PRESIDENT — METALQUEST UNLIMITED, INC.
“IMTS is always the best place to gather diverse information about new technologies and innovations. IMTS allows us to stay competitive and relevant in this industry. If we don't stay on the front end of technology, we’re going to fall behind and lose jobs.”
In the middle of a corn field in Hebron, Neb. – population 1,400 – lies one of the most technologically sophisticated machine shops in the nation. MetalQuest Inc. is a 70-person contract parts manufacturer that specializes in high-precision, high-tolerance parts in large volumes for the oilfield, firearms and hydraulics industries.
MetalQuest president Scott Harms has dedicated his career to continually find better ways to make parts and imagine future possibilities.
“We re-think the way parts are made,” Harms said. “If it typically takes three or four machines to make a part, we figure out how to fixture it so we can machine in one system,” Harms said. “Not only is it quicker to run but we have better quality products because no one is hand-transferring parts between operations.”
MetalQuest uses multitasking CNC machines to do as much as possible in one machining operation to improve consistency, increase part throughput and be competitive on very short lead times. These benefits give MetalQuest an advantage when manufacturers seek an American resource instead of one from offshore.
IMTS Knowledge Applied
Keeping efficiency and quality at a premium requires knowledge of the top technologies available in the industry. Harms has attended IMTS since 1996 to gather information about the newest solutions in the industry.
In 2014, MetalQuest had an opportunity with a new customer to make a family of 25 parts. Knowing there would be a lot of changeover and part handling, Harms came to IMTS that year seeking a machining solution that would handle multiple operations.
“We told the customer we needed to attend IMTS and look over options before giving them our estimate,” Harms said. “We shopped down the show aisles and talked with experts from several companies before we made a decision. IMTS is always the best place to gather diverse information about new technologies and innovations.”
MetalQuest assembled an automated cell that makes parts quickly and cost effectively; it is comprised of two Okuma 2SP CNC lathes with dual gantries, four FANUC robots and an Okuma vertical machining center. With this system, the company won the business and now uses a single operator to make 50,000 to 70,000 of these parts every month.
“We’re cost competitive because of the new automation cell we integrated,” Harms said. “IMTS allows us to stay competitive and relevant in this industry. If we don't stay on the front end of technology, we’re going to fall behind and lose jobs.”
Shopping for Solutions
In 2002, Harms discovered the Kennametal ToolBoss system and now has four of them networked through the company. At IMTS 2006, he was looking for quick-change lathe tooling that would reduce changeover time from ten minutes to just seconds. At the show, he learned about additional technologies, such as a pre-setter from Zoller. By comparing product offerings side by side and getting hands-on with the components, MetalQuest found a more complete solution beyond just new tooling.
“Sometimes we discover new technology that isn’t on our radar,” said Harms. “We would be so lost if we didn't come to IMTS,” Harms said. “Every two years it’s a chance to see the latest and greatest, which is why we're big fans of IMTS. There’s no other way we can do such a thorough investigation of our options before making purchase decisions.”
The Value of In-person Contacts
Networking is another big benefit that MetalQuest enjoys at IMTS. Harms always makes a point to meet up with people from Hartwig and FANUC robots, as well as many other partners. Having connections with experts in each field is important to Harms. His team uses IMTS as an opportunity to build close relationships in a social environment.
“We learn a lot at IMTS, but we also have fun and meet people,” Harms said. “It gives us good networking opportunities to go to a restaurant or bar in downtown Chicago. A lot of the relationships we've built over the years have come from IMTS in the evening where we grab dinner and get to know them personally. Fostering these contacts is a big part of the show for us. We end up with friends we can call anytime if we have a question or machine problems.”
Just like he runs his shop, Harms takes a measured, high-efficiency approach to planning for IMTS. He and his team identify the focus areas of the show so employees don’t get overwhelmed. He chooses 10 to 20 employees with the skill and responsibilities in the company who would most benefit from learning about state-of-the-art technology, then the team works together to build a schedule for everyone attending.
The MyShow Planner app helps MetalQuest plan walking routes to maximize everyone’s time and to identify smaller companies that may not be front and center on the show floor.
“We use the planner app to lay out our target booths so we know exactly where to go and make our steps count,” Harms said. “If we didn't know exactly where to go and started wandering, we’d lose precious minutes. Plus, our feet hurt at the end of the day, so we plan with the idea to minimize walking when we can.”
MetalQuest team members attend IMTS to investigate technologies that may improve shop operations. In many cases, that research involves talking with industry’s top experts at several booths on the floor, which would be impossible to do anywhere else.
“IMTS lets us dream about how to do things better,” Harms said. “Whether it's a cutting operation or an entire machining process, our continuous improvement concept is based upon dreaming to do it better. IMTS is the show for people who see opportunity and make things happen in our world.”Read More Stories