VICE PRESIDENT OF METALQUEST UNLIMITED
IMTS Never Fails to Provide the Next Big Thing to Improve Efficiency
Scott Volk, vice president of MetalQuest Unlimited in Hebron, Neb., is never satisfied with the status quo. It’s not in his nature to sit by and let inefficiencies happen. Volk’s drive to find better ways to operate has led the company to become an industry leader in machine communication and automation.
MetalQuest is a contract manufacturer of parts for the firearms, oilfield and hydraulics industries. Known for solving customer challenges that other shops won’t touch, the company often comes up with creative solutions based on what they’ve learned at IMTS.
“If I didn’t attend IMTS, I’d be lost for the next two years,” Volk said. “It’s where I learn, grow and evolve. It's about the whole experience, and networking with people is a huge part of it. It’s good to see new products, but it's also important to take advantage of so many industry experts being in one place, sharing their knowledge. I would feel stagnated if I didn’t attend IMTS.”
Volk uses IMTS as an educational forum to find solutions to current challenges and discover new technologies that may be useful in the future – essentially solving problems that don’t yet exist.
“I come to see the latest and greatest technologies and learn from what other people are doing. But we aren’t just looking for solutions we need immediately,” Volk said. “We come to IMTS to learn about what we can do in the future. So when a customer comes to us with a problem someday, we can take what we've learned at the show and apply it to find a solution.”
Volk’s forward-thinking was especially sharp in 2002 when he envisioned the opportunity for data-driven manufacturing, an industry concept that was in its infancy at the time. He came to IMTS 2002 to work with Okuma Corporation on a way to network their machines. By the end of 2003, the entire plant was networked together.
“We were in the world of IIoT before IIoT really existed,” Volk said. “It’s always been fascinating to me to integrate machine tools, software and all the other plant equipment so they talk to each other and make the operation as efficient as possible. It's really cool to see that technology picking up steam in the industry now.”
As an early adopter of machine communication, Volk was eager to use an open source language that would make networking simple and useful. As a result, the company is now in the process of migrating to MTConnect, an open-source protocol developed with support from AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. MTConnect allows MetalQuest to monitor the efficiency of machines, part counts, how long the machines run and the programs they run. Volk then uses that data to optimize efficiency for the entire plant.
“It’s such a robust and flexible language that we can pick out what data is important to us and use it to our advantage,” Volk said. “We network machines and other tools to see the whole picture on what’s happening and make changes to improve it.”
Having attended the last 10 IMTS shows, Volk has watched robotic automation grow quickly into a powerhouse for manufacturers, and a necessary way to stay ahead in a competitive market. Today the company has eight FANUC robots because Volk and his team watched that evolution turn into a solid solution to improve the business.
“I’ll never forget the first time I watched a vision robot picking parts out of a bin at IMTS,” Volk said. “The whole world changed at that point because it’s when robots could do tasks that people don't like to do. We need robots to optimize our dwindling work force. The boring, monotonous, deburring and loading tasks go to the robots so we can pay workers to use their brains and run machines. To grow as a company, we need to figure out how to automate even more.”
“I'm constantly looking for the next challenge and how to make things better. Our entire company culture is centered on the idea that there’s always a better way to do things. We just need to figure it out. We like coming to IMTS because it gives us the opportunity to learn new ways of doing things so we stay competitive.”
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