In April of 2008, the state of Indiana held a special ceremony in honor of Marion Manufacturing (West Terre Haute, IN) and its bold investment of more than $2 million to build and equip a 24,000-square-foot addition to its existing 20,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center. The company moved into its expanded facility in November of 2008. Then the bottom fell out.
Tammy Marion, President of Marion Manufacturing, said, “The expansion was planned during an uptime in the economy. We used the downturn as an opportunity to move forward and expand our customer base and develop our manufacturing processes to handle more high-end components and really push the aerospace industry more than we had previously.”
“Downturn” and “opportunity” are not words that are generally used in the same sentence, but Tammy Marion uttered them with complete sincerity. The management team developed a plan that included using the downturn to acquire certifications that would better qualify the company for important aerospace and defense manufacturing contracts, develop advanced manufacturing processes that leveraged the capabilities of its excellent equipment and aggressively networking into the defense and aerospace marketplace.
As the recession deepened, hours were reduced at the plant and manpower shrank from a previous high of 45 people to 35. Throughout 2009 the company fought back, and by the end of the year, sales were flat (at the previous year’s level) but the customer base had been expanded and new work was flowing in. By early in 2010, the workforce had expanded to 50, the outlook was for 20% growth and the company programmers with at least five years experience.
All in the Family
Founded in 1997, Marion Tool and Die, Inc., is a woman-owned, ISO 9001:2000 certified, AS 9100 certified, precision machine shop. The company’s primary markets include, but are not limited to, automotive, aerospace, agriculture, heavy-duty equipment and medical devices. Tammy Marion said, “Where we have gained our success, is price, delivery and quality, but above all a committed team of employees who are dedicated to customer satisfaction. We pride ourselves in being responsive, reliable and reactive to our customer’s needs.”
Marion Manufacturing has been a women-owed business from inception. The company was started by Tim Marion, his brother Leonard and their mother, who was the initial capital investor. Upon her retirement, the business was passed on to Tammy and Cassie Marion, who now own 51% of the stock in the business. Tammy complemented Tim and Leonard’s technical skills with her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. So it was a good fit for the family and the company as a whole.
Leveraging Staff Talents
As of July 2010, seven of the company’s 50 employees were women and three of them worked out in the shop. Although this is a higher percentage of women than one would find in most job shops, the company does not play favorites. Its philosophy is to hire the best talent available, regardless of sex, then make good use of their skills.
Tammy Marion said that most of her male machinists and programmers tend to get focused on making things, whereas women often do a better job at planning, scheduling and taking care of all the details that are required to successfully document a project and get it delivered successfully—again, complementary skills.
One of the high-performing people on her staff was Lisa Backfish who worked in purchasing. When the downturn came, Lisa’s workload was dramatically reduced. Rather than lay off an energetic and talented person, the company came up with a better plan. Lisa’s university degree was in marketing so the company put her in charge of marketing on a full-time basis. They told her to hit the road in search of business.
The plan was to use the company’s new facility and advanced four- and five-axis manufacturing capabilities to entice aerospace and defense manufacturers to send more work their way. Lisa immediately immersed herself in the intricacies of doing business with these demanding customers and personally networked with high tech manufacturers in Indiana and surrounding states, as well as with direct business sources in the Federal government.
Back at the plant, the engineering and manufacturing staff took advantage of improving their advanced CNC manufacturing capabilities and acquiring the all-important AS9100. Within six months, a steadily increasing flow of development projects was making its way into the shop.
“Our company specializes in doing the complicated manufacturing jobs that other shops tend to shy away from,” said Tim Marion. “As a matter of fact, if we get a contract that has aspects of it calling for a lot of simple, repetitive machining, we will outsource that part of the job. We don’t want to tie up our equipment and CAD/CAM stations with work that doesn’t really add a lot of value to the
The primary tool Marion Manufacturing uses to add value to its projects is Mastercam CAD/CAM software fromCNC Software, Inc. The company has five seats. “We use it for programming our 3-, 4- and 5-axis mills, lathes and wire EDM as well as for design. It touches just about everything we do,” Marion said.
“Mastercam has given us the ability to do some really tough work,” Tim Marion said. “What has also helped us is being able to hire students out of Vincennes University’s excellent manufacturing program. We have four recent grads working for us now and they can all use Mastercam effectively.”
The company does a lot of “design and build” work for dies and fixtures. Marion’s engineers create the designs in Mastercam and then develop the CNC toolpaths in the same programming environment, so absolutely nothing is lost in translation. They use computer simulation of the toolpaths for quoting purposes and to ensure they will run safely on the equipment. If the machinists think it would be a good idea to change some part of the design or manufacturing process the designers will confer with them at the machine and make agreed-upon changes on the spot. It is a very efficient process.
Since Lisa Backfish has been emphasizing multi-axis machining on her visits to aerospace and defense contractors, everyone back at the shop has been focused on doing whatever can be done to make these processes more efficient and productive. Tim Marion said that part cosmetics are just as important with aerospace as with medical manufacturing. “If there is any visual flaw on a part,” he said, “they are going to send it right back to you.”
To ensure flawless finishes, Tim has been working with his Mastercam Reseller (RandyMaynard, CAD/CAM Technologies, Pendleton, IN) to become proficient in Mastercam’s specialized surface blending toolpaths. When he is getting into a new capability, he may call his reseller several times a week, and they generally respond within the hour. This was the case with a difficult elbow that Marion was programming for one of his 5-axis machines.
The product was an elbow that was three inches deep on both sides. It required 0.003-inch radius at the bottom of the elbow while maintaining a 32 RMS finish. Marion Manufacturing was able to use its 5-axis tools to come down to the bottom on each side and then create a blended radius with the desired finish all in a single setup.
Another favorite Machining Strategy of Marion’s is Mastercam’s high speed pocketing toolpaths such as dynamic milling. This can be a tremendous time saver when high volumes of material have to be removed. This is perhaps why Marion has been machining a lot of casting replicas which allow the end users to work on setting up their process without having to pay for tooling for the casting process until everything has been finalized. Later on, if the casting tool becomes damaged, Marion can jump in and manufacture the production process casting with a very small cost difference to the customer.
“With capabilities like that and Lisa beating the bushes for business, it is little wonder prototype work has been rolling in steadily since the beginning of the year,” said a Marion spokesperson. “This bodes well for higher volume work in the months ahead.”
For more information contact:
CNC Software, Inc.
671 Old Post Road
Tolland, CT 06084
Marion Tool and Die, Inc.
1126 West National Avenue
West Terre Haute, IN 47885