Every day is a marathon at AR Machine Corp.

By February 2, 2022Articles

Richmond, Ca. based AR Machine Corp is a relatively new player to the game. The 3,000 sq.ft. shop sits right off the waterfront and is making a name for themselves in the world of one off, high complexity parts manufactured from exotic metals. The Bay Area has no shortage of manufacturing, but Austin Roche is driving business by the seemingly simple idea of delivering quality parts, on time.

Austin is a self-taught machinist who got his start building mini steam engines at home. “I just always liked making stuff,” tells AR Machine Corp. founder Austin Roche. “I like the process more than the result sometimes, but I was always working on cars and things like that. My dad helped foster my love of machining and bought me a bench lathe from an estate sale when I was a kid. I just made a ton of things on it for fun.” San Francisco has a world class science and technology museum called the Exploratorium, and after school Austin continued his hands on education as part of their build crew. “I know we want to talk about my shop, but if you’ve never been to the Exploratorium, it is amazing,” continues Austin. “They have great exhibits, it’s on the water at Pier 15, just a fantastic place to go. I was part of a team working behind the scenes on the exhibits. Milling, turning, welding, fab, design, engineering; it encompassed a ton of different skills.” Austin made connections with like-minded people that led to jobs at local tech companies. “I got a position at Google machining on their X projects,” details Austin. “That led to a job at Uber working on their self-driving big rigs. The projects were super cool, but mainly I was there gaining experience. The money was good, but at some point, I was like I’m going to just buy my own Haas VF2 and see where that takes me. I was living for cheap on a sailboat and saving as much money as I could to get that machine. I rented a space in another shop and thought I would just be a guy in the back of a shop making stuff for years. I had connections from the jobs I had that were willing to send me some work. I figured it would be a few parts here and there and I would use the Haas like an expensive hobby machine to do my own thing on.”

Left – Austin dove into 5 axis machining by adding a 5th axis trunnion to his Haas VF2 the second year he was in business. Right – AR Machine Corp. moved into their current workspace four months ago after doing a huge renovation on it. They did everything from sandblasting to concrete to reduce the rent. Their building was an old generator room during WW2 for the munitions factory next door. It houses two Matsuura mills, a Doosan lathe, a Nakamura-Tome lathe, and a Haas mill.

Things escalated quickly and 2.5 years later AR Machine Corp. has four employees, five machining centers and 3,000 sq.ft. of manufacturing area. The first year in business Austin made more money than he had before, reinvesting it back into the company by adding an employee and a used Doosan lathe. “I said yes to everything and was getting these really complex parts,” tells Austin. “I was quoting and actually getting the jobs, so the VF2 got an upgrade by adding a 5th axis trunnion. I also purchased a 5 axis Haas UMC 500. I struggled through it, a lot of times having no idea how the best way to produce the parts. I turned to the internet. Honestly, YouTube is such a great reference for learning. I taught myself how to program and machine from watching videos. I never went to college and find it to be outdated with the internet as it is. If you want to expand your knowledgebase, you can basically learn anything you want. I wanted to learn how to do 5 axis machining and I did. You are only limited by your desire to learn.”

Austin landed a big mold account entailing precision levels twice the normal level required by most of his customers. He knew he needed a machine that could handle the current demands and demands down the road. “I knew I wanted to get a higher end Japanese machining center with a pallet pool,” details Austin. “The Matsuura seemed like a brand that offered a lot of value for what you get. With the MX520 pc4 you get 5 axis machining, four pallets and compared to similarly sized machines it has a large work envelope. Andrew Selway of Selway Machine really treated me well. It was right before all the Corona Virus really hit the Bay Area, so Selway sold it to me at a great price. As you can imagine it came with a higher price tag than buying my first VF2. None of it would have been possible without Quick Turn Financial and Selway. Janna at Quick Turn is so awesome. They loaned me so much money to get the machines I needed to expand. They specialize in the manufacturing industry and will do loans for new and used equipment. As a young company it isn’t always easy to find companies who believe in you and shares your vision, I’m very glad I found two.”

Left – AR Machine Corp added the 5 axis Matsuura right before Covid took hold in the bay area. Having a pallet pool and a Japanese machine were two important items on Austin’s wish list for his growing company. Right – – Realizing the value of a palletized machine Austin recently purchased a used Matsuura horizontal for lights out production runs.

Austin touts how the Matsuura pallet pool was money well spent. As a job shop with a diverse customer base the pallet system allows him the flexibility to be as hands on or hands off as needed. “We mostly run one or two prototype style parts,” explains Austin. “Our typical customer is in robotics, aerospace, and automotive, but more and more jobs are coming from a local government lab and companies who make drones and shoot satellites or rockets into space. The pallet pool on the Matsuura MX520 is essential to our workflow. Versatility is key. I can work on multiple jobs simultaneously and still be able to take on a rush order without missing a beat. It makes no difference if it is a one-off part or a run of 50, the pallet pool has plenty of room for anything I need to do. As an example, we might figure out how to run a complex production part during normal business hours and say it takes 4 hours to machine. We then set the Matsuura loose, operating lights out over the course of the next few days. It is like free money coming in the next morning and seeing three finished parts ready to be unloaded. I like the pallet system so much that I just picked up a used Matsuura ES 450h horizontal to increase our lights out productivity. Again, for the price Matsuura offers a lot of features and high accuracy.”

Austin attributes AR Machine Corp’s success to a mixture of right place/right time, taking on jobs others don’t want, and delivering exactly what was promised. “I think companies are having a hard time finding places that do-good work, day in and day out,” explains Austin. “I’m not saying we do good work as a brag, lots of companies are making great parts, but so are we. Dependable machine shops are busy and growing. We tripled our space moving here four months ago, and I am already seeing how we will outgrow the space before our lease is up. It is a good problem to have, but I need more people to program and run more machines and that’s hard to find. I can’t afford to compete with big tech that pays their people insane amounts of money, so we are training from within. I have three full time people and myself right now and could use more. The good part of in-house training is that I can teach them my bad habits, but at least they are mine, so I know what I’m getting. Our customers like our quality, the service and the pricing we offer. They also like that we embrace prototype projects. It’s hard to find reliable shops that want to run one or two parts. Most manufacturers want the production job because they are easier. I would like to have a little more production running too, but only overnight while we are gone. We love the challenge of figuring out how to make a single part out of expensive materials. It is fun and exhausting all at the same time. The prototype stuff is almost like manual machining. At the end of the week, I feel like I ran a marathon, every day.”