Success in Rural America - Gateway to the Redwoods
It is said that we are the product of our land: The environment in which we live inspires our behavior, and perhaps even our thought itself. If so, Stan West CNC in Willits, California, has made it practical and profitable for a metalworking business to be positioned far from urban sprawl.
Amongst trees, streams and rivers, machining is enhanced by an environment of clean air, temperate climate and a strong sense of community.
Located 140 miles north of San Francisco, Willits is a community of homes, schools, businesses and churches that thrives in a tree-filled valley. Early settlers were a self-sufficient lot who grew their own produce, fruit and potatoes, and raised their own meat. If perseverance and toughness were traits to be admired, then citizens of Willits were special folk.
Mix this self-sufficiency with the fax machines, modems and telephones of the new era and you have a formidable recipe for success.
Stan West CNC has used the new technology to good advantage, creating a successful job shop that has grown to sixteen employees and spun off two satellite machine shops: CEMCO Machining and Goforth Machining Enterprises. The three concerns – Stan West CNC, CEMCO, GME – operate a combined force of three Haas VF-1s, three VF-2s, two VF-4s, one HL-1 and one HL-4.
Stan West, father and founder of the company, recently passed away, but he left a legacy of successful operations to a son, Dave West, who now is owner and general manager. Dave has further expanded the company’s machining base by designing and producing cabinet-manufacturing machines. As Dave states, “We live in the heart of a lumbering community . . . we service this local business by building some of the best cabinet-building machines anywhere.” Always searching, always expanding, Dave has also introduced laser alignment tools, speed handles (for fellow machinists), chip tools for lumber milling, oil recycling machines and steam turbine parts for local utility companies. This diversity of product has propelled Stan West CNC into a growth mode for this new millennium. As Dave explains, “What I really need now is half a dozen tried and true machinists. With affordable homes, good medical, this community offers a special quality of life.”
The cabinet machines have produced new margins of profit for the business, and account for almost 40% of the company’s gross revenue. This is machining at its inventive and problem-solving best. Tolerances for the line-boring unit they make are exceptionally close when you consider that 46 drills are aligned in two 23-drill rows with 32 mm centers. A Haas VF-4 creates the gear heads that drill upward, creating a line bore machine that is self-cleaning by utilizing gravity to remove the shavings and particles.
Now if cabinet machinery sounds a bit stodgy, take a look at the Lazerline, which is in full production at Stan West CNC. This line-generation unit (a real laser) permits a user to create instant perpendicularity to a surface while delineating accurate, straight lines. Perhaps its greatest advantage is the ability to create vertical, horizontal and parallel lines on uneven surfaces.
The casements for the laser are a particular challenge to machine, inasmuch as they require alignment of five different planes. All sides of the unit must be parallel or perpendicular to one another. The result of careful alignment of the planes yields a maximum deviation of only 1/8" over an 80-foot projection of laser. This is accuracy equal to any construction task, while reducing the number of people necessary to perform tasks. Stan West not only machines the casements for the units, but also provides space for assembling them after machining.
The act of machining itself led to another product for Stan West CNC. Tired of ripping the skin off his knuckles every time a speed handle broke on one of his vises, Dave West designed a speed handle that wouldn’t break.
Three handles from different manufacturers have all broken during use. Each was made out of 1/4" stock. So Dave decided to machine his out of 5/8" stock. He not only machines the new speed handles, but powder coats them in colors of red, black and blue. His original run of 150 pieces has now grown to 2000 speed handles in the hands of machinists around the country.
Another innovation of this shop is the Chip Compression Briquette Machine, a tool that reduces waste volume of metal chips – the by-product of the company’s metal-cutting operations – by turning them into briquettes. In the compression process, more than 95% of the coolant is removed from the chips, allowing the coolant to be recycled for the next job process. When you stop to consider that recyclers will pay almost twice as much money for solids versus chips, it is understood that this machine may well pay for itself.
The volume of the shop continues to grow. When asked about the future of Stan West CNC, Dave responds, “We’ve got about 16,000 square feet right now, but with the addition of Lazerline and a new oil recycling system that we’ll machine right here, a new 25,000-foot facility is on my mind. It is conceivable that in five years we’ll have a hundred employees.”
Though he wouldn’t be specific, Dave is most interested in producing the oil recycler, which will provide every car owner an easy, clean recycling system that he can use in his own garage.
His interest in the automotive market probably accounts for his backing of a go-cart racing team. For the past two years, suspension mods, transmission pieces and brake parts have been machined for the race effort. Driver Mike McKoen competes at all of the regional events. Inasmuch as Mike is Dave’s UPS driver, your reporter suspects a bit of blackmail on Mike’s behalf to obtain his parts: No parts, no delivery! And of course we’ll not talk about Dave’s past involvement with high-performance jet skis, robotics, movie camera equipment and turbine blades. This shop has done of bit of everything.
A big fan of Haas equipment, Dave volunteered, “My father said the key to operating successfully in outlying areas is equipment capability and reliability. Because we are so far from our dealers, we depend on machine reliability to keep us running. Frankly, I wouldn’t buy a Haas without the coordinate rotation, geared head and the 4th axis . . . with the 4th axis we’re not just another guy machining. In fact, I write my own program generators in BASIC. I prefer my own programs to CAM packages because they contain features that suit the way we operate . . . they are tuned to feeds and speeds, which equal more profit.” Using his own programs also allows him to modify and then optimize coding for specific jobs. This is especially important for jobs involving tool steel and titanium. In addition, Dave adds that knowing the programs makes features of the Haas control, such as the built-in calcuRobotor for figuring arcs and the graphic dry run, especially useful when it is necessary to adjust coding at the machines.
Today, Stan West’s marketing area extends throughout Northern California and the San Francisco Bay area. But, as Dave’s father once said, the truth is: “The fax, the phone and United Parcel Service put us ‘next door’ to customers anywhere. Therefore, we are able to compete with anybody; our geographical location becomes almost irrelevant.”