The Path to Machining Success Is Not Always Straight
Young machinists that scrap 77 intricate aerospace components in their first week on the job might expect to be fired, but Alex Loper had a different experience. He found forgiveness, support, and mentorship to pick him up from a rough start and begin an amazing journey to a successful machining career. Alex was not any young machinist, and the combination of passion and forgiveness became a springboard to soon opening a shop of his own.
Tool & Die, Job Shop, Transportation, Consumer Goods
“Somewhere along the line I put the wrong sized drill in the machine, and I ended up making 77 parts that had a hole in it that was like 3/1000ths of an inch too big. And nobody caught it. Not even QC. I didn’t find out about it until my second week, and I was certain I would get fired.”
Loper worked over a weekend to try to correct the parts. He dreaded the inevitable call into the supervisor’s office the following Monday. What ensued was not a career-ending conversation. Rather, it was an event that ramped up his career track. Loper was given a second chance. He was paired with a mentor who essentially served as his own private CNC machining tutor. This eventually led to positions at a shop supplying components to the aerospace industry and Stanley Black & Decker.
When he was passed over for a job he really wanted, Loper teamed up with his brother-in-law Kevin Smolenski to form Loper Machine in Edgewood, Maryland. Services provided by Loper Machine include CNC milling and turning; CNC process consulting; reverse engineering; vibratory finishing, turnkey program solutions; and an internship program. Along every step of the way was Mastercam.
Their facility runs on Mastercam. Loper invested in the world’s most widely used CAD/CAM software to power a versatile array of machines, including two HAAS VF-0Es, a HAAS VF-4B; a Matsuura RA-3GII PC2, and a Matsuura MC-500VS; and a FANUC RoboDrill in its Vertical Machining Center. Loper’s Horizontal Machining Center features two Matsuura CNCs: the ES-450HII-PC5 pallet mill and the H. Plus-300 PC11. Loper uses the Hexagon Tigo 565 CMM (coordinate measuring machine) in its Inspection Center.
Their first client was Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Xometry, whose client list includes automaker BMW and General Electric. For the first year, Xometry gave Loper all the work they could handle. One of the first job specifications said “5-axis required”. They didn’t have a 5-axis machine but were still able to take the job. The unnamed part was machined on a 4-axis Haas VF4 trunnion.
“We used OptiRough toolpaths, resting all the way down to where there’s not much left of the part, and finished with scallops and flow lines.” OptiRough toolpaths use the entire flute length of the tool, but a small percentage of the tool’s diameter on the first cut, followed by several successive shorter cuts that bring the part into the net shape desired. Loper said this approach “yielded maximum efficiency.”
Working with titanium was a new challenge for Loper. “Inside of Mastercam, you can just plug in your feed-per-tooth and it will calculate your spindle speed or feed rate for you. I was able to pull up the tool I needed in the Tool Library and run it according to its specifications. It was easy. As somebody who’s never worked with a certain material before, it helped me figure things out.”
Blessed in his career with supportive mentors, Alex pays it forward today at Loper Machine, mentoring young machinists and living by a personal creed of carrying “a little bit of perfection” wherever he goes. It’s not lost on him that the direct involvement of mentors and advocates helped him get to this point. He’s gotten a hand up many times, and that’s why he created the MOE Jr. Internship, in memory of stepbrother Michael Otto Essig, Jr., who passed away suddenly at the age of 26 in 2016, the same year Loper Machine was founded.
“Mastercam helps keeps us efficient. I can program a simple part in a vertical and then I can take that same part, and I can put it on a fourth axis and I can start doing multiaxis work, and then I can jump into a horizontal and take it even to a step further and then put into a full 5-axis and still rotate it around and create views really easily and come in an approach the part from all different angles.”—Alex Loper, Owner/Machinist, Loper Machine LLC, Edgewood, Maryland
“My closest time that I had with Cimquest was when I was still working at Black & Decker. They’re pretty quick on getting back to us when we have a question. Here at Loper Machine, fortunately, we haven’t had to reach out to them very much so I would say that speaks really well for the Mastercam software. But they put on a good training class, and it was always super beneficial to everybody.”—Alex Loper, Owner/Machinist, Loper Machine LLC, Edgewood, Maryland
Alexander Loper’s relationship with Mastercam began as far back as age nineteen, following in his brother’s footsteps at a local tool and die shop their father managed, A&A Global Industries in Cockeysville, Maryland. Despite this early experience, the path to machining wasn’t a direct route for Alex. It was a classic example of a door closing and a window opening. Through the ups and downs, Alex never gave up. He now runs a successful shop of his own.
- Easy to learn and use.
- Supports 3-, 4-, and 5-axis vertical and horizontal milling machines, lathes, and mill-turn machining centers.
- Allows programmers to create template files to allow operation and tool libraries for quick precision machining.
- Software flexibility allows for competitive pricing and reduced cycle times.
- OptiRough toolpaths remove large amounts of material faster and more efficiently using intelligent Dynamic Motion technology.
- Mastercam is the most used CAD/CAM software in manufacturing.