By Angela Rose | Oct 11, 2022
Custom machined parts
"I have a knack for making things; I guess that's one of my gifts," Montgomery says. "Growing up, I did a lot of things on cars, go karts, motorcycles, and that kind of thing." This talent for tinkering led him to pursue an education in industrial arts at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where he learned about manufacturing processes in addition to engineering.
"After I graduated, I worked for a few years," Montgomery continues. When a friend with a local business needed a few custom metal parts, he took on the project on the side. "It required a CNC mill, so I bought my first machine in 1984. One thing led to the next. I picked up a customer or two and was trying to do all the work myself. Then I got to hiring people, and it mushroomed from there."
Montgomery says he's "pretty much touched most of the industries out there" during his decades as a contract manufacturer. "Automotive, medical, aerospace, packaging, food processing, agriculture, and whatever else," he adds. "We did a little bit of everything."
The MIL-SPEC shop has grown to fill an 8,700-square-foot building -- of which 1,500 feet is office space -- and is stocked with numerous automated and manual mills and lathes. Though Montgomery started machining back when the equipment was programmed with nothing but "a calculator and some knowledge," today he and his team use CAD/CAM software to improve efficiencies.
"It helps us make geometric drawings and also transfer those drawings into programs that the machines will recognize," Montgomery explains. "We also have a CMM machine, which is a computer-controlled piece with a probe on it. You take the probe around and measure your parts. The measurements are recorded for either repetitive operations or ones that are close tolerance."
As a low- to medium-volume shop, CNC Machining Services typically produces anywhere from one to 300 parts for its customers. "We occasionally get up into 500 or 1,000 parts," Montgomery says. While he has found that low-volume jobs can often be completed in less time by manual machinists on the shop's manual mills and lathes, he thinks larger repetitive orders might benefit from investment in a robotic arm.
"You've probably seen pictures of these arms that would take material off of a table, take it into the machine, put it into the chuck, actuate the chuck, come out, close the door, and hit the go button," Montgomery continues. "You could operate through the night because machines don't need lights and they don't use the bathroom. On the repetitive jobs that we have, if we can't find people, or our sales go up, we could maybe do some of the operations on the simpler versions of a robot."
Challenges: Montgomery says manpower is one of CNC Machining Services' biggest challenges in the current manufacturing economy. "Labor -- qualified labor -- is hard to find out there," he explains. "I lost a couple of people since the COVID thing hit. We were able to replace them, but they are general laborers. They each had some experience in a shop, and one of them had some experience on the CNC equipment. But we pretty much had to do some in-house training to bring them up to par."
The supply chain has also been difficult to navigate. "I got a call yesterday from a customer that had placed an order early this year and is going to repeat the order now," Montgomery says. "I went out to get quotes from the same sources I had the material from the last time. They don't have the material, and they don't have any on order. So, I'm faced with going to new vendors for that material. I'm sure it's going to be at a higher price, if we can even get the material located."
Rising prices aren't just a challenge when quoting customers, either. "We provide medical insurance for our employees and boy that has really shot up," Montgomery says. "Also, things like worker's comp, the oils for the machines, the cutting tools. This inflation is a thing that I think we're only in the beginnings of. I think it's going to get very deep."
Opportunities: It's not unusual for customers to stay with CNC Machining Services for years. In fact, it's the norm. "Our business comes through referrals from the customers that I have," Montgomery says. "Our customers are typically 20- to 30-year-old customers. I mean, they stay with us for a long time. We give them a reasonable price on the parts. But more importantly, we deliver on time, and we don't send many bad parts out. You can't be perfect all of the time, but we strive to check our parts against the customer's specifications. We provide delivery and price with quality."
That said, Montgomery hopes to make time soon to "get out there in the field and do some sales." He adds, "I haven't done that for a number of months. Just taking care of what's in house here seems to keep a guy like myself pretty busy. It doesn't leave a lot of time to go out and do visiting. The phone calls are a little easier if you can get organized and keep your list growing. You know, you have to show up regularly -- whether it's in person or on the phone -- to get some of these newer people to get to know you."
In the past, Montgomery has often taken two-day road trips to call on potential customers. "I'd develop a phone list and work that phone list with a little geography," he continues. "Maybe make eight to 12 visits in a trip out of the shop. You might have to make 50 or 100 calls to develop those 12 visits, but if they invite you into their shop and into a personal meeting, you've done some homework to get to that point."
Needs: In short, increasing sales and developing partnerships with manufacturers in need of quality machining services.
"I'd like to open the doors to partnering with companies where we'd take over their requirements and produce what they need to make their item," Montgomery says. "I've introduced this to a couple of my customers that don't have a machine shop. They rely on us for parts. Those things take a little bit of work and negotiating, but a lot of the time, it can be good for a shop like mine because you get volume and repetitive items. And it can be good for the customer because they save money when they consolidate a volume order and repeat it with the same machine shop."