While foreign competition has dramatically altered the landscape of American manufacturing, many U.S. shops have survived by focusing on the areas where overseas companies simply cannot compete. High quality, quick delivery and personal relationships all present the opportunity for substantial differentiation. For a small shop in Berkeley Heights, N.J., a focus on these three areas has created success despite the sometimes turbulent U.S. market.
Founded in 1951, Karl Neuweiler Inc. has specialized in high precision machining for almost 60 years. The company has been family-owned and operated throughout its history. Dan Neuweiler took over for his father in 1972 and will someday turn the reins over to his son, Dan Jr. The shop is a tight-knit group of eight, with four members that have been there more than 20 years. As times have changed, so have the challenges facing Neuweiler, but a commitment to its core values has afforded the company with consistent success.
Last Man Standing
“There used to be quite a few machine shops within a mile or two of us,” says Dan Neuweiler Sr. “Today, we’re the last man standing. Through the years, we’ve stayed true to providing uncompromising quality in high precision work and offering a personal approach to customer service. We’ve seen some jobs go overseas or disappear because of obsolescence of products, but there’s always been something else to take their place.”
To maintain its ability to meet the increased precision and faster turnaround times demanded by customers, Neuweiler invests in new machines when necessary and routinely evaluates new cutting tools. The company usually deals with small lots of less than 100 parts. In the fall of 2007, it was looking for ways to increase its flexibility and produce finished parts in one setup.
“I knew we wanted a Swiss turning center with live tooling and a bar feeder so that we could really move quickly on incoming orders,” says Dan Neuweiler Jr. “In evaluating the options, we attended an open house event held by Citizen in the fall of 2007. It quickly became clear that the A20 was the best machine for our operations. We knew that it would be important to maximize tooling performance, so we turned to Sandvik Coromant for advice on how to tool up the new machine.”
The decision was made to implement Sandvik’s QS system. Developed specifically for Citizen Swiss turning machines, the QS toolholder provides spots for as many as six tools. Through the use of a spring-loading clamping system, QS maintains high accuracy while allowing significant reduction in setup and tool change times. Neuweiler’s local Sandvik Coromant representative aided in the selection of inserts for the system.
Delivery of the Citizen A20 took place during the week after Christmas 2007. Neuweiler immediately knew it had made the right choice, both in terms of machine and tooling. The first job run on the A20 was for a family of small, 2024 aluminum components machined from 3/4-inch barstock. Requiring tolerances of 0.0005 inch, the parts are used in switches that detect changes in air or fluid pressure.
The switches can be found in a variety of applications, ranging from the systems that automatically deploy oxygen masks in planes to safety mechanisms in the hydraulic lifts of garbage trucks. Compared to its typical jobs, Neuweiler machined considerably large lots of the parts, providing its customer with a minimum of 2,000 completed components per week.
All In One
“The parts require turning, face grooving, back turning and drilling operations,” says Dan Neuweiler Jr. “Previously, we had to machine the front of the part on one turning center, turn the back on another and then perform the drilling operation on a third. It required a good amount of labor and operator intervention, despite the fact that it wasn’t a terribly complicated part by our standards.”
On the new machine, all operations could be completed in a single setup, thanks to the A20’s subspindle and live tooling. Additionally, the inclusion of a bar feeder eliminated the need for an operator to load and unload each component. Total process time per part dropped from 3 minutes to 1 minute, 3 seconds. In the past, meeting its customer’s stringent delivery demands proved especially challenging for Neuweiler. With the new machine and tooling, meeting this need became much easier and less labor intensive.
“I have a lot of different responsibilities in my position,” says Dan Neuweiler Jr. “I handle our accounting, payroll and many other business functions, but have also been responsible for the production of this specific family of components. In the past, I had to spend a considerable amount of my time loading and unloading parts between machines. Today, the parts are machined almost automatically, and I just have to check the machine and clear chips once an hour. It has allowed me to spend more time on other functions that are very important to our company.”
Less Time Makes More Time
In addition to requiring less labor, the new process freed up a lot of time on the machines previously used to machine the family of parts. This increased capacity has been used to make the shop more flexible in meeting customers’ needs. The new machine and tooling provided a host of benefits to Neuweiler, but its most surprising achievement came in the area of tool life.
While the A20 was originally purchased to handle a variety of components, Neuweiler decided to dedicate the machine to the production of the components for pressure detection switches because of the impressive results it had produced. The job had been running several months when the local Sandvik representative started asking questions during a routine visit.
“He asked how I liked the ease of changing out tools and setting offsets,” says Dan Neuweiler Jr. “I told him I loved the system. It has become something of a running joke, but we’ve been running the machine from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, since December, and we have yet to wear out a single insert.”
A Perfect Union
The inserts in question, many of which are Sandvik’s 1025 grade, are still operating. At this point, they have produced more than 100,000 parts with no noticeable wear, and Neuweiler has not had to do so much as adjust an offset. The shop credits the rigidity of the QS system, along with the expertise of Sandvik Coromant in helping select the perfect inserts for the job when the machine was first installed.
“We’ve been very impressed with the Citizen machine and the tooling Sandvik has developed for it,” says Dan Neuweiler Sr. “As soon as we can justify investing in another machine, we’ll be going with that combination again.”
For Karl Neuweiler Inc., there is a constant dedication to evolving its ability to provide shorter turnaround times, while remaining committed to quality and the development of strong personal relationships with customers. By remaining true to its core values, the shop is well positioned to retain its competitive advantage in the global market.