John Bilek & Jim Carr
Sales Manager & President, Carr Machine & Tool
CARR Machine & Tool has transformed itself from serving a dying print industry to meeting the demands of emerging technology markets and customers such as Virgin Galactic. The company obtained AS9100 certification, has a new 15,000-sq.-ft. shop with a floor so clean you can eat off it, technology that includes robots, automation, digital metrology, and an advanced ERP system. If it sounds like a place where you can find the future, you'd be right.
Stop the Presses, Launch the Rockets
CARR Machine & Tool has transformed itself from serving a dying print industry to meeting the demands of emerging technology markets and customers such as Virgin Galactic.
When print was king, Chicago was the crown jewel of America's printing, publishing, and catalog industry. Companies such as CARR Machine & Tool, founded 50 years ago in Elk Grove, Ill., kept the presses running. If you picked up the evening paper or thumbed a mail order catalog, you handled paper somehow touched by the work of a Carr employee.
Fortunately, President Jim Carr could see the writing on the wall. The company has quite literally made a clean break from an outdated shop serving a dying industry to showroom-quality machining facility serving companies such as Virgin Galactic, Boom Supersonic, and Tesla.
We could see the paradigm shift happening, says Carr, whose father founded the business where he has worked his whole life.
Our leadership team collaborated and developed a plan to shift our business to emerging technologies. We established our core values, hired a new sales manager, upgraded our manufacturing technologies, obtained AS91000 certification, and employ a balance of millennials and more seasoned employees.
Part of the plan involved moving into a new 15,000-sq.-ft. facility, also in Elk Grove and about one mile from O'Hare airport. Walking into the new office with its 14-foot open-concept ceilings, vintage photos, and a modern industrial décor, visitors might confuse the atmosphere for a hip engineering firm. Behind the door that says,
Safety Glasses Must Be Worn in this Area, the impression continues.
I've been in almost every machine shop in the Chicagoland area, and in this facility, you can almost eat off the shop floor, says CARR Machine & Tool sales manager John Bilek.
More than 50% of our customers are in the aerospace, automated equipment, semiconductor, defense, and specialty industries. When customers walk into our new facility, they know they're making the right decision because they feel like they are at an extension of their own advanced facilities.
Lights Out Productivity
A shift in markets served, where tight tolerances and mandated conformance are essential to thrive, demanded a shift in equipment.
One of our customer's purchase orders has ‘an astronaut's life depends on the quality of your work’ marked in the flow down requirements. The importance of holding tight tolerances doesn't get much more demanding than that, which is why we focus on new technology, says Carr.
Our work also requires certificates of conformance, first article inspection reports, material certifications and process certifications.
To meet these demands while also improving efficiency, CARR Machine & Tool recently installed a Doosan DVF 5000 5-axis CNC (now DN Solutions,) that features an eight-pallet pool changer.
We were doing a lot of five-axis parts that would machine for up to five hours or more at a time, says Carr.
With the Doosan we can position eight different pieces of raw material on a pallet. That gives us 40 hours of run time without stopping.
The RoboJob uses conversational programming, says Bilek.
It's teach system asks basic questions about lot count and part size. After that, the operator hits go, and it can run through the night.
In addition to machining parts more efficiently, CARR Machine & Tool also transformed its operations and quality management processes. While change takes human commitment and skill, the company credits ProShop ERP shop software for speeding its path to modernization – and obtaining AS9100 certification, a more comprehensive version of the ISO 9001 quality management system that is required for serving the aerospace and defense industry.
We achieved AS9100:D in April 2021. That proves that we are a top-of-the-line shop, says Mike Long, quality assurance lead at CARR Machine & Tool.
We had a good background coming from our ISO 9001 certification before we went for AS9100. We enlisted ProShop's help – they have an implementation specialist – to align our ERP system and our quality practices with AS9100.
As part of the move to a new facility, CARR Machine & Tool also modernized its metrology capabilities with the addition of an 8-axis FARO Quantum series arm that combines the measurement capabilities of a FaroArm portable coordinate measuring machine (CMM) with the non-contact functionality of a laser line probe.
The portability of the system enables me to take it onto the shop floor to inspect parts in process, and the scanning feature is a huge game changer when it comes to a lot of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, says Long.
If a part doesn't have a dimension called out, we can scan it and see how close the actual part is over the CAD model and instantly see if it differentiates from nominal.
CARR Machine & Tool also added a Keyence IM-7030 automated optical comparator that can perform up to 99 dimensional measurements in 3 seconds or less at the push of a button. The unit also automatically records measurement data and creates detailed inspection reports.
We can look at small radius chamfers and small part features and get the most accurate reading possible with the Keyence, says Long.
It takes a matter of seconds in order to give us all the data we need.
Driving the Carr Machine Forward
Even with all the equipment upgrades, CARR Machine & Tool has ample room for physical growth and – more importantly – the company culture to drive the business forward. As for exploring new technology, Carr's literally lifelong strategy has been attending IMTS. He attended the show as a young boy with his father, and now he will bring the entire team of 12 employees for at least a day.
Given the 1 million sq. ft. of floor space to cover, his upcoming strategy is to break off into teams of four people. After the show, they'll meet again as a team to discuss not just new technologies, but what's best for CARR Machine & Tool.
Automation tops my wish list because it takes away some of the mundane tasks and elevates the skillset of the shop floor employee, adds Carr.
I want our team to spend more time learning because they have different ideas. As we go through this shift in industries, our younger employees especially drive us not just to stay on top of new technology, but to look for more potential at IMTS. The millennials in this shop keep this young boomer moving.
While 3D printing is an area of curiosity, robotic technology tops Bilek's wish list.
Automation used to present a barrier for entry, and now it's very plug and play,” says Bilek. “Going to IMTS and playing with the robots and cobots can help you see that they're not so scary.”
As quality assurance lead, Long is also prepared to be amazed at IMTS, and he has attended most shows since 1996.
Digital technology is definitely something that small shops need to integrate if they want to elevate, become better and grow as a company, he says.
If you're sticking with analog calipers and old school methods, you're going to get left behind. Fortunately, the resources of IMTS are there to help you pivot and move your speed, accuracy and business forward.
While the scope of equipment and technology at IMTS are staggering, it's a great time to solidify your relationships with the exhibitors at the show, says Bilek.
IMTS is not only about products; it's also about relationships,” agrees Carr. “It's about meeting your peers, having fun, grabbing a drink, and having dinner and finally reuniting again.”