Category Archives: CNC

40 Years of HARBEC: Part 4

The fourth segment of this forty year adventure covers 2007 to the present. It started out with one of the most difficult challenges Harbec had to deal with to date. 2007 and 2008 were the most economically challenging years they had ever faced. During this time they saw their business’s financial health fail significantly and while they lost no customers during this period, the customers they did have reduced their orders substantially. The challenging times forced them to cut back, utilize resources carefully and join together to weather the storm. They came out of it stronger and more prepared for the future.

One of the most successful capabilities they have to win the attention of new customer potentials, has proven to be their advanced additive manufacturing technical abilities. In a time when everyone is dabbling in ‘3D printing” they are doing some of the most complex and advanced work that is available in the manufacturing marketplace. Their belief that additive is only part of the answer and that its combination with precision subtractive CNC machining offers the best total solution, is resonating with their customers.

This success is helping them to develop their strategy for future enhancement and growth of the business. Specifically they are working toward the day when all of their toolmakers will be able to think and do both additive and subtractive equally well and so will apply both to accomplishing the production of the ‘best solution’ for their customer. From molds, to models, to precision components, all will be equally involved. The journey will be similar to the advent of CNC machining where some toolmakers decided not to participate and were eventually left behind. Harbec is very fortunate to have the ability and equipment to offer this new path to their toolmakers and as they develop the training opportunities and methods, they will eventually become one of the first ‘manufacturers of the future’.

Another advancement in their capabilities this past decade is in the area of precision CNC machining. They have come to appreciate the significant benefits that 4 and 5 axis CNC machines can offer. Until recently these machines were thought of for their abilities to do machining of complex parts like turbine blades, pump impellers and other parts that required simultaneous multi-axis cutter paths. They now realize that they actually offer much more than just that. Their ability is even greater and more advantageous to Harbec, for reducing the amount of setups required to do more conventional precision parts. They give them the ability to machine a part from multiple sides, therefore requiring many less setups, which offers improved precision overall. Moving forward Harbec will replace 3 axis CNC machines with 4 and 5 axis mills and lathes. This change will offer even more exciting new things for their toolmakers to learn and get involved with.

Harbec’s injection molding department has also made great strides this past decade, from increased utilization of automation to improve quality and reliability, to reduction of waste and improved efficiencies. Their cleanroom capabilities have helped them to become a certified medical molder. Recent developments in transfer molding and the related opportunities in bobbin and component machining have given them exciting new skills and capabilities to help them win new business in the future. Their management of materials and waste has also made great strides and improvement.

During this decade Harbec has continued to progress in the area of sustainable manufacturing, believing that they should be a conscientious manufacturer who takes responsibility for their business and what it causes both directly and indirectly. Typically manufacturers do not pay attention to how they are releasing carbon into the atmosphere, whether they do it directly through onsite chimneys or let the utilities do it for them through the production of their power. To the contrary, Harbec has attained carbon neutrality, which means that the component parts that they make have no carbon footprint. They are currently developing a set of metrics that will allow them to share with any existing or potential customer, the amount of carbon that they reduced from their company’s footprint by buying HARBEC parts. Their hope is that this will be an attribute that they offer, at no additional charge, that their competition does not.

Their most recent improvement in the area of sustainable energy is the completion of their CHP upgrade. In 2014/15 they won a NYSERDA grant to upgrade their CHP plant. While the plant was running fine, the grant allowed them to double their ability to use the energy in the fuel they were consuming even more efficiently as a result of thermal use enhancements. They were able to remove and recycle eight natural gas furnaces, eight 5 ton electric DX air conditioners and two 20 ton rooftop air conditioners, and replaced them with 12 new heat/cool air exchangers. They estimate that this will improve their energy BTU efficiencies to over 80% compared to the average for utility power which is only 25 to 35% efficient.

Harbec’s owner, Bob Bechtold concludes: “The past 40 years have been a great and rewarding experience for me. While they sometimes held challenges and difficulties, they more than equally offered amazing rewards and good fortune. In my life I have been blessed by always knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up and have had the opportunities to pursue that dream. These forty years of progress are due to all the people who have contributed in so many ways, for which I’m eternally grateful. My final challenge is to find a successor who understands what HARBEC is really all about, someone who will use the direction and momentum they have accomplished and take the wheel to drive it even farther into the future.”

 

Here is the complete 40 years of HARBEC series:

40 Years of HARBEC: Part 1

1977-1987… The Barn.

 As we are now in our 40th year, we will devote one blog per quarter to each decade we have been in existence. Harbec started in two garages, belonging to Bob Bechtold and his brother Mike, in the village of Webster, NY. In the first few years they were both working full time jobs and the new business part was on the side. The majority of the work was odds and ends of machining work for friends who had machine shops, along with buying and repairing/rebuilding used machine tools. The money from these side jobs they did allowed them to buy more machines.

In the late 70’s, Bob found a farm on the edge of Webster that had magnificent barns and a house and in 1980 he was able to buy it. The space that the new barns provided was just what they needed to get serious about the business, but not without significant preparation. The reason that farm had been for sale was that it was a pig farm and the county was not allowing any more of them. So the last pig farm in Monroe County became the new home of Harbec, but not without a ton of work.

In 1982, Bob decided to leave his full time teaching job at Rochester Institute of Technology, to work at Harbec full time. His original intention was to have himself doing the work with part-time help. That did not work out as he thought it would because he could not get a consistent flow of work and a consistent flow of money for his family. When he was doing jobs for people, there were no new sales happening. Then, when the job was done he would have to find more opportunities, therefore no work was getting done, this meant no income. Bob recalls, “It was either feast or famine which definitely is not conducive to paying bills and raising kids.”

Eventually, Bob hired his first full-time employees, two young toolmakers from the area. Then, within a couple of years, they were up to 6 or 8 full and part-time people. They were able to build technical capabilities and equipment, as well as expand their customer base and the types of work they did.

They did some unusual work in those days including building two 20’ long cabbage harvesting machines that were nicknamed the ‘Head Masters’, for a local farmer. They were pulled along during the harvest and the pickers would set the heads on a conveyor near the ground where they were picking and automatically lift them up into the wooden boxes. Another thing they did during those early days was to mount a TIG welder in an old van and go to the area beer distributors to repair the rips and tears in their aluminum bodied delivery trucks (from the fork trucks loading and unloading the beer barrels and cases). They also had a full wood working shop and were doing pattern making for the local foundries. They continued to do this kind of work for a number of years, even after they moved to the current location. Unfortunately, this was the time when foundry work was moving overseas and eventually there was little or no pattern making work left.

Bob explains, “The skills used in pattern making are similar to those used in model making, so as the pattern work dried up, we replaced it with a new line of business. We got more and more involved in model making and were able to apply the precision and complex capabilities of the CNC to this work. It allowed us to become very competent at creating engineering models or models that were expected to be as close to production intent as was possible. This means the material type, dimensions, and all other characteristics had to be as exact as if they came from the injection or die-cast molding process.” This line of business was ready to take off and will be covered in the next decade’s blog.

The most significant job during this first decade was the ‘Glass Hubs’.  During this period of time, the most high-tech computer memory was magnetic tape and a local company had a very high end product that was a glass sided tape reel that held one mile of tape. The reels were about 14” in diameter and two glass side discs were mounted to a precision aluminum hub. The hub was a die casting that Harbec would precision machine to the required tolerances. The accuracy of these was critical because if there was the slightest error, the tape would eventually get off center, then would not wind or unwind correctly.

While these were interesting and varied work types, the main goal Bob was trying to accomplish since starting the business, was to get involved in CNC machining. Bob had taught the subject when he was at RIT/NTID and through that experience, became convinced that this new technology would be the most dynamic opportunity for the advancement of manufacturing ever to happen. The biggest problem he had to overcome was that the machines were very expensive.

As you might imagine, it was difficult to convince a bank that Harbec was a good risk for a loan when they were asking for a very expensive, very accurate, very state of the art (at that time) machine, to put in a barn. Eventually they built the business and their bankability enough to get their first equipment loan for their first CNC milling machine. With this new capability in precision and complexity, Harbec was able to look for new areas of business to apply them to. One of these new areas was mold making, which required high precision and finishes. At the time, there were not many mold building shops that had CNC machines. They were able to eventually work their way into this line of business by doing complex mold details for other local mold shops.

“One of the really neat early mold details we did was to cut the cavity blocks for a new type of computer memory that was unknown at the time. During the early days of the personal computers there were two types of computers, Apple or PC. Both used a memory device called a floppy disk. Harbec was involved in a very confidential project where they cut the mold cavity blocks for…what was eventually to become the 3.5” memory disk. If you were to open one of those “three-and-a-halfs” you would notice fine ribs and shapes that contained and guided the spinning magnetic disk inside. The first mold details to create the prototypes of this new media were cut in the barn at Harbec,” remembers Bob.

There were many other interesting and diverse things they did in those days, and eventually they out grew the barn and needed to find a bigger home. In 1987, they moved to the current location, to begin the second decade of Harbec’s history. The barn continued to offer a birth place to other businesses including CNC Systems which Mike and Bob started, so that they could pool their talents and interests to get involved in this exciting new CNC industry. There was also a welding company that started in the same barns and an optics manufacturing company that became known as Optimax.

While work was not consistent in the early days, the vision and dedication to creating the business was. Bob and Mike Bechtold took chances, explored uncharted territory and embraced diverse potentials. They were good at not just finding, but creating opportunities. These are the things that would continue to allow Harbec to grow into the business it is today.

Here is the complete 40 years of HARBEC series:

From Difficult to Differentiated: Creating Customer Solutions for Hard to Manufacture Materials

For many industries, high-intensity and high-value jobs require precision instruments that are made from high-performance materials. The medical, aerospace, defense, energy, and transportation industries are a few of the sectors that design and manufacture their parts, products, and integrated systems with materials such as titanium, magnesium, carbon steel, and others because of the unique performance properties these materials provide.

There are many challenges in using high-performance materials that add complexity and difficulty to the design and manufacture of high-performance products. For example:

  • Material Cost – High-performance materials typically have higher costs. As such, it is important that the use of these materials be optimized in all phases of the material life-cycle: design, manufacture, use, and end-of-life disposition. There are ways to reduce material waste in manufacturing by looking at a diversity of options for part design, manufacturing technique/process, and other factors. Check out HARBEC’s Sustainable Design Guide as an example of how design can impact the more efficient utilization of high-value materials.
  • Material Availability – The availability of high-performance materials can also be a challenge. Many high-performance materials are mined from specific regions of the world. The availability of materials is impacted by economic, geographic, supply, demand, regulatory, environmental, and other factors. The availability of materials also impacts its price, supply, and use.
  • Material Tracking and Regulatory Compliance – Understanding point of origin and supply chain relationships for materials has become a business necessity. Accounting (traceability) for ‘conflict minerals’ within the supply chain has, since Congress approved the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, been a requirement for U.S. based manufacturers. Check with your suppliers to see if they have a Conflict Minerals policy in place, like this example from HARBEC.
  • Manufacturing Capability – The use of high-performance materials requires high-performance manufacturing capabilities that either reside in-house or among suppliers. The handling and manufacturing of high-performance materials can require specialized equipment, certifications, technical know-how, and process sophistication. Hard to machine metals, for example, require machine operators and toolmakers that have built, through years of experience, insight and knowledge of how materials perform  under a diversity of manufacturing operations.
  • Material Handling –Some high-performance materials are also a challenge to work with because they require special handling requirements. The safe and environmentally responsible storage, handling, and disposal of materials can add cost, time, and complexity to already tight time schedules. As such, it pays to work with material handlers, suppliers, and manufacturers that are experienced in the specific material handling requirements. Often there are very specific and specialized regulatory, environmental, safety, recycling, and disposal requirements for high-performance materials.
HARBECsample_parts

HARBEC sample parts injection molded in a variety of engineering resins and metal.

Although there are challenges in working with high-performance materials, the benefits are tremendous. High-performance materials can differentiate products in their weight, design, performance, tolerance holding, utility, and sustainability. By working with material vendors and manufacturing partners that have depth of knowledge, experience, and capability, you can hedge yourself on any downside “difficulties,” and optimize your potential to “differentiate” your high-performance product.

Since 1977 HARBEC has earned a reputation and grown its business by solving tough manufacturing challenges. HARBEC’s origins stem from working with difficult to machine and mold materials. With nearly four decades of experience, HARBEC is well positioned to take on the most challenging of materials. HARBEC regularly machines magnesium, titanium, and hardened steels to very tight tolerances for a diversity of customers spanning aerospace, defense, medical, and research organizations.

HARBEC operates over 44 vertical mills, 6 horizontal lathes, and multiple EDM centers on three shifts, producing small to medium volumes of high precision parts for customers worldwide.  Our team readily works with customers to improve the manufacturability of prototypes and production parts, always striving for the best balance of function, cost and delivery. HARBEC has dedicated milling centers for difficult to machine metals such as titanium with a .01” diameter end mill.

HARBEC has earned a reputation as a custom injection molder and custom CNC machining company because it does not shy away from challenging materials, complex part geometries, tight tolerances, or demanding schedules. HARBEC works hard to support its customers by providing strategy and insight from its four decades of know-how and experience, to create custom solutions that often exceed time, cost, and performance requirements. HARBEC prides itself on being an extension of its customer’s teams, working with its own in-house engineers, tool makers, and machinists to provide exemplary levels of service and detail to every job, every customer, and every day.

Machining Precision Parts Requires Impeccable Attention to Detail

Ultimately, success in machining requires a team of highly proficient machine operators, tool makers, designers, engineers, project managers, technicians, and operations managers all working together to continuously achieve high quality products consistently. While CNC machines may do the tough work of cutting hard metals to tight tolerances, these tools are only as good as the team of dedicated professionals that drive performance and results. Attention to detail is everyone’s job.

Harbec’s roots in CNC machining run deep. Founded in 1977 as a general-purpose machine shop, Harbec initially specialized in the quick-turnaround of difficult to make parts. Today we operate over 40 vertical mills, horizontal lathes, and EDM centers on three shifts, producing small to medium volumes of high precision parts for customers worldwide. Our team readily works with customers to improve the manufacturability of prototypes and production parts, always striving for the best balance of function, cost and delivery.

Harbec’s CNC Machining Solutions are built upon four decades of experience. Three primary values of Harbec’s CNC Machining include: Accuracy/Quality, Speed, and Knowledge/Expertise. Harbec’s CNC Machining group has the knowledge and expertise to produce difficult, highly complex, and tight tolerance parts. With a strong project management discipline and proactive communications with customers, Harbec works hard to make sure customer requirements are always understood. Harbec actively uses its manufacturing knowledge for customers’ benefits.  Whether it is one part or mid-volume production parts, Harbec’s experienced team always strives for delivering the highest quality part, quickly.

A commitment to continuously improve operational excellence through innovation while providing manufacturing solutions for customers is a necessity in today’s ever changing world. Recently our CNC Machining has expanded,  particularly to serve the needs of medical device customers. Harbec is investing in facility modifications, new equipment (CNC machines), and continuous training of its employees at all job functions to ensure a high level of quality and attention to detail is carried through to the customer.

Harbec has 21 dedicated inspectors and engineers that work collaboratively within every business group, manufacturing process, and individual within the company so that customers continuously receive the level of service they have come to expect. For example, some of our medical customers require 100% inspection of their parts on all dimensions with tolerances of +/- .001. Our knowledgeable staff have written and executed Installation Qualification (IQ), Operational Qualification (OQ), and Performance Qualification (PQs) for these customers. Harbec also implements specific process inspections, tools and technologies,  through an integrated team dedicated to quality. Tools including microscopic deburring and  a vision system/CMM are used in combination as part of a robust inspection program.

In addition, Harbec continues to actively pursue certification toward the ISO 13485 Medical Device standard, a customer-facing and internal goal to demonstrate our commitment to deliver the finest parts to our valued customers.