Industrial Supplier Aids Job Shop’s Lean Efforts

As a small shop, Cross Paths Corporation relies on outside help to maintain a lean, efficient working environment. With fast deliveries of needed products, a free CAD library and a focus on customer service, Reid Supply Company helps the shop keep inventories low and maintain its focus on producing quality parts for customers.

Case Study From: 11/9/2009 Modern Machine Shop

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CAD library

Reid’s free CAD library makes it easier for the shop to incorporate components from the supplier into CAD designs for inspection fixtures like the one shown here.

Fryer VMC

Cross Paths uses two VMCs from Fryer, an MC-50 and a VB-60. Shop co-founder Steve Siekman says Reid Supply played helped determine how to tool the machine by bringing in cutting tool manufacturer representatives to discuss various milling and drilling options.

Check fixture

Cross Paths’ inspection fixtures help customers determine whether critical parts meet required geometry specifications.

Like many shops, Cross Paths Corporation strives to maintain a lean working environment. Due to the nature of its work, however, this requires more than just in-house efforts. Most parts for the shop’s fixtures, gages and other components—practically everything but the metal it machines, in fact—come from a single outside supplier. As such, keeping inventory low requires trusting that supplier to be just as efficient and responsive as the shop is for its own customers. Reid Supply Company (Muskegon, Michigan) has not only proven its ability to deliver needed items on a just-in-time basis, but also eased the process of creating CAD designs and gone out of its way to accommodate special requests.

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cross Paths got its start in co-founder Cliff Cross’ basement in 1997. In the beginning, the company provided CAD design and CNC programming services for mold, die and fixture shops. Before long, it had leased its own space, purchased a CNC machine and begun to cut its own parts. It is now housed it a 3,000-square-foot facility with five employees and two VMCs: a Fryer MC-50 and a Fryer VB-60.

The company performs mostly one-off work, consisting primarily of inspection fixtures, weld fixtures and gages for the automotive, aerospace and other industries. Since it first moved into manufacturing, Cross Paths has turned to Reid Supply for the tooling balls, tooling ball covers, De-Sta-Co clamps, jig feet, handles and other such components incorporated into its fixtures and gages. Co-founder Steve Siekman says his relationship with Reid began after he was referred to the company by a fellow fixture house that Cross Paths once supplied with part designs. "They’re big with a lot of my competitors," he says about Reid. "It’s common knowledge among shops like ours that they’re a good fit."

Typically, work begins with a design concept, which the shop submits to the customer for approval before putting together a bill of materials. Next, needed items are purchased through an ordering template on Reid’s Web site, using the bill of materials as a reference. The ability to save and recall "carts" of commonly used materials is a useful feature, Mr. Siekman says. "We basically start with a template of things we know we’re going to need. For example, every fixture is going to need tooling balls and covers and other common parts," he explains. "We can then add things that are unique to a particular job. The site will tell you whether any given item is in stock, which it almost always is with Reid."

As long as the order is finalized by 5 p.m. or so, the parts typically arrive the very next day, Mr. Siekman says. These quick deliveries, plus the fact that Reid seemingly always has needed items in stock, enable Cross Paths to keep inventories low and order parts on demand. "In the old days we’d have piles of this and that, and we’d have a lot of money tied up in inventory," he explains. "Now, we keep only a small supply of screws, dowels and a few other things."

Reid’s services help the shop cut down on parts sorting, too. Each order is job-specific, and all parts come in the same box. The shop often simply writes the job number on the box and pulls components out as-needed, Mr. Siekman says. He adds that he only turns away from Reid in favor of more local suppliers in extenuating circumstances. In one instance, for example, he accidentally ordered a component in the wrong size but couldn’t wait another day for a new one.

Free CAD drawings are available for more than 90 percent of the parts in Reid’s catalog. Access to this free CAD library eases the process of designing gages and other components, Mr. Siekman notes. Rather than manually modeling a certain clamp for an inspection figure, the shop can simply pull the clamp’s CAD model from the free library and integrate it into the SolidWorks design file. This also helps generate bills of materials. With a product concept in mind, the shop can browse Reid’s offering to see which components would be best to turn design into reality.

According to Mr. Siekman, Reid often goes beyond just providing industrial supplies and CAD drawings. "They’re very customer service oriented," he says. "If you’re struggling with a specific application or product, they’ll bring in one of the manufacturers’ reps to go over it with you." This occurred after the shop bought one of its Fryer VMCs, when Reid facilitated meetings with various cutting tool suppliers to help determine how best to tool the machine.

In some instances, Reid does the legwork on its own, Mr. Siekman says. One of Cross Paths’ most frequent purchases from the supplier are drill blanks, which the shop uses to produce custom pins for checking hole dimensions. When the company asked for a harder, longer-lasting grinding wheel for this operation, Reid took the time to research the myriad combinations of grits and binding compounds available on the market. As it turned out, the wheel Reid recommended wasn’t a model that it normally stocked. Nonetheless, the supplier purchased an entire case of wheels and sold them to Cross Paths one at a time.

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