Small Shop Breaks into Competitive Market

In 2006 when Dale Griefe decided to open his own machine shop – Aspire Machine in Union, MO – the first thing he did was place an order for the tool he would be relying on most to build his business. It wasn’t a CNC machine, although he bought the first of two Okumas (both of them 40″ x 20″ with a full 4th axis) shortly thereafter. It was a versatile CAD/CAM package that would give him the capability to do just about anything.

Griefe uses Mastercam X. It was his first choice of CAD/CAM software because it readily accepted any type of CAD file. “It was the best rounded package. I can do anything with it,” he says. Griefe got the word out and started picking up whatever jobs were available — piece-work, motorcycle parts, medical devices. Soon his expertise in CAD/CAM combined with his willingness to pull all-nighters led customers to give him intricate rapid prototyping parts that needed to be completed within a day or two, if not overnight.

Griefe reasoned that if he could deliver the part overnight, he would be sure to get more rapid prototyping work from the customer next time the need came up. He was right. Griefe estimates that he has done about 30 of these fast-turn jobs in about 12 months, and these jobs have turned into regular business from three new customers.

To turn around prototyping jobs fast, you have to be able to multi-task. Griefe finds certain Mastercam tools particularly helpful in his prototyping business:

    • Backplot — provides fast confirmation of toolpaths and protects tools from breaking
    • Verify — lets him visually ascertain that appropriate amounts of stock have been removed from all areas of the part
    • Mirror imaging — instantaneously creates toolpaths for symmetric surfaces or portions of holding fixtures that must conform to the contoured surface of a part to hold it securely
  • Solids — a Mastercam-integrated add-on solid modeling package that allows him to mix and match modeling techniques for free-form design and toolpath creation

Once the CNC machine has begun doing one part of the job, Griefe returns to the CAM system where he enters an intense world of his own. “The boys are always laughing at how fast I am clicking around,” he says. “They don’t think I am really doing anything. They think I’m just clicking. Everything in Mastercam is so second-nature to me, it’s hard to isolate a single process I use. I don’t think about what I am doing anymore; I’m just getting it cut.”

On average, Aspire Machine has been taking on two or three of these rapid prototyping jobs a month during the past year. This rapid-delivery service has had a very positive effect on the growth of the business. Griefe concludes, “A lot of people are tied into their current machine shops and it’s hard to get in the door. But when you can turn around prototypes overnight, that’s pretty hard to refuse. They can’t stay away from you. They have to use you, and it gives you a chance to show them what you can do.”

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