out the team as VP of Engineering. Every aspect of the business needed upgrading and so the new crew applied its nearly 100 years of collective precision machining experience to begin to dial it in. That meant making better parts, getting more repeat business, landing higher volume jobs and attracting a more profitable customer base.
“We Thought They Were Crazy”
Then the company was awarded a piece of business that looked like a great opportunity. The parts involved a lot of milling, so the team went looking for a horizontal machining center. Ellison Technologies, their Doosan distributor, looked at the parts mix and suggested a live tool lathe. “We thought they were crazy,” Brian remarked with a smile. “But they showed us how we could run the parts quicker on a less expensive machine.” Ellison proved their point by running a test batch (without a purchase order) on the PUMA 2600Y in their showroom. That was a game changer for the owners.
Up and Running
FTI bought their first PUMA 2600Y late on a Friday afternoon. It arrived on the following Wednesday, was cutting parts on Thursday and completed parts were being shipped by Friday. Now, that’s a fast turnaround! The company needed Ellison to go the extra mile to get them up and running, and they delivered. Houston, we have ignition on stage two!
Everything Has Changed
Ellison and Doosan helped FTI start its climb towards success, but they weren’t finished by a long shot. Building on the momentum created by their first Doosan, the firm started attracting the type of customers they really wanted. It wasn’t long before they figured out what was needed to move to the next level – more Doosan machines. In 2016 the company purchased two Lynx Turning Centers and a PUMA SY. “Everything has changed since then,” said Brian.
How have the Doosan machines moved the company…Forward? The new equipment allowed the company to maintain flexibility and take on higher volume jobs. For example, one of the Lynx machines is now running parts for the aerospace industry in Inconel (a high-temperature alloy used in extreme environments) three shifts a day, five days a week. In fact, the machine is only used for other jobs about two weeks a year. Even with this volume, the Lynx models are maintaining tolerances within plus or minus two thousands (0.002”) shift after shift.
More Capabilities Than Ever
More Doosan machines? You bet! A DNM 5700 Vertical Machining Center was purchased in 2017. It has the size and options to give FTI more milling capabilities than ever. Its probing feature is perfect for avoiding skim cuts on Inconel laser cut blanks, and its through spindle air is great for plastic parts. It easily handles aluminum and copper. “It was our first mill with a FANUC control,” said Scott. “We were a bit apprehensive, but a Doosan engineer came in for two days and answered every question we had.”
For even more flexibility and high productivity on runs of small and medium parts, FTI recently took delivery of a NHP 4000 horizontal machining center. It features a new random access disc-type tool magazine that allows high-speed 0.9 second tool-to-tool and 2.3 second chip-to-chip times. In addition to minimizing non-cutting time, this design also reduces vibration, resulting in more stable operation. The NHP 4000 can be configured for a wide range of applications so it will be a great utility player.
A Global Viewpoint
Today, Forward Technologies, Inc. has pretty much gone into orbit. It serves a diverse customer base spanning a variety of industries and provides customers with complete machining solutions to fit any application. It’s a pretty nice view, according to Brad. “We now work with people who have the same high standards we do, both customers and suppliers like Ellison and Doosan.”
The company is even bringing jobs from offshore back to the US. One customer gave them an order for several hundred thousand parts previously made by their in-house operation in Mexico. The reason? FTI could make them better, faster and more economically. Another client sent FTI all the work they were doing in Canada, Mexico and Tennessee. The company is now running three shifts, and weekends too, to keep up with the volume of orders. The team says they’ve learned that with the right equipment, the right training and the right talent, the USA can compete with any operations overseas.
Speaking of talent, which is a vital component of their success, FTI has found Doosan technology helps them attract and engage the best workers. Prospective employees are interested in the capabilities of the Doosan machines and what can be accomplished with them at Forward Technologies. That gives FTI a vital edge in the dwindling labor market.
Not even the sky’s the limit with partners like Ellison and Doosan! With great machines and service, combined with leadership and workers like those at FTI, go ahead and aim for the stars!