In 1954 with great anticipation, Wayne Mercer opened Mercer Machine Company in his basement with only a single lathe.
Now, 57 years later, Mercer Machine Company is run by Brian and Tracy Robinson, who bought the business in 2008 from Tracy’s parents. The Mercer facility is now 14,400 square feet, staffs 16 full time employees and is open 22 hours a day. According to Vice President Brian Robinson, Mercer does production sawing, turning and milling and some EDM work. The company works with carbon steels, high alloy materials, Hasteloy, Titanium, Inconels, Waspoloy aluminum and iron castings and many exotics as well. It serves the aerospace, automotive, race car components (Sarah Fisher on the Indy Car circuit), agriculture and defense industries.
“With the new Okuma LB3000 EX-MY CNC lathe multitasking production center, we’re increasing the size of our net, going after new markets, taking a hard look at aerospace engine coolers and a large array of medical applications,” Mr. Robinson says. “It’s amazing what you can do with the new machine. If you can imagine the shape and geometry of a complex part, you can program and produce the part in a single setup.”
A House of Okumas
Mr. Robinson says Mercer has been an Okuma user since 1976, working with Okuma distributor Joachim & Jones, now known as Gosiger Indiana. They currently have 11 Okuma CNC machine tools on the shop floor.
Since that first CNC control, Mercer Machine has bought Okuma CNC machine tool products steadily through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. “I bought my first Okuma milling machines in 2006,” Mr. Robinson says. “Then in 2009, I got my second Okuma mill. The latest Okuma CNC is the LB3000 EX-MY multitasking machining center.”
Surviving Tough Times
“We’ve always known there would be some hard times,” Mr. Robinson says, “and we intentionally tucked money away for just those times. More importantly, we’ve always been a lean operation, and we’ve never ‘put all our eggs in one basket.’ We’ve always been highly diversified in our customer base. As a CNC machine tool shop, we constantly look for jobs that require multiple secondary operations. Plus, we’ve always had strong, reciprocal relationships with our customers.”
He adds that they have one customer who came to them and warned them that a job they were doing was probably in line for outsourcing. The customer gave Mercer a heads up and enough leadtime to find another part before they moved the part offshore.
“We have a customer right now who has parts made in Germany,” Mr. Robinson says. “The parts come back and aren’t right, so they have to be sent back to Germany for rework. He’s about to start working with us. All he wants is to have control over his product. It’s these kind of experiences—quality control, the recent Japanese earthquakes and tsunami, negatively impacting auto makers worldwide, shipping and storage, the rising cost of oil and the fact that Chinese labor rates are increasing at 17 percent annually—that have taken the luster off cheap labor (if it ever really was cheap) and are causing many manufacturers to begin reshoring to domestic suppliers.
The LB3000 EX-MY
According to Gosiger Indiana sales engineer Gary Paulson, “When we spoke with Mercer about their desire to expand their capabilities to include working with exotic metals and more complex aerospace parts, it was clear that the LB3000 EX-MY was a perfect fit.
“I have a bar feeder and parts catcher on the new Okuma,” Mr. Robinson says. “I can load the feeder up with barstock and the Okuma will run until it’s out of stock. It runs without operator intervention, and keeps my quality and throughput consistently high. Without operator involvement, I don’t have operator-induced variances. I can run simple parts and complex parts.
The lathe machine is tremendous at repeatedly holding tolerances and surface finishes.”
One simple part that Mercer creates is a pin for electrical transformers that gets a crosshole drilled through the diameter, then is chamfered on both sides, parted off and done. Cycle time is 67 seconds. If this pin wasn’t being made on the LB3000 EX-MY CNC lathe, cycle time would be 3 minutes, because the part would have to be parted off the bar, then go to the mill, drill the hole, chamfer one side, then flip the part over and chamfer the other side. That would be three distinct setups and operator involvement in moving the part from setup to setup, resulting in possible quality variations from pin to pin. Now the part is done in a single setup.
A complex part machined by Mercer is for an aerospace customer. “On the LB3000 EX-MY, we start out with 3-inch long barstock, bore the jaws out, rough turn, finish turn, thread a ¾-inch-10 thread on the end and then mill and drill three holes in the flange face—all in a single setup,” Mr. Robinson explains. “The cycle time is 3 minutes, 30 seconds. Before the new Okuma lathe machine, I’d have to chuck the part, turn everything down and thread. Then I’d have to take it over to the mill, get a chuck, bore out the chuck jaws, chuck the part on the turned diameter, then drill the three holes, deburr and send it on to the customer. With the LB3000 EX-MY, cycle time has been greatly reduced; I’ve eliminated workholding and building fixtures—and operator involvement.”
Gosiger’s Added Value
Mr. Robinson not only appreciates his new machine, but also sees the value of working with a good distributor. “Gosiger is a great bunch of guys,” he says. “If I call them, I’ve got a service guy out here the next day or the day after. Many times, we can talk a problem through over the phone. They listen and then walk me through the solution. They’re very knowledgeable and very responsive. It’s a pleasure working with service personnel who actually know what they are doing.”
A Strategy for the Long Run
“There’s really nothing complicated about our strategy,” Mr. Robinson says. “We cast a very large net, selecting only those RFQs that require serious multiple secondary operations, which is what the LB3000 EX-MY is dedicated to. We keep our eye on our customers, our competitors and on developments in new advanced technology. We invest regularly to stay ahead of the competition, allowing us to do what others cannot. We try to learn from our mistakes, of which there haven’t been a great number during the past 57 years. Then we work very, very hard to be the best supplier a customer can find.”
The Mercer staff treats its employees as family and its customers and suppliers as its best friends. Management listens to its employees, customers and suppliers carefully, then they try to meet or exceed everyone’s needs.
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