Monsees Group (Rochester, NY) has successfully navigated the treacherous waters from being a near-captive operation to being a highly effective competitor in the world of high-precision complex part manufacturing. It has achieved the transformation by leveraging the talents of its multidisciplinary team of engineers and programmers and Mastercam’s advanced CAM capabilities to effectively compete for complex, high-value-added part manufacturing assignments.
About 12 years ago, 70% of the work in progress at the Monsees Tool & Die was dedicated to a single customer. When work from that source evaporated almost entirely, the company did some soul searching and concluded that what they could offer customers was a staff of talented engineers and programmer/machinists with an average of 20+ years of experience. It was the right mix of talent that could team up to manufacture complex componentry and tooling that frequently required multiple operations on EDMs, mills, multiaxis equipment, and close tolerance ID, OD, and flat surface grinders.
To emphasize this teamwork, the company changed its name to Monsees Group and added two other important considerations to its value proposition—an emphasis on both lead-time and cost reduction with nearly every project undertaken.
Today, Monsees Group is not as reliant on a single customer, but the optics/photonics industry does comprise about 50% of its business. A significant amount of work also comes in from the aerospace, defense, and injection molding industries. About half of all these jobs are one-offs—for example, test benches, tooling and fixtures for high-precision manufacturing operations, or machine parts that the company reverse engineers from damaged components. Other assignments are long-term projects that might require hundreds of hours of programming, often for parts with more than 200 dimensions.
Monsees Group has a staff of 20 and often keeps pace with demands of a growing workload by offering significant overtime. However, each new project that arrives may require a mixed skill set different from the one that preceded it. This can potentially put a severe strain on a conventional job shop of this size. Monsees Group President, Jason Spurling, said his company resolves this dilemma by cross-training nearly everyone on his staff.
“When you need to do anything that takes a lot of operations, and you need five guys with a high level of skill on a tactical team, the number of shops that can accomplish that goes down, and value-added goes up. That’s why we do a lot of cross training. Most of the guys here can work in more than one department,” said Spurling.
Programmers and increasingly machinists depend on Mastercam software from CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT) to devise processes that drive down manufacturing costs and reduce lead times for Monsee’s projects. For flat plate work, programmer/machinists still use conversational programming at the CNC machine. But for complex work, they use Mastercam exclusively. Working from computers stationed within 5′ (1.5 m) of the machines, they have access to 17 CNC machines in all, including multiple wire EDMS, mills, lathes and a variety of mill-turn and five-axis equipment.
Monsees Group has eight networked Mastercam licenses, including three Mill seats, one Lathe, one Multi-axis, and three seats of Mastercam Design. Although the company has other design software, programmer/machinists usually find that it is easiest to stay in Mastercam Design to integrate design work such as building fixtures and model preparation when developing a manufacturing process for a given part. “We have found that the drawing aspect of Mastercam has improved so much that there is rarely a need for the other design software,” said Scott Alexander, programmer/machinist.
Spurling, who does the quoting, frequently uses drawings made in Mastercam Design to create subtle changes that could improve manufacturability and reduce lead times and costs without altering the functionality of the part in question. Keeping them in the Mastercam environment helps move the approved design changes smoothly into the CAM process.
Two CAM strategies Monsees Group uses consistently on every job include looking for opportunities to eliminate operations and reducing manufacturing cycle times. The five-axis machine and multiaxis systems (twin-spindle lathes with a fully articulating mill spindle) play central roles in this effort. This equipment is by far the most heavily used in the shop. “We used to have just lathes, and now with the multiaxis and dual spindles, a lot of parts come off the machine completely finished, and we don’t have to touch them,” Spurling said.
Along this line of reasoning, Monsees Group’s five-axis machining center has become the most productive CNC system in the shop, frequently eliminating five or more operations. Scott Alexander has become very adept at programming, to the point that he can get a part started in its roughing cycle and, while the machine is running, write the finishing operations. He routinely uses simulation in Mastercam to ensure that the code generated is correct and that the next multiaxis operations will run safely without interruption.
While writing their CNC programs, Monsees Group programmer/machinists routinely use toolpaths incorporating Dynamic Motion technology. These toolpaths strive to keep the tool continually engaged with the part. This eliminates air cutting and contributes to an approximate 25% reduction in machine cycles. This technology has also been instrumental in reducing cutting tool wear to the point where expensive tools can cut up to 100 parts before they need to be replaced.
Most of the programmers in the shop are such experienced CAM programmers that they are teaching some of the younger machinists how to use Mastercam. For these advanced users, there are no training courses available to help them get to another level. However, that does not mean that they couldn’t benefit from some expert advice. They get this by attending monthly Jam Sessions conducted by OptiPro, their Mastercam Reseller. Alexander and other programmer/machinists go there as often as their schedules allow, bringing with them their most challenging programming projects.
Monsees Group recently redesigned its web site and put a bold link on the home page that says “Challenge Us!” Customers have been taking them up on this with increased frequency. For example, an advanced optics customer had a prototype design that included a two-prism housing with mounting pockets that needed to be on different angles and positioned exactly. The anodized aluminum part had a combination of tightly toleranced features that included: a 0.001″ (0.03-mm) profile tolerance from one prism seat to the next; 0.0008″ (0.020-mm) size tolerance for prism pocket walls; 0.002″ (0.05-mm) true position on prisms seats to the housing face, OD, and timing feature; traceable inspection on prism position relative to critical features for customer alignment.
Monsees Group worked with the customer to optimize GD&T to meet application needs and determine achievable and acceptable tolerances. Then Mastercam was used to create a combination of mill-turn and five-axis milling programs to complete this unique part in just two setups.
Over the past five years, this lean company has grown by 30%. Jason Spurling is now looking to the acquisition of more skilled people, high-end equipment, and beefed up marketing efforts to accelerate the pace of growth in its specialized niche.
This article was first published in the December 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.