BC Duo - Taking Chances Pays Off Big

Insert Ideas Turn Problems to Profits

How do you turn a problem into a profit in a matter of months? Simple: analyze the situation, formulate a solution, find the financing and take a chance.

That’s how two coworkers in British Columbia made the jump from employees to employers, and set up their own profitable job shop. Their entrepreneurial escapade started when they realized that most of the shops in their area were seriously behind in their schedules – there was just too much work to go around.

Based on this recognized need for on-time production capabilities in their locale, the two machinists got to work formulating a business plan that would convince one of the local banks to underwrite their own job shop.

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In business for only 20 months, Duo CNC Machining Inc., owned by partners Calvin Jacques and John Belton, now has nine employees and runs three CNC machines in the 3,500-square-foot shop in the Delta region of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Working two shifts a day, Duo specializes in machining gears and housings, parts for bicycles, oil field machinery, electronics and aircraft componentry. Short runs, however, mean that the shop counts heavily on Haas controls and machining centres to simplify the setups and save time.

RUNNING COSTS

Both owners agree that price was the main factor in their initial choice of Haas machines for the shop. The first VF-3 was set up in November 1996, followed soon after in December by the HL-4 turning centre.

“The control is fully loaded with standard options that other machine tool builders charge extra money for,” says Calvin. “But the Haas machines allow us to keep our costs low, thus allowing us to compete in a very competitive marketplace.”

Calvin and John agree that the Haas control can be the difference when it comes to making a short-run part pay off for the company. “When you’re dealing in a job shop world, setup time can kill you,” reasons Calvin. “We cut a lot of short run parts, so it’s not just how fast the machine can make the parts, but how quick you can set the machine up to make them.”

NETWORKING FOR NEW WORK

“We originally opened our doors in this same building, but in a little 500- square-foot shop next door. It was a little crammed-up place,” said John. “Mostly, the stuff we made on the mill was the stuff that nobody else wanted to do, ugly stuff. But we didn’t have much choice in the beginning, because those are the only jobs you get. At least we stayed busy.”

A good 50 percent of Duo’s initial work was with Delta Dynamics, a company located right next door that specialized in gearboxes and gears. “Our relationship with them has been a great contributing factor to our success,” says Calvin about the neighborly business pact. “I didn’t know them prior to coming here, but John used to work with the guys back at Vancouver Gear.”

John says Duo still does a lot of gears, but lately they’ve seen a big growth in the aerospace market. “We weren’t doing anything in this market last year, but this year it’s about 30 percent of our business.”

PROBLEMS & SOLUTIONS

However, working as a job shop does present the occasional problem part. “It was a job nobody else could master,” laughs Calvin. “But we happened upon a simple solution, and it’s been fine ever since.” The part was an actuator housing for the pulp and paper industry.

“We were trying to cut the stainless steel housings on our HL-4, but the material was centrifugally spun, so all the crud and crap was in the crust on the outside. We spent days on end busting inserts trying to get something that worked. Then, all of a sudden, I found it! Essentially, what I did was take one of the broken inserts and use it to cut the crust away first, then start doing the real machining afterwards with a good cutter.” Kind of like eating crab legs!

The job’s been fine ever since, explains Calvin. “It worked great! There was nothing fancy about the job – the other guys just couldn’t find a way to remove the crust!”