Owner of J3 Machine & Engineering, LLC
Jeremy Nyenhuis started with a pole barn and a used lathe off Craigslist. Now he has orders booked four months in advance. Learn how Nyenhuis keeps big customers satisfied with smart technology investments.
IMTS Offers Machine Shop Owner Ticket to Future
By his own admission, Jeremy Nyenhuis barely graduated high school in 1996. Today, as owner and sole employee of J3 Machine & Engineering, LLC, Ravenna, Mich., he's the go-to guy for tough jobs in western Michigan. Even through Covid and supply chain challenges, Nyenhuis has missed only one deadline, and has jobs booked four months out. He works hard to make this happen, but he also works smart, using such technology as a Realtrac ERP system to improve productivity and customer communication.
The Little Lathe that Could
After high school, Nyenhuis intended to join the military, but a medical discharge derailed those plans. Having demonstrated metal and wood shop skills in high school (he won a state contest for hand-made knives), a family friend with a machine shop gave him a shot. By the end of his first week, he earned a 50-cent raise. Within two years, he was co-plant manager. Subsequent jobs at other precision machining companies in the Grand Rapids-Muskegon area included lead CNC specialist, programmer, set-up operator, and trainer.
Each step I took added to my knowledge of different machines, different tools and different strategies for effective operation,” Nyenhuis says. “I learned how companies large and small operate. I wouldn't be where I am today without taking this journey.”
A key step in that journey occurred in 2012 when Nyenhuis and his wife bought a hobby farm with a 40-foot by 60-foot pole barn. He found a used lathe on Craigslist, spent a year fixing it up and machined simple things like tops for the kids. A two-axis lathe followed (also from Craigslist), and soon he was doing after-hours rework projects for his employer. Then actual jobs hit the floor, as did a vertical mill. By 2016, Nyenhuis had so much side work that J3 Machine became his full-time job.
That little lathe really was the catalyst of me getting job after job, because I proved that I could hold the tolerances and make good parts, Nyenhuis says.
They're always the same from run to run.
On Top of Technology
Just as machining has been part of his life since 1996, so has IMTS, as his first employer was an exhibitor.
As a new employee, I didn't work the booth, so I walked the floor for two straight days. I walked every single aisle, looking at every single booth, Nyenhuis says. He has been to almost every show since, but one memory from IMTS 1998 stands out.
I was walking down a hallway with another employee and the owner of the company. We stopped in front of a CNC with a large control and lots of buttons. He asked us a question about it. I answered by saying, ‘It's kind of intimidating with all the stuff you have to learn.’ His answer to me was simple. ‘That's the way of the future. You can't be afraid of that.’ That's how I learned to operate all these CNC machines.
As owner of a one-person shop, Nyenhuis knows he needs to use technology to stay on top. He regularly reviews industry publications for tooling ideas and the latest machining strategies. When something sparks an interest, he often cross-references the idea with what he's seen at IMTS.
IMTS is where I get to see new things that spur different ideas for what to bring back to the shop, he says. Nyenhuis' customers go to J3 with tough jobs that often take longer, such as machining harder metals. With very little overhead, he can invest in the best tooling to accomplish these jobs. Communication is his other ace in the hole. Regular progress reports from his ERP system ensure jobs are on time and customers are aware of their job status.
IMTS has been important to both sets of tools – machining and communication,” Nyenhuis says.
Having explored ERP systems at IMTS and used one at a previous employer, he knew that using one at J3 Machine would ensure he made decisions based on information, not guesses.
My Realtrac ERP tells me where I can save time and increase productivity, Nyenhuis says.
That's why I bought a used Mazak Integrex 200-IIIS. With a main spindle and a sub-spindle, it lets me get more work done in a single setup. Without the downtime of moving parts between a lathe and a mill, I can be more productive.
To improve productivity after parts come off the Integrex, Nyenhuis confirms tolerances using his new Keyence IM-8020 Image Dimension Measurement System.
The CMM was a direct buy as a result of what I saw at IMTS, Nyenhuis says.
When I have projects that are irritating me, I take pictures before I go to the show. If I see something that I think can solve the problem, I show the exhibitor the photos. You just start working with people to solve problems, because that's what we're all here to do – solve problems, create things and make this a better world by taking it to the next level.