Last fall in this column we told the story of Jim Chick. The solution to his manufacturing problem resulted in the "Bi-Lok" vise and changed the stationary workholding industry.
Joe Cousins worked with Jim during the early days of the development of the new product. In fact, Joe built the fixturing to produce the vise. As the product gained in popularity and the company grew, he progressed through the small job shop as setup man, shop foreman and designer, and then finally he rose to the level of general manager. Jim Chick eventually sold the vise part of his business. He retained the contract manufacturing facility, which has grown to almost 50 employees. Joe stayed with the new owners and assisted the further development of the product line.
Let's go back a few years and see if this story has a familiar ring to it. While still in high school, Joe convinced the local motorcycle shop where he worked that he could assemble the new bikes as well as anyone else there. And it probably didn't hurt that he loved working on those new machines. At the age of 16, he made a tough decision to follow a technical path the last two years of high school, unlike many of his friends who were in the college preparatory classes. "I knew mechanical things were my true calling, and the thought of making mechanical products on those cool machines at the tech school was definitely something that I wanted to do," Joe says.
Joe graduated at the top of his class and participated in the Pennsylvania State VICA machining competition. A close friend has referred to Joe as a "sponge." He absorbs as much knowledge as possible from everyone he meets. His shop instructor (in the beginning), then other students, fellow employees and supervisors have all provided Joe with his continuing education.
"I had always wanted to have my own business, and early in my life set a goal to accomplish this by the time I was 35 years old," he says. "I made a list of those areas where I thought I had weaknesses. College classes at night helped me address these areas. My plan was to approach workholding as a complete system—to create a system of fixturing for machining centers that did not exist at the time."
And so Joe came up with the idea to facilitate something more than the conventional mounting of a vise on the machine table with toe clamps, but without the financial commitment required of a complete modular fixturing system. Inaugurated in January of 1994, the Bock Workholding System brought the introduction of the locator sub-plate as the foundation for existing vises, non-rotating chucks and 4th axis indexers. The plate is a hard-coated, lightweight aluminum unit with precision bored and threaded locating holes in a 2-inch grid pattern. Set-ups repeat to within ±0.001 inch using alphanumerically coded holes for an accurate and repeatable reference.
The system has available adapter plates for all major vises sold in the United States, but at the heart of it are the 4- and 6-inch twin vises, designed for versatility and quick setup. The soft jaws are fully machinable and have a full 8-inch travel. The same concept is used on the MonoQuad units designed for horizontal machining centers or indexer operations on a vertical machining center.
Next month we will look at how Joe Cousins and his partner Jeff Baur approach the manufacturing of their system. While Joe's career has revolved around workholding and the development of the Bock System, Jeff's contribution is equally as important.
We'll examine how they've structured their shop floor for both high quality and responsiveness.
Remember, knowledge is a wonderful asset, but it can only become truly powerful when shared.