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Man runs a multitasking machine

Five Wolfram Manufacturing employees quickly produced 60 ventilator parts using an Okuma Multus B400 multitasking machine and material the shop already had. Photo: Wolfram Manufacturing

Wolfram Manufacturing in Austin, Texas usually uses its multitasking machines to produce parts for oil and gas and heavy industry, but the coronavirus pandemic had the company wondering if it could produce parts for much-needed ventilators. It started reaching out to different organizations, including the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association (ARMA), to see if it could help. “I don't even know if there are parts that we can make in ventilators,” Wolfram Manufacturing President Nathan Byman said to ARMA Executive Director Ed Latson. “But if somebody has a need, please let us know. Pass it on to us.’” Within three days, the shop had an order for ventilator parts that needed to be complete by the next evening.

Wolfram got the call on a Sunday afternoon, and the parts needed to be ready to meet a critical shipping deadline at midnight on Monday. The order for 60 of these parts (which are roughly the size of a cell phone) came from SISU, an engineering firm that is helping to design a ventilator. Wolfram quickly mobilized five employees to open up the shop and start setting up to run the parts. “We got our setup done, we worked with raw material that we had in the shop, brought the part online and worked through the day and then hand delivered them to them Monday night,” Mr. Byman says.

While the timing was unusual, the parts themselves weren’t a challenge for the shop. “Our inspection requirements are very high, so that made the tolerances and everything on the parts very easy for us,” Mr. Byman explains. What did pose a problem was material, which led to the shop using its own stock. The customer managed to find a vendor that could get material to the shop by Monday morning, but it was all square. This wasn’t ideal, as the shop was using its Okuma Multus B400 — a lathe to produce the parts. Fortunately, Wolfram had some 5-inch round drops in inventory from a project that was finished. The company worked to figure out how it could nest as many of the parts as possible into the barstock, around the turning and milling that had already been performed on the material. At first, Wolfram thought it was only going to be able to produce a portion of what the customer needed. “And then we figured out how to stack more so we could do half of what they needed. And then we figured out how to stack more,” Mr. Byman says. Eventually, by densely packing the parts and using all the material it had, the shop was able to fit 60 parts. “We were able to meet their whole demands on those,” he says. According to Mr. Byman, the ventilators with the parts Wolfram Manufacturing produced were deployed in New York, one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic.

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