Grinding Out Profits

Turning a Daily Grind Into a Cool Mill

Working the daily grind is a noble way to maintain the status quo, but if you really want your business to grow, sometimes you have to take chances and invest in new technologies.

Building a business takes talent and an eye for opportunity. Sometimes it also requires a willingness to spend money to make money, and Jonni Fox, president of Sharp-Rite Technologies in Coquitlam, B.C., has never hesitated to talk to the banks to finance new equipment.

In fact, his company turned a corner a few years ago and shifted its metalworking expertise from grinding to milling. The growth has been so phenomenal, the company finally changed its name to reflect the new, more diverse directions of its metalworking abilities.

GROUND-FLOOR GRINDER

When Jonni Fox immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1966, he had no money and was unable to speak any English. But he was willing to work hard in order to succeed.

Learning the basic skills of the industry as an apprentice tool & die maker, Jonni soon worked his way up to quality control inspector. He eventually went into business for himself in 1979, starting Sharp-Rite Grindings Ltd. in the Vancouver, B.C., area.

The shop specialized in sharpening and grinding tools – and delivering quality work on time. Sharp-Rite Grindings Ltd. soon had a reputation as one of Canada’s most sophisticated grinding houses.

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TOOLING UPS PRODUCTION

“About three years ago, we investigated the possibility of manufacturing tooling faster on CNC equipment,” says Jonni, “and thanks to the illustrative selling techniques of Chris Morrison of Thomas Skinner & Son Ltd., our local Haas distributor, we bought a Haas VF-3 VMC in January of 1995. Chris took a piece that would normally take me hours to grind and showed me how the Haas could deliver a finished part in 40 minutes.

“I was sold, and ordered the CNC machine on the spot. Funny thing is, we never really used the machine to work that part!” says Jonni. “We started accepting some tooling orders, and when people found out about our new capabilities, they starting giving us production work. We got another Haas CNC, and it was soon booked to capacity as well! We’ve been milling everything from aluminum to steel on those machines. They just keep on cutting.”

The extensive travels of the VF-10 (120" x 32" x 30") allow Sharp-Rite to machine large parts or long-duration runs of multiple parts for the local aerospace industries. Sharp-Rite was the first company in Canada to take delivery of the Haas VF-10s, and the VMCs have since been kept busy cutting the majority of the firm’s high-quantity production jobs.

GROWTH BRINGS CHANGE

Sharp-Rite Grindings Ltd. was soon renamed Sharp-Rite Technologies Ltd., and it now occupies two facilities totaling 39,000 square feet. With two shifts a day, and more than 30 employees on staff, Sharp-Rite today specializes in grinding, tooling and, of course, CNC machining.

In the dedicated machine shop area, everything from prototype articles to long-run production pieces takes shape on the Haas machines. “We were given a test program to cut some fuselage tools for a major airplane manufacturer,” says Jonni. “Our attention to quality and on-time delivery so pleased the company that we now have a number of contracts with this manufacture r. And our reputation as a knowledgeable aerospace facility is opening our doors to even more aircraft-related jobs.”

However, many of these aircraft-related jobs involve parts that extend beyond the capabilities of normal job- shop-sized CNC machines, so Jonni had to make a big decision – either he had to start turning down some of these larger orders . . . or order a larger machine.

BIG TRAVELS FOR BIG JOBS

“We were the first Canadian shop to have a VF-10 delivered,” says Jonni, “and it has been busy ever since. Now we can cut some fairly large pieces, thanks to the machine’s large 120" x 32" x 30" travels.”

Sharp-Rite does have a couple of larger mills in-house, but for the majority of the high-quantity production jobs, the Haas machines are called into play. Sharp-Rite realized additional increases in production by using a number of Haas rotary tables for 4th-axis machining. Suju Solanki, CNC programming manager, explains, “Production has increased since we started using our 4th-axis capabilities. We run a full assortment of Haas rotary tables, including the HRT 160, HRT 210 and HRT 310. The use of rotary tables has also increased our tooling accuracy, because by using just one setup operation, misalignment problems are reduced to virtually nothing.

“Since the Haas was our first CNC milling machine,” says Solanki, “I can’t really compare its performance improvements to a predecessor, but we used to spend a lot of time grinding parts. Now we mill them for millions.”