Automating the Future, Preparing for Growth

Innovative Machining
Written by Pauline Müller

This year, growth is the word at Innovative Machining, LLC. Despite local market challenges, this industry leader is increasing its production volumes. Following robust expansion in onboarding new customers and continued healthy growth for existing ones, new projects abound.

This custom CNC machine shop manufacturer based in Neenah, Wisconsin knows that being fiscally conservative is the key to long-term success. Innovative Machining’s financial security has given it the solid foundation on which it has built a nearly 30-year-long legacy of excellence. Everything companies could need both before and after ordering their custom machined components and fabrications has already been thought of, including modern prototyping. This team serves a range of industries which include paper, packaging, defense, off-road vehicle manufacturing, and marine and other automation giants.

The firm’s customers can be found across the Midwest and throughout the United States and Mexico. More recent customers come primarily from the agricultural and medical industries, and orders for specialized components are coming in fast, the result of a lot of word-of-mouth business.

The company’s quality has become well-known, landing it the 2010 Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award. Since then, it has continued improving to achieve its most recent wins. “We are currently looking at having close to 100 percent growth after next year,” says Seth Johnson, Marketing Manager.

That is no exaggerated estimate, considering that the company is working from a 125,000-plus-square-foot facility with the capacity to contain equipment heavy enough to turn components measuring up to 80 by 22.8 inches on a Mazak Quick Turn Nexus 400-II lathe and machines large enough to render components weighing as much as 44,000 pounds.

Innovative Machining’s work is underpinned by its ISO 9001:2015 certification and quality control provided by five state-of-the-art metrology units, including a selection of Brown and Sharpe CMM Global S machines—guaranteeing customers excellent outcomes. Its capabilities also allow for cutting metals up to eight inches thick thanks to two flow waterjets. Its impressive portfolio also includes 10 (13 if including the Palletech system) horizontal CNC centers, another nine vertical CNC centers, three boring bar units, and more. Most of these machines are run by sought-after industry experts who are also in charge of developing the talents of a new generation of professionals.

To ensure its facility can handle the new workload, the company recently invested in two new fully automated Mazak HCN 5000/50 horizontal CNC machining centers in its machining department for high-volume, non-stop production machining, achieving volumes as high as several hundred thousand units and more annually. A pair of new robots by Fanuc is also on the horizon to deal with loading and unloading the parts carousel and the CNC machine.

While selected machines will focus mainly on components linked to agriculture, other units will be linked up to the company’s MAZAK Palletech system, which is being boosted with another Mazak 6800 NEO, another 10-pallet capacity and 160-tool capacity magazine. The improvement will bring the overall capacity to thirty pallets, four machining centers, and 720 tools across the entire Palletech system.

“With that entire system, we can keep various projects ready for when they roll in for their production cycles,” Johnson says. Whenever an order comes in, the pallets and tooling needed for machining are prepared and ready to go because smooth workflow depends entirely on thorough preparation. Adding to these high-tech units, the company offers specialized assembly in 60,000 square feet of space dedicated to this purpose. Other services include product preparation, powder coating and painting, fast set-ups, and tremendously tight lead times. On the rare occasion that a service is unavailable in-house, a trusted third-party partner is prepared and ready to complete the job to exacting standards.

The Innovative Machining team of around 75 people is also prepared for this demanding moment as the company expands production. To further support their work and ease the tasks at hand, the facility is seeing an overall upgrade as equipment and workspaces are optimized.

“It’s created a lot of new projects within the project, and that’s exciting,” Johnson says. To ensure its lead time promises are honored, work shifts are arranged to increase output, with weekday shifts running from Monday to Thursday between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m., supported by a round of nightly second shifts from Mondays to Wednesdays between 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. Weekend shifts run between Friday and Sunday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The firm continues to hire new staff. Because it has a limited talent reserve in its immediate area, Innovative Machining invites CNC machinists qualified to read prints, machine set-up, and component fabrication as well as operator candidates to apply.

“It is a very competitive labor market to draw in top talent,” Johnson says. To secure only the best people, the company’s new Director of Talent, Myriam Obregon, also handles human resources functions. Obregon has a keen sense for spotting and bringing in the right people to fill vacant positions, and the firm is significantly benefiting from her talent.

Certainly, Innovative Machining has a satisfied team, and accountability and camaraderie are highly prized. For people who display a strong team focus, this close-knit, can-do culture is welcome. While tasks are assigned to specific people, the helpful group supports each other when the workload is intense.

“Honestly, I love everyone that I work with here. Everyone is very personable. A lot of people here have a go-getter attitude and are willing to help you out,” Johnson says of this goal-driven team.

In return, the company invests in its people through benefits like continuous training that includes complete machine tool apprenticeship programs at Fox Valley Technical College for novices—while providing them with study compensation and salaries for full-time employment. In this way, while it diversifies its customer base, its staff members gain the latest knowledge and technology to meet volume and quality demands.

As it has a history of working extensively in the medical industry, the company is well-versed in medical frame assemblies for MRI machines and the like. One of its favorite projects, these assemblies are welded from raw steel at the company’s facility before being machined, painted, further finished, and installed at medical facilities.

The company was founded by President John Malinowski in a plant of just 3000 square feet, and its legacy of frugality extends to how its offices are managed. By being conscious of wise resource management, waste is minimized in several ways. With that in mind, the company is also in the process of gradually going paperless across its administrative department.

But being as lean as possible does not mean its operation is tight-fisted. As a board member of the Children’s Cancer Family Foundation, Johnson and the company fully support the group’s fundraising efforts for local families facing pediatric cancer. Funds raised go toward ensuring parents can cover their basic living expenses while battling such ordeals with their children, giving them hope for a better future.

Beyond being committed to doing good in the world, the company is positive about the future and about automation enhancing rather than replacing the human contribution in its manufacturing shop. “It is exciting to hear that, despite possible economic downturns, we are still chugging along and managing to grow,” Johnson says. Since its current new projects are set to run over half a decade and are likely to be renewed, Innovative Machining is now in the perfect position to continue its strategic expansion.



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