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Kettmann has a total of 19 Citizen screw machines

Kettmann Machining is not the same as it was when Larry Kettmann founded the company as a job shop supporting anyone and everyone in Silicon Valley. The business has changed, the machines have changed, but the core values remain as the foundation from which the company was built. After four decades in business, San Jose’s Kettmann Machining, Inc. started off 2023 with vigor, adding 5 new machine tools and 20 plus new employees.

“It is an exciting time at Kettmann,” touts Business Development Executive Christina Kettmann. “The medical industry is on the rise, and we are right there supporting its growth.” When Larry, the CEO and founder opened for business he took every job he could. Larry subbed parts for other companies, supported the needs of the local semiconductor and medical industries and anything else he could land. One day he was making castings and the next he was running plastics. “Larry was a lathe guy in the beginning,” tells General Manager Bernie Martin. “He originally had only a couple of Okuma lathes. Then a customer needed milling, so Larry added a mill, then another. His first CNC was a Tree, and if I remember correctly, he mortgaged his house to get it.” “As his daughter and General Counsel, I can attest to this,” laughs Christina. “Mom wasn’t thrilled, but that first CNC was a game changer. Larry’s biggest asset back then was his service and dedication to the customer. He would take any job, but what drove his business was working with the engineer’s night and day. I can remember him putting us to bed and then going back to work because he had an idea that he wanted to explore.” Over the years Larry cultivated these relationships. The engineers went from young guys just out of college to higher ups in large companies. He made his name off his desire to work with the engineering teams on their products. “We still have two original employees, Mike and Dale,” continues Christina. “Along with Larry they really grew this place from the ground up. Bernie our General Manager and Bill Fixsen our Senior Process Engineer embrace today’s challenges in the same way.”

Over their 40 years in business Kettmann Machining has outgrown numerous valley locations. Just ten miles south of the San Jose airport since 2018 their current headquarters is a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility worth seeing. “We relocated here in July 2018 after a long custom buildout process,” tells Bernie. “Moved in with nine Citizen screw machines, nine DMG Mori mill turns, and a single Haas mill. In 2022 we purchased four machining centers and already this year we’ve added five more Citizen screw machines. In total we have 19 Citizen screw machines (A32, L32, L20, L12), 3 Citizen Miyano  BNE51msy twin turret twin spindle machining centers, a combination of 9 DMG Mori mill turns like the NLX2500, a few Haas VFs with trunnions, an Okuma 5 axis GENOS M460CV and a pair of Haas UMC 500s with large pallet pools. We get our DMGs straight from DMG Mori, our Haas supplier is Selway Machine tool, Gosiger takes care of our Okuma needs and Spinetti Machinery sells and services our fleet of Citizens.”

Every new machine tool being purchased regardless of brand needs to have advanced features. The days of buying a traditional 3 axis mill and single turret lathe are over for Kettmann. If it doesn’t have some form of automation, a bar feeder, multi axis, or robotics it isn’t going on the floor. Kettmann supplies 100% of their parts to the medical industry averaging 180k pieces per month. “We are ISO13485:2016 certified and have a wide spectrum of parts ranging in complexity and quantities,” explains Bernie. “Some jobs we run 20 parts a month and others are 10k, it just depends. Eighty percent of the parts we manufacture are made of plastics with the balance in 304, 316, 303, titanium, and some aluminum. We are in a constant state of process improvement and anything we can do to improve accuracy and efficiency is taken into consideration. Our tooling is automated, our materials will soon be automated, we have a cloud-based quality system. We are about to install MachineMetrics on all 19 of our Citizen Swiss machines and onto one of our Haas UMC pallet systems. The more data points we have the more we can fine tune our operation.”

With a pair of Haas UMC 500s Kettmann has one running plastics and one dedicated to metals. Each is equipped with a Trinity AX5 automated pallet system with 40/42 pallets.

Most machines purchased in the last few years have been Citizens supplied by Spinetti Machinery. Kettmann Machining has a long-standing relationship with Spinetti and Citizen, and for good reason. “We have a quartet of Citizen A32 machines that are close to becoming vintage,” tells Bill. “They run nonstop, have more than 200,000 hours on them and still hold the strict tolerances required by our customers. Larry got them so many years ago because they just do what they are told. Push the button and come back to a whole bunch of good parts. Personally, my love of Citizens goes back two decades when I had my own shop. I had a single Swiss machine from a different manufacturer and was struggling with reliability, repeatability and most of all customer service. Fed up I reached out to Spinetti and low and behold someone took my call. I flat out told them I need a machine; can you tell me why I should buy a Citizen. I will never forget. I called late on Thursday evening and on Friday they drove down from Auburn to my shop in Hollister. Both Paige and Aaron came. They spent hours with me, answering any questions I had and taking me through the features of the Citizen. It wasn’t a used car pitch, they never bad mouthed the other brands, didn’t press me for sales, and didn’t try and upsell me on anything more than the L20 I was looking for. The respect and service they showed to me as a small shop owner still carries weight with me now having 22 of their machine tools.”

The Citizen L32 is Kettmann’s screw machine of choice and the machine they have the most of.

The Citizen L32 is Kettmann’s screw machine of choice these days, and the machine they have the most of. They like the capacity, the sizing, the tool positioning and the overall precision and speed of the L32. They especially love the L32-LFV which has quickly become their go to machine for Swiss turning. “We run a lot of plastic, and plastic doesn’t like to wash off the cut,” details Bill. “We do a lot of mitigation to combat possible failures before everything just gets hung up. All our machines have high pressure coolant and mechanical high-speed spindles, but our best weapon to control the chip is the L32-LFV.” LFV machines have been around for a few years now as part of the Citizen product line. The LFV stands for low frequency vibration cutting. “Simplified, you never have to worry about breaking a cut because the machine will do it,” continues Bill. “As the tool enters a cut it has two programable frequencies. One is vibration per revolution, and the other is revolution per vibration. The tool moves in and out of the cut at a super-fast rate. So, when you are running materials like Inconel or plastics that don’t chip you set the vibration and RPM to chip it as needed. It’s amazing. We have a couple parts that I don’t even know how we would make them without the LFV. An example would be the part has two major diameters, two grooved diameters, and yet another groove down from that. It’s small, has a couple of holes, and is machined out of polycarbonate. The finished cut is all one strip of material. Originally, we tried running it on a different machine, but every time you opened the door the part was just wrapped up with chips and there was nothing you could do about it. You can’t come off the cut without jeopardizing the finish, but the LFV does it for us without missing a beat or sacrificing finish. LFV works in X, Y, Z and drilling. As the material rotates the axis that is being driven vibrates.” When the team at Kettmann Machining first saw videos of the LFV in action they were a bit skeptical. It seemed to them like a gimmick that would work in certain environments, but not in a real-world manufacturing center. “It works just as described,” adds Bernie. “We rely heavily on the Citizen L32-LFV machines because it operates exactly as they say it does.”

They like the capacity, the sizing, the tool positioning and the overall precision and speed of the L32. The L32-LFV’s low frequency vibration cutting allows you to run materials that don’t chip by setting the vibration and RPM to chip it as needed. A profile like this in polycarbonate would be much more difficult to mitigate chip and maintain quality without the LFV technology.

Along with the Citizen screw machines Kettmann have a trio of Citizen Miyano BNE-51MSY lathes. The twin spindle, twin turret lathes provide a rigid machining platform with advanced simultaneous capabilities. “We got our first Citizen Miyano back in 2019,” explains Bernie. “We added a second one in 2022 and installed the third one this year. As you can tell we really like them, they’ve proved to be a fast, accurate and versatile machine.” “The simultaneous machining capability can have up to three tools in the cut,” adds Bill. “The sub spindle is configured with both X and Z axes, enabling it to be engaged with the same turret that is working on the main spindle. More tools in the cut, means the overall cycle time can be reduced. We like the “On Machine Program Check Function” too. It allows the operator to manually prove out programs using the pulse handle. It works in forwards and reverse, and the operator can make edits while using this function. You can also program it right from the machine via the Cincom G600 series codes. You can program without the use of cam software. Even the most efficient cycles that may be using superimposition or multiple tools in the cut can be programmed at the machine control.” “We love our Citizens and Citizen Miyanos,” continues Bernie. “Pricing is always good, service is great, and install always goes quickly and smoothly. Greg, our In-house facility person was trained by Spinetti and he manages 90% of our service or repairs. If he can’t handle something Spinetti is here the same day. Up time is all that matters, and they know that.”

Kettmann have added three Citizen Miyano BNE-51MSY lathes in the last three years. They are twin spindle/twin turret machines with simultaneous
machining capability with up to three tools in the cut. With more tools in the cut, Kettmann is able to reduce cycle times.

Kettmann Machining are looking at their past to fortify their future. Forthcoming plans include a dedicated prototype/R&D department. “Medical is a great industry, but you need to get in at the very beginning of the next new thing to ensure production running down the road,” explains Christina. “We have a core group of customers, but our goal for the prototype department is to go back 40 years to how Larry built the business. My legal and sales background have transferred directly to manufacturing except for one aspect. Medical Customers won’t take a chance on you for a production run if you haven’t done the grunt work before that. They don’t care how many other parts you can do flawlessly. They want to see you work with their R & D team; see how you can help them before even giving the option to manufacture.” 

Kettmann’s customers come from a few different sources typically. They rely on in-house referrals between different teams or departments at a company they already have a relationship with. They also have a great track record of adding new clients when engineers or team leaders move from one company to another. “In this business you need to embrace the fact that a new customer means starting with the worst jobs before finding your way to the gravy,” laughs Christina. “It always starts with a part or parts that were a problem for another manufacturer. Solve this problem and we can talk about other work.” “One of the reasons Larry, Bernie and I get along so well is because we really love helping the engineers make their parts manufacturable from the very beginning up through production,” adds Bill. “It is a nonstop back and forth between us and our customer’s engineering teams. Not having to break into a production run by having a dedicated department just for us to engage with our customers is going to be huge for us.” “Not to stroke these guys egos, but they do this very well,” concludes Christina. “I know when I bring them something and say the prior company couldn’t deliver because of X, solve X for me. They are remarkable at taking a customer’s problem and finding a solution. It is fun for all of us as a team and as a company. Because of the industry we serve it isn’t just a part problem, it’s a humanity problem. Working in medical if that part can’t reach the end user it affects people’s lives. Making good parts and finding solutions for our customers has given us four decades of pride and joy. From the top down, we love what we do at Kettmann Machining.”