Putting their trust in Citizen’s CNC turning centers – GROVTEC Machining

By June 25, 2019Articles

Top – The Citizen Miyano BNX51 is a highly stable machining platform equipped with the popular Mitsubishi control. The 12-station turret, allows for revolving tools to be mounted at all stations. Its most impressive feature is “Superimposition control” where machining is performed with the movement of the back spindle synchronized with that of the tool slide. Bottom Left – Tyler Grover makes a quick parts check as the Miyano runs unattended for most of the day. Bottom Right – The Miyano delivers a finished part and thanks to simultaneous machining that part is delivered as much as 3 times faster than it was before getting the new lathe.

Wood Village, Oregon is just east of Portland, and is the manufacturing headquarters of Grovtec Machining and Grovtec Firearms Accessories. Grovtec is split between two sales channels with a single purpose of producing quality parts in the USA.

Bob Grover founded Grovtec back in 2006. He worked for a local firearm accessories manufacturer which was bought out and moved their manufacturing offshore. Bob was tasked with training the Chinese manufactures how to produce the parts. It wasn’t going well, and he pitched the idea that he could purchase some of the old equipment and continued to produce parts that were made in the USA for them. They agreed on a short term basis to complete a few existing contracts. Grovtec started with five employees and 11 machines in a 5,000 sq.ft. building. Today, their manufacturing plant is just under 70,000 sq.ft. housing just over 150 machines. They are staffed by 91 hard working Oregonians.

Tyler Grover is the sales and marketing manager, and head of Grovtec Machining. He grew up on the shop floor and was known to skip school to keep the Davenports running. A lot of moms might have taken issue with that, but his was right there with him in the shop. “My mom’s a firecracker, and we had hot orders to get out,” tells Tyler. “Back then all of us did every job we could. There were no departments, just people pitching in anywhere that needed it. We have two primary sales channels, but Grovtec Firearms Accessories is where we got our start. You will find our products in all the big box stores and they get sold in bulk as OEM to other manufactures. The second channel is the one I head up, Grovtec Machining. Grovtec Machining is us opening up our experience to other industries. We are AS9100 Rev D and ITAR registered. We are big in aerospace and defense industries along with dental and medical. The firearms industry is a bumpy ride so diversification comes from the Grovtec Machining side of the business. Our core competency is high production manufacturing, so we produce hundreds of thousands of cable connectors, specialty fasteners, spacers, washers, electronic housings, barbed fasteners, quick releases, mechanical assemblies, and plastic insulators.”

When Bob opened Grovtec they focused on multi spindle screw machines, and over the years has amassed quite the stable of machine tools. “We started with six Davenport model B’s,” tells Tyler. “Then we began adding single spindle Brown & Sharpes and CNC’s. Two years ago we branched out a little and purchased 7 larger Wickman screw machines.” They also have three Haas vertical mills, a 6 pallet EC400 horizontal Haas mill, a couple Doosan lathes and a dozen Citizen Swiss turning centers. “We’ve purchased a lot of Citizen machines from Aaron Johnson and Jamie Herman at Spinetti Machinery over the years,” continues Tyler. “They’ve been a big part of us growing the company. Their service is top notch and put some of our other vendors to shame. Our first Citizen we bought at auction in the late 2000’s and had no idea what we were doing. We had to reach out to them dozens of times. My mom was running second shift, and Jamie at Spinetti would take calls and texts from her at all hours. She’d call at 11pm not knowing how to get the bar to feed and they would walk her through the process and make sure the machine stayed running. That kind of support goes a long way. Since then we have added a bunch of L12’s, and L32s. Most of our L12s have upgraded L16 guts, making them 5/8” capacity machines instead of 1/2”. We did a lot of research into unattended running before picking up that first Citizen at auction. We were all beat to death with 16 hours shifts. The Citizens and lights out manufacturing have been a big game changer for us. Demand was so high at the time that we had to turn down work. That changed when we added the Citizens.”

Grovtec’s core competency is high production manufacturing and Citizen Swiss turning centers play a large part of that process. They purchased their first Citizen at auction after extensive research into unattended manufacturing. After receiving excellent support from Spinetti Machinery they’ve added more and more.

Grovtec Machining’s newest addition is a Citizen Miyano BNX51 which is a 2” capacity lathe and Tyler has been quite impressed with its capabilities. “The Miyano has been a great addition to our shop,” touts Tyler. “We’ve been able to do simultaneous machining, and reduce our cycle times drastically over our older CNC lathes. We are seeing cycle times drop from 9 minutes to 3.5 minutes. Our older machines have 4’ bar loaders, but we added a 12’ hydraulic loader on the Miyano. The hydraulic loader allows us to save some money by running extruded material. It isn’t a fair comparison of course machine to machine, but that doesn’t change the fact we are doing the part faster with newer technology. We sent guys down to California for training to maximize the performance offered by the simultaneous machining. Basically the turret comes in and starts machining on the main spindle while the back of the turret is machining on the sub spindle. It is a super efficient way to machine parts. We are in the process of simplifying the shop for better cross training. Part of that is reducing the number of brands and controllers into a more centralized platform. With so many Citizens on the floor, it made sense to buy a new lathe that has similar operations. The guys know the controls already so it is way easier to move people around as needed. We hire a lot of Swiss guys and have to completely retrain them if we want them to run the Doosans. As everyone in the industry knows good employees are not easy to find, so we want to be able to utilize our workforce throughout the shop.”

Grovtec is in a constant hiring process as they try to keep up with their expedited growth. With 91 people on staff already, building a skilled and cohesive workforce needs to start with a grassroots program. They begin grooming future employees while they are still in high school, and are involved in a variety of different local programs. “The joke is we have too many millennials working here so we need to hire more Gen Z,” laughs Tyler. “Making sure that we have a constant flow of new talent means we need to get to them early. We work closely with all the local schools as well as specialized programs like Center for Advanced Learning, East Metro Steam Partnership, and the Pacific Northwest Joint Apprenticeship Committee. Pacific Northwest Joint Apprenticeship Committee is the area’s first multi-employer supported program based off of competency for machinists. We had our first apprentice graduate from that program last year.

Grovtec has a lot of Brown & Sharpe machines and the reason is they don’t have a Citizen with Low Frequency Vibration (LFV) chip breaking technology. They run a ton of Delrin, Peek and polycarbonate plastics. The plastics have different issues than machining metal, the biggest being chip removal. Chips don’t break apart, but instead get wrapped around tooling. It is a nightmare, but the Brownies are open bed so their operators can reach in with a hook chip puller and remove the chips without shutting down the machines. They have 24 machines on line with bar loaders and another half dozen that they use as chuckers.

Most of the local high schools have some form of manufacturing programs. Grovtec sends a variety of employees to the campuses to speak with the students about career opportunities and what it is like to work in the industry. It generates a lot of interest from the students and they like that they can ask questions and receive real world answers. “The coolest thing for me is manufacturing day,” explains Tyler. “We have schools from all over come and tour our facility. We had one student take so much of an interest in what we do that we hired her. She works here part time while going to school for manufacturing and programming. One thing I think we do well is hire for fit regardless of experience. If you are passionate, and driven with the right soft skills you move up quickly here. When you look at our staff you will notice that a lot of our leads and supervisors are actually pretty young. We have a lot of trust in our employees and helping them succeed helps us to succeed.”