Steve Hirsh opened Hirsh Precision Products Inc. in 1979 and is the company’s Director of Engineering. He sold his Fiat X19 to buy a Bridgeport mill thinking owning his own machine shop would afford him more time off. Current CEO, and brother Mike Hirsh, joined the company in 1981. For years, the duo spent time sleeping in the shop with handshake shift changes to extend workdays and satisfy customer demands. Their efforts paid off, and 39 years later the Boulder, Co. based Hirsh Precision Products is a preeminent manufacturer in the Front Range area.
Hirsh Precision’s 24,000 sq.ft. manufacturing center was designed and built in 1993 around the needs of the company. It had a lot of room for growth, but that extra space has disappeared over the years. “With 72 employees and 21 CNC machines, floor space is at a premium,” explains Peter Doyle, COO of Hirsh Precision Products. “Our machines are split between milling and turning. We have 3, 4, and 5-axis mills, mill turn centers, as well as multi-turret lathes and a Swiss turning department. In the middle of all the action is our humidity and temperature-controlled Quality Lab.” Hirsh Precision’s management team likes to invest in technology that improves and increases their capabilities. With limited available floor space, they can’t afford to install a dud machine so they rely on trusted brands like Okuma, DMG Mori, Tsugami, and Brother. “We really like each machine we’ve purchased, all brands,” touts Peter. “But Okuma got us started with our first CNC machine, a 1979 LC10. We take great care of all our machines and they last a really long time. Ever since the beginning, Okuma has provided great machines and service. The original LC10 is still in service for secondary operations.”
Hirsh’s latest investment is a pair of Okuma MU-4000V 5-Axis mills tied into a Fastems 8760 200 pallet management system. “We get all our Okumas from Hartwig,” continues Peter. “We put in the first Okuma MU-4000V 5-Axis and the pallet system in 2016, and just added the second Okuma MU-4000V 5-Axis a few months ago. This setup is modular, so we can add more machining centers as we grow. The Fastems management system is constantly making decisions about what job to feed into the machines next based on its calculations of what tools, spindles, raw materials, and programs are available.”
Hirsh Precision Products produces components machined largely from aluminum, stainless steel and plastics. 80% of their parts fit in your hand, and 2/3 of their manufacturing supports the medical industry. Medical can be broke down into two broad categories: external and internal. Today, Hirsh’s focus is on external. “We specialize in parts that have stringent dimensional and cosmetic requirements,” tells Peter. “A typical lot size for us might be several dozen to several thousand, so we fall between a prototyping shop and one which produces a much higher volume of fewer distinct parts. ” Complex, tight tolerance, precision machined components require a quality lab that can support that level of machining. Hirsh Precision Products have two Zeiss Contura G2 CMMs now and working to add a third to increase inspection capabilities. Their philosophy is that their quality should be better than the customer’s. “Our priorities are safety, quality, productivity – in that order,” details Peter. “We work to ensure that our customers get precisely what the print states is required. Part of our ISO 9001:2015 certification is maintaining a system to verify what our customer’s requirements are. For us, that is defined by the print. Everything the customer wants should be on the print, and that is what we verify.”
Wayne Fraley has been with Hirsh for 21 years. He began his career with them as a machinist but has worn many hats over the last two decades. Currently, Wayne is the Director of Quality, and part of the purchasing team for another Zeiss CMM. “Having all the automated 5-axis systems and complex mill-turn machines is a necessity for the medical industry,” details Wayne. “We need those capabilities to machine the high-end features on the parts we see today. Having all those complex features requires a reliable and precise way to verify them. That’s where our quality team and Zeiss Conturas with the Vast XT scanning technology come in. The QA lab has a pair of Zeiss Contura CMMs that run virtually 24/7. We have three dedicated people manning the lab on days and a single tech on night shift.” Hirsh Precision Products is working with Todd Johnson of Total Quality Systems Inc. who is the local Zeiss distributor to spec out their next Zeiss. It is important to them that all three machines be interchangeable to measure parts. Hirsh has been a loyal Zeiss customer for more than 20 years. They rely on the accuracy, dependability, and support that come with every Zeiss CMM. Hirsh programs the machines using an offline seat of Zeiss Calypso software and store the programs on the network. Then, using whatever machine is available, they download the program and inspect the parts. The machines share the same probe setup, which are easily changed between the different machines. This makes for a very efficient work flow through the inspection department. “The CMM and CNC machines are programmed using the same 3D solid model,” elaborates Wayne. “The CMM programmers base their inspection plan on the customer’s print. Today, we only have one offline programming seat of Calypso, but are planning to add a second in the near future.”
The plan for the next Zeiss Contura will be to order the same size as Hirsh’s most current model. It will come with an extensive array of styli. The probing system allows them to use styli setups with probing lengths from over 10” deep down to using a small styli with a .3mm diameter tip. Hirsh’s CMMs are used for first article inspection, final inspection, as well as inspection of their in-process operations. Hirsh’s QA team inspect a lot of “Profile” callouts for their customers, and the Zeiss Vast XT scanning probe heads work extremely well for gathering a lot of data quickly for checking those features. The vast majority of parts produced will have their quality verified on the Zeiss.
A lot of companies talk about culture within their organization. Hirsh is no different, but yet they seem like they are. Safety, quality, productivity is the company motto, and they are delivering. Roaming the shop taking photos yields opportunity to see employees in their natural habitat. Besides the extensive shop management systems in every department, there were reminders of “days without a safety incident” posters everywhere. That number was at a year. A year without incident in a manufacturing facility? Impressive. The Safety, quality, productivity mantra was mentioned by no less than three people, people, mind you, who were not briefed on interview questions. More than once when asking about the Quality Lab I was reminded that every person at Hirsh Precision is an integral part of the quality process. When employees measure their years of service in decades, it says a lot about a place of business. Nearly a quarter of the workforce has a direct relative also working at Hirsh Precision Products. COO Peter Doyle is relatively new; his friendship with Mike Hirsh began years ago, but he has only been part of the Hirsh team for two years. His experience as an officer in the Air Force and CFO of a startup led him here. “I love Hirsh Precision,” concludes Peter. “The company was founded on and operates on principles that I align with personally and professionally. It is an exciting time for the company, especially for someone like me who loves manufacturing, but doesn’t come from a background of machining. I can really apply my skills and experience outside machining for the benefit of the team. I’m a hobbyist woodworker, as opposed to a machinist, and learning about the tolerances our machinists maintain gave me a whole new appreciation for precision machining when I started at Hirsh. I also love the company’s mission to bring ideas to life. When we hear about a customer’s idea and partner with them on how to make it, and then follow through to deliver a 100% quality part on time- it is a very satisfying thing.”