Placentia, Ca. based Harley & Son has spent the last 40 years building a reputation of quality and precision in the aerospace and medical device sectors. Since taking over the company, Luke Soule is ushering in a new era of technology investment and innovation to provide better products and lead times for its customers.
Luke dedicated a lot of his time to operational improvement and replacing aging machines. Little things like an outdated looking website and old logos didn’t convey the image of a high precision, highly skilled manufacturing facility. Other improvements such as a manufacturing-focused ERP system were less visible but set the stage for continued improvement in quality and delivery. “We needed an upgrade in the shop and in the office,” explains Luke. “Customers notice if your look is antiquated. I couldn’t expect new customers to trust our quality and delivery when their first point of contact doesn’t represent our high standards of machining.” With decades of experience and long-term contracts to match, Luke knew Harley & Son was positioned to grow with the right branding and right machines. “I knew coming into this that a big part of my capital investment would be adding updated machining centers to the shop floor with newer technology like 5-axis machining and on machine parts probing,” continued Luke. “I also knew that we turn out amazing parts with the machines we had so anything new would be icing on the production cake. Not being a machinist myself it was an arduous task of researching possible machining solutions that would make the biggest impact on the bottom line. I relied heavily on my production manger when it came to what capabilities would net us back the largest return on investment.”
Luke and his production team went part-by-part and determined the time it was taking to manufacture each one. They decided the biggest initial gains could come from trading in an older bar fed lathe for a brand-new Doosan Lynx. “One of the first things I did was invest in a new Doosan Lynx multi-axis mill-turn center from Ellison Technologies Inc.,” details Luke. “We can make a lot of parts in one pass now. I liked the idea of a finished part coming off the machine in machining cycle. We have been taking the company in a lean direction – reducing inventory including in-process inventory and the waste of overproduction – to provide better lead times for our customers. Having a machine that could complete parts in a single operation was just the kind of improvement I had in mind for the company.” The Doosan offered Luke a lot of capabilities at a reasonable price point. For him the value and performance met in exactly the right spot. He could spend less and get a lot less or he could spend a lot more and get a little more. “We have an aerospace part on the Doosan right now,” details Luke. “It would have been 4 operations over a week or more before getting the Doosan. A front and back turning op followed by two milling ops with holes drilled axially and radially. With the Doosan’s sub spindle and live tooling, a finished part drops right off the machine. Reducing in-process inventory helps us to better track the quality of parts and reduce the number of parts scrapped in process.” Watching a part go from raw material to finished product in one pass not only saves Harley & Son time in the turning department, but it also freed up valuable spindle time in milling too. “We work primarily in stainless steel and aluminum with some more exotic alloys,” continues Luke. “For what we do the Doosan Lynx exceeds my expectations. The same can be said for Blake Adham at Ellison Technologies. He and Ellison are a step above when it comes to sales and service.”
Luke was so pleased with his sales experience with Doosan and Ellison that when it came time to add a new mill Blake was his first call. Coming into the industry with an open mind and no pre-conceived notions put Luke in a rare position to let his research be his guide. I did my research, and then I did a little more,” tells Luke. “It led me back to Ellison and Doosan.” Luke knew he wanted to add 5th axis capabilities to the milling department but was hesitant to pull the trigger on a dedicated 5th axis machine. “Having a smaller table limited us on non 5th axis work,” explains Luke. “The best option for us was to go with the 3-axis machine with an add on 5th axis trunion. It was a great way to dive into the 5th axis parts without giving up the flexibility of a 3-axis machine. Even a lot of the types of parts we have run in the past on 3-axis machines can benefit from the 5-axis machine in reduced fixturing costs and fewer operations” Luke purchased a Doosan DNM 5700 in September 2017 and has been in love with it ever since. It is a 12,000 RPM machine with enough travel (41.3 / 22.4 / 20.1) to handle all he can throw at it. “We really like that the tool setter was standard on the Doosan,” details Luke. “It is a nice feature to have included. It came stock with a 30-tool capacity, but we upgraded it to 40. We leave the most used tools in the changer and just add and subtract specialty tooling as needed. My guys were a little apprehensive at first with the 5-axis machining and a different brand than the one they were comfortable with, but now it is a battle over who is going to run it. It has been a learning curve but one that is being embraced shop wide.”
Luke tells how the best sales pitch he heard for the Doosan was from another shop while on a tour looking at a different brand machine. “I was introduced to the head of production at a local shop,” laughs Luke. “The sales guy for a name brand machine builder tells him I just bought a Doosan lathe. The production manager says, “I’m sorry”. I wasn’t offended but it was an unexpected response. I’m just happy to see their shop and look at a possible milling solution from that brand machine builder, so I didn’t say anything at the time. Later on, the same guy volunteers without being asked that they looked at the Doosan 5th axis mill and saw almost no difference with the much more expensive Japanese brand except for ‘brand reputation’. They thought highly of Ellison as a service organization. Since it wasn’t his money, he was fine paying a premium with nothing to show for it other than a ‘better’ logo on the outside. I would rather save my money for investments that will add value for our customers and reap the benefits of great service from a leading organization like Ellison. When the buyer of a more expensive competing brand could not even offer much rationale to buy that brand, it solidified my thought that Doosan offered the right mix of performance and price.”
Luke couldn’t say enough about his purchase experience with Blake and Ellison Technologies. “Blake really has gone above and beyond for us,” touts Luke. “Besides being a knowledgeable sales person and getting us a good deal with a very attractive financing package through their affiliated leasing company, he also helped me with placing a tiny part with another shop.” Luke had a small run of a thousand or so pieces and a completely full schedule in his turning department. The part was geared more towards production on a Swiss machine, so he called Blake to see if he had a guy who could help. “We could have done an Internet search for Swiss turning and talked to a lot of places without the capacity to run the part in our timeframe,” explains Luke. “Instead I called Blake at 2pm and gave him the specs. By noon the next day I already had a quote from another one of his customers that could quickly turn the part around for us. They had a great price and great delivery and got the job. He saved me so much time and headache.”
With new technology integrated into its operations and a long track record of quality, Harley & Son are all set for 2018. They are looking for additional machinists and programmers to go along with their increased capacity and capabilities. “I want to add more people to our staff this year,” describes Luke. “Reliable, skilled machinists who can setup and run aerospace-level precision parts are welcome to come and apply. We’d also like someone in admin with manufacturing experience. Our other need is to add another programmer to the staff who is experienced in Solidworks and Camworks.” It is clear right away that Luke has a love of his new enterprise and is in it for the long haul. “Buying a business is never easy,” concludes Luke. “Especially one that has been around for four decades. We have customers that have been here for 30 years longer than I have. That means something to me. This company was built on 40 years of supplying customers the highest quality machined parts. Our customers appreciate our attention to detail and commitment to the highest manufacturing standards. We strive to provide the best service experience for our customers.”