The Million-Dollar Job
A shop specializing in large parts describes the most expensive single order it ever shipped.
Tech-Max Machine was not originally founded to be a shop specializing in large parts, but over time that is what the shop became. President Richard Malek and Vice President Ted Morawa say the trend in their shop’s machine purchases over the years has been steadily upward in terms of size. Each new machine has tended to be larger than machines that preceded it. Today, all but one of the machining centers in this shop in Itasca, Ill., has at least 40 inches of X-axis travel, while half of those have 50 to 80 inches, and the largest is a boring mill with 120 inches in X. Mr. Malek says “big” is where he wants his company to be.
There are multiple reasons for this. Shops making small or mid-size parts face plenty of competition, he says, but as long as Tech-Max can keep its machine travels up in the range that few other shops can match, it gets to enjoy a variety of benefits. In his experience, those benefits include:
1. Diversification. To distinguish themselves, many shops specialize in the needs of a particular industry. Large-part machining, by contrast, is a specialty needed by many industries. Tech-Max’s customers come from sectors such as oil and gas, conventional power generation, nuclear power generation, food processing and defense, among others. Mr. Malek says business needs to decline sharply within two unrelated sectors before his own business is affected.
2. Imagination. Large-scale parts often are also unusual parts that pose unusual challenges. In addition, speed is rarely an issue, since physics itself prevents large-part manufacturing from being rapid manufacturing. The challenge instead is typically to make the massive and unusual part to print without error, and Tech-Max’s team generally has the freedom with each new job to imagine the best way to achieve that goal.
3. Selectivity. This shop has little enough competition and ample enough prospects that it can choose which projects it wants to take on, and which companies it wants to do business with. For example, the shop chose to take on the project described on the following pages, an unusual job that extended benefit number 1 to yet another sector (electrical utilities) while challenging the shop to fully apply benefit number 2.
The work was completed in 2011. However, when Mr. Malek recently told me the story of this job—the most expensive order his company has ever shipped, with nearly $1 million dollars of work sent to the customer in one shipment—I decided it was a story I wanted to share and preserve. The photos to follow, which were taken by the shop, detail one of the more distinctive sets of parts I’ve known a job shop to run, and also illustrate an extreme case of the type of opportunity that sometimes comes along because of the shop’s large-part capabilities. Here was that job:
1. Replacement Coils