Today’s Precision Swiss Products, Inc. barely resembles their 1974 beginnings. Sure, they continue to deliver precise Swiss parts, but that’s only the tip of the manufacturing iceberg. Swiss screw machines have their large portion of real estate in Precision Swiss Products (PSP) 20,000 sq.ft. Milpitas, Ca. headquarters, but they share the spotlight with 5 axis milling, multi spindle live tooling lathes, Wire EDM and more automation than a robot can shake a stick at.
Richard Chad Lane acquired Precision Swiss Products (PSP) in 1985 from the original owner. He ran the company well into the 2000’s and hired current owner and CFO Norbert Kozar in 2005 as a manufacturing advisor. “I was hired on as a consultant to basically prep the shop for sale,” tells Norbert. “Richard had some heath issues, the shop was on a downward trajectory, and he wanted out. My goal was to bring it out of the dive to make it more appealing to new owners. I got the company turned around and by 2007 we had a couple interested parties lined up. He came to me and said he’d decided on a buyer. It was me. So now I owned a machine shop.”
PSP at that time was still basically a mom-and-pop shop running only Swiss parts. All in they had a dozen machines total, including a couple of basic lathes and mills to support the Swiss turning. Even though they had a few local OEM customers most of the work was overflow from the area’s larger machine shops. That focus changed when Norbert took the helm. “We needed to leverage more work from the OEM clients,” explains Norbert. “To do this we needed to make changes. What I did right away was get us ISO certified. Beginning in 2007 we were ISO9001 and ISO1345 certified and targeting more medical and aerospace OEMs.” Sales doubled from 2004 to 2007. PSP has continued their upward trend even through a recession and a pandemic. “Buying the company in 2007 wasn’t ideal,” continues Norbert. “2008 taught me a few things that are the reason we are still here today. We were caught being dependent on aerospace and medical, a mistake we won’t make again. I bought the company with 14 employees and a dozen machines, but with diversification, automation, and having the best people running the best machines we’ve never stopped growing. I have 106 talented employees, 4 robots, a building full of machining centers, and we are on the cusp of opening a second facility on the east coast.”
For many manufacturers diversification is having both aerospace and medical customers, but for PSP that wasn’t enough economic security. “A few years ago, I decided to really target the semiconductor industry,” details Norbert. “We are in the heart of it, so it just made sense. Timing is admittedly pure luck, but if it wasn’t for semiconductors, we would be hurting big time right now. It’s my own three-legged stool approach to manufacturing with aerospace, medical and semicon.” Already feeling a pinch from the grounding of Boeing’s Max program, early in 2020 Norbert set his sales team out to focus on medical and semicon. “My guys thought I was crazy, but I just had a hunch that aerospace was going to get worse before it got better. Sure enough we got push outs, and more push outs from our aerospace customers, but medical and semicon are booming. So much so that we more than replaced what we lost the last couple years in aerospace.”
LAM Research is one of the semiconductor companies that PSP is happy to partner with. A quick look at their Wikipedia page will tell you that they are on the rise and a powerhouse of the industry. Their headquarters is also down the road from PSP in Fremont, CA. “It’s a funny story how we got in with LAM Research” chuckles Norbert. “Their representative came in for a meeting wanting to know if we can handle small parts with tight tolerances, complex features, and small holes. I say yes. We do that all day every day, that’s what we are best known for. I ask out of curiosity what are you considering to be a small hole. He hands me a part that is no big deal really, it is small, but not tiny, and it has a 14 thousandths diameter hole in it that I’m told is +/- 2 tenths. My desk has everything on it, but on this day, I just happened to have a device used in retinal eye surgeries. We make hundreds of thousands of them; they are part of the fiberoptic system that gets drilled into your eye so the doctors can see what they are doing. Pretty disgusting stuff, but it is a very small part with a couple key features. Well, I take our part and drop it inside the hole in his part. He is blown away and calls the office on speaker to say he found a company that can do the work. He explains to them what I just did. At that point I let them all know the part inside his part also had a hole drilled through it too. We got the job and have been a proud partner of theirs ever since.”
FINDING GAINS EVERYWHERE
PSP finds gains everywhere they can. Sometimes those gains come from software, other times from advanced machining techniques and more often than not just finding a way to do everyday tasks better. “For some reason my guys kill, and I mean kill torque wrenches,” half jokes Norbert. “We’ve tried everything from cutting down the size of the Allen key to buying fancy fool proof wrenches and nothing worked. They either add a cheater bar to the end of it or just keep fighting past the click. A few years ago, we got Rego-Fix torque blocks and my problem has been solved. It’s a tool assembly device that has integrated toque specs. You set it and away you go, they can’t over torque tooling now. I kid you not, in the first year Rego-Fix systems saved me 10k in broken tool holders, collets, wrenches, etcetera. We’ve tripled in size since then so that savings has been huge.” Norbert doesn’t shy away from investing in products, software, and tools that make the shop more efficient or safer. Their electronically controlled FTS toolboxes are tied directly to the ERP system and even some of their basic measurement tools are Bluetooth and transfer data right to the server. If you can automate it to save time and reduce the risk of user error, then sign him up. When CNC West Magazine was onsite a companywide training was under way for their new Global Shop Solutions ERP system. That was followed the next week by training in Paperless Parts quoting software and High QA inspection management software.
Paperless Parts is PSP’s new quoting system and as the primary person doing quotes Norbert’s enthusiasm was evident. “Man, I am so excited to implement Paperless Parts. It is almost idiot proof. After teaching it what tooling we use, what machines we have, how aggressive to attack a part and so forth, and the algorithm takes over. We feed the solid model into the software, and it basically kicks out a quote and tells us which machine to run it on and generates a cycle time. The more we use it the more it learns, and the more accurate it becomes. I still go in and make minor tweaks, but we’ve tested it on parts we’ve been running for years, and it is really close right out of the gate. The best feature is it seamlessly integrates with my new ERP software, Global Shop Solutions as well as High QA inspection manager. I will be able to quote a part with Paperless Parts, run it through High QA and right into Global Shop Solutions ERP system. It will automate so much for us that we can go from quote to manufacturing in minus three days now on most jobs. We are talking days’ worth of time savings. I’m quoting 5 axis parts that used to take upwards of half an hour in 5 minutes. It’s unbelievable.”
AUTOMATING MACHINE TOOLS
PSP got away from being a Swiss only shop in the early days of Norbert’s ownership. He began by adding traditional milling and turning into the mix, but the appeal of loading material and dropping a finished part was too much to resist for long. For PSP the way forward was multi axis machining. “Originally I purchased a bunch of vertical mills,” laments Norbert. “It was a mistake, but once I switched to 5 axis and horizontals our quality and complexity soared. Whatever you can do on a standard vertical I can do 3 or 4 times faster on my 5- axis machines.” PSP have Nomura 9 axis Swiss screw machines, 4 -axis lathes with live tooling and milling and 5- axis horizontal cell systems. They turn bar stock into square parts, blocks into round parts and everything in between. “We are manufacturing so many of our parts in one operation,” continues Norbert. “Our advanced machining centers give us the ability to compete globally on jobs that could be done overseas. I buy machines that fit the work I want them to do. I don’t just buy from a single source. We research each purchase and work with all the top sales companies to get the best deal on the right machine. We get our Stars from Clancy Machine Tool, Matsuura from Selway, Nakamura Tome comes from Methods, and all our robots were purchased from CNC Solutions.” The PSP shop is loaded to the brim with machine tools. Brands like Okuma, Nomura, Star, Matsuura, Nakamura Tome, Mori, and Mazak, are running nearly 24/7 every day. No parent wants to pick a favorite child and the same can mostly be said for machining centers too. When asked what machines he liked best there was no hesitation. “First off I love every machine tool we have,” tells Norbert. “I wouldn’t keep them if I didn’t, but my standouts are the two Matsuura 5 axis cell systems, our two Nomura DS NN-32UB8 9 axis Swiss screw machines, and my fleet of Star screw machines.”
PSP’s Matsuura MX330 and M72-35V are both five axis cell systems. The M72 has 32 pallets, 290 tools, and robotic loading, while the MX300 boasts robot loading, 42 pallets, 190 tools and got described simply as “bad ass”. “Our Swiss department is set up two-fold,” details Norbert. “We have a Star only area and adjacent to that are the two 9 axis Nomura DS NN-32UB8. The Nomura machines are so incredible with the diversity of the parts we can make on them. One operation is all you need with machines like these.” PSP has an armada of Star Swiss screw machines models SR20, SB16 and SR32. They vary in size and features, but all deliver day in and day out for PSP and their customers. “We make parts plus or minus .0001 on our Stars,” touts Norbert. “They are so accurate that we had a customer question our inspection numbers because they were too good and too consistent. They literally went through 300 parts delivered and rechecked that dimension because they thought no way it was possible. He told us it was the most amazing craftsmanship they have ever seen. It’s that kind of customer satisfaction we strive for with every job.”
Four of the Star Swiss screw machines have recently been equipped with Factory Wizard monitoring systems. From his phone Norbert and his team can oversee the machines in real time and see how the shop is performing. This is a key piece of the upcoming puzzle for PSP. They are expanding their operations drastically in the coming months and tying everything together is all part of the master plan. “We are going big,” tells Norbert. “Not just adding a machine or two big but opening a second manufacturing facility big. I can’t reveal all the details yet, but we will have 50,000 sq.ft. of space on the east coast and 5,000 feet of that will be a clean room for all our implantables. This building is becoming a cricket field of all things so, PSP West’s base of operation will also be revamped into a new building down the road. This gives us the opportunity to customize each location to maximize production and best serve our customers.” Some of PSP’s machines from the current shop will travel to the new location, but as of the time of writing PSP East can count on at least half a dozen brand new machining centers in the initial buildup of the east coast plant.
“Six new machines are in phase one of the new facility,” explains Norbert. “First up are three fully loaded Star Swiss screw machines. I’m talking every bell and whistle, Factory Wizard, as well as a frequency measurement system. Next is one Matsuura 5 axis mill with a large pallet pool, a ton of tools and robotic automation. I know I want another multi- axis lathe too, maybe even a pair of them. I’m not 100% decided yet on the make and model, but it will be fully loaded with all the features available. We have Nakamura’s on the floor right now and I like those a lot, but we are also talking to CNC Solutions about the top-of-the-line offerings from Index Corp. as another option.”
Both of PSP’s new facilities will have more automation across the board. PSP is at a point where they don’t need as many low-cost laborers, but they are helping employees directly affected by the additional automation find other positions within the organization. “Most of the employees have been very receptive to the changes and have jumped at the chance to learn new skills,” details Norbert. “By offering training programs to anyone interested we are helping them transition into new roles with better pay, and hopefully more job satisfaction. I am automating as much as I can. A perfect example of this would be a new recycling system for chips, coolant and oil. It starts by employees safely placing the barrel of chips into a designated area. The robot then effortlessly deposits the waste into the receptacle where it is squeezed, filtered and put back into use. Dumping chips is one of the most likely places for an employee to get injured. They can slip on fluids, try and lift too much and hurt their backs, all sorts of issues are possible doing what should be an easy task. By adding automation, we are not only are we making it a safer workplace for everyone, but the new system enormously reduces the amount of waste. It is a win-win.”
“I’m excited to expand PSP into two locations,” concludes Norbert. “It is a dream come true to see the company flourish like this. I know we will face some added challenges, but all our recent improvements will hopefully minimize the learning curve. I see the two locations as an insurance policy for customers. Redundancy is important, if some force of nature shuts down one facility, we can move stuff around. The likelihood is not high of course but giving customers an added sense of security is a bonus. Who’s to say in a few more years we won’t have a third location somewhere in the middle. Our trajectory is up, and I don’t see that changing. We keep adding customers and they keep adding more parts. Here at PSP, we love what we do and soon we can do more of it.”