Los Angeles’ South Bay is known throughout the world for many things: good food, great beaches and the aerospace industry. Support comes from local shops that range in size and abilities. It’s here, in Torrance, CA. that Edward Dennis, president of Manufacturing Solutions Inc. set up his business two plus decades ago.
Fifty-four year old Ed Dennis has spent his entire adult life in manufacturing. Starting a family at a young age meant he needed to work. His dreams of playing baseball or being a professional drummer went on hold, instead he attended a manufacturing trade school. High school shop classes were his only experience in the industrial arts before joining the work force. “I never imagined this as a career,” tells Ed. “Let alone one that spans so many years. I love it, but it wasn’t something I thought was possible. I was just a kid who needed to provide, and it’s incredible that all these years later I own my own shop specializing in exotic metals for the aerospace manufacturers.”
Machining Solutions Inc. (MSI) has 2800 sq. Ft., five CNC machining centers, a quality lab, and are AS9100 and ITAR certified. They serve a wide customer base, but their experience and quality standards best suit commercial, medical, military, aerospace and industrial applications. “We do a little bit of everything, but our specialty is aerospace and defense,” explains Ed. We hold tight tolerances, on complex parts, in exotic metals, for customers like a Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico. A typical run is under 100 pieces, but with very intricate features and multiple part numbers. One job might have eight parts that include a primary housing and support pieces that mate with it. Of all things I have a customer that builds baking equipment. Not make me a billet frying pan kind of customer, but hardware like you would have for packaging equipment. Everything is stainless and some plastic, and one of the parts we produce is a sprayer to glaze cakes as it runs down a conveyor. Stuff like that is really interesting for me because it isn’t the standard style of parts we normally manufacture. New challenges like that keeps me wanting more. With government contracts the game is played by their rules. That’s fine, but 2020 my goal is to add a more commercial accounts like this to my customer base. I know our quality and customer first approach is an asset to anyone looking for job shop that is small enough to deliver personalized service, but big enough to handle complex parts with aerospace tight tolerances. The private sector can benefit a lot from our experience in aerospace.”
When Ed says small job shop, he means it. MSI is nearly a one-man operation. Ed’s staff fluctuates depending on the work in progress and right now every order is being sold, processed, machined, verified, and shipped by his one employee or himself. “I scaled back operations a little at the beginning of the year even before the pandemic hit us,” explains Ed. “So right now, it is just me and one other guy doing everything. Business is picking up again and hopefully that is a sign of things to come. Machining Solutions is a small shop on our biggest day, but we punch way outside our weight class with our ITAR and AS9100 certifications. Most job shops this size don’t invest the time and money required to be ITAR and AS9100. We are 100% committed to our customers, and the quality they require. Admittedly, it is a challenge sometimes to keep up with all of the necessary protocols when there are only a few of us, but we don’t sacrifice quality for convenience. Making parts with good equipment is easy, it is the traceability and paperwork that makes it feel like work sometimes.”
Good equipment is a key part of operations at MSI. Ed’s two mills are Mazak, his thee lathes are Okuma and his CMM is a Mitutoyo. Ed’s lifelong love for Okuma started in the early 90’s after going through training for one of his past employers. The build quality and easy to use OSP controls stood out to him even as an inexperienced machinist. “Okuma was the first CNC lathe I ever ran, and it just stuck with me all these years,” remembers Ed. “Even back then the controls were easy to learn and use. The control systems now are even smarter. Okuma is a brand I’ve known and trusted for a long time. It would take a lot for me to buy something else.”
Ed’s newest machine is Okuma Genos L400 with an automated bar feeder. It was installed three years ago to add more speed and versatility to the turning department. “I almost broke away from the Okuma, but so glad I didn’t,” continues Ed. “Another brand was offering me such a great deal that I couldn’t turn it down, but fortunately I was able to get into the Okuma Genos L400 for a price point that was close enough for me to keep with Okuma. Having the same brand machine tools makes for a much simpler life. The same goes for Mazak. I have an older Mazak VTC 20 with Mplus Control, so when I added another 4th axis machine five years ago I naturally went with another Mazak. I don’t purchase new equipment often because my older Okumas and Mazaks still preform. My Okuma LB15’s still holds the tolerances I need to deliver the best parts possible. The Genos is billed as Okuma’s entry level lathe and not all the parts are made in Japan, but it still has a 10” chuck, a 20 HP motor and runs up to 3600 RPM. I’ve had it three years now and it gets the job done for us. I really like having a new control. It’s fast, it’s clean, but as an older guy I have a nostalgic love for my original machines.”
Since March Ed has focused his efforts on laying as low as possible. They have enough projects in house to keep them busy for a while. “We are working on a series of parts for an autonomous vehicle project” details Ed. “The job is eight parts numbers that range in quantity of 25-75 each. It will keep us busy for a while so I can see how things are going to play out in the coming months. We like the shorter runs. Get the job in, run it, and out the door to the customer so we can invoice them. Our sweet spot is 100-200 parts, but we will run a 1000 if fits with our equipment. I began this year thinking about investing in a 5 axis Mazak milling center, but there was just a weird vibe in the air and I thankfully didn’t pull the trigger on it. Once we all have a firm grasp of how the industry is affected, I will circle back to getting a 5 axis. I’ve gone this long without one, I can wait a little longer. I’m optimistic that when this lets up it is going to go off, there will be a lot of opportunities out there for all of us. Right now, I’m just glad to make parts every day and really excited that you would feature MSI in CNC West Magazine.”