CNC: Climbing to the top

The resurgence of Spyder Manufacturing illustrates how the fate of a shop can be tied to its machine tool investment decisions. It’s the improbable story of how this second-generation company stumbled upon a business breakthrough: CNC that is intuitive and empowering. 

Originally a manufacturer of metal lawn and garden hand tools, Spyder Manufacturing has been through several transformations. Once employing more than 30 people, the company experienced a sharp decline when global competition forced a downsizing of production, employees and profits. 

 

Back then, owner Gary Monnig would often say that the machines owned by Spyder were so old and rudimentary that the company “maintained a stable of hamsters just to power them.” Spyder was spending thousands of dollars for outsourced machining, both locally and overseas, especially for more complex parts.

 

A fever for change

It was Gary’s son Matt, who ordered a new Fryer MC40 milling machine, sporting a Siemens Sinumerik 840D control. Not soon after, Fryer Machine Systems’ field service engineer, Trever Lowe, arrived to begin what was scheduled to be four days of training. However, almost at the outset, Matt Monnig had to be taken to a hospital emergency room. When he returned to the shop two days later, he was ready to learn CNC machining. But now there were less than four hours of scheduled instruction remaining — hours that would prove to be a turning point for the company.

The power of intuitive CNC

“Today's machine tool and manufacturing market needs more than button pushers,” Lowe says. “Intuitive CNC is the first step. Fryer Machines enable the machine operator to shine. They can start to write their own programs at the control. Other companies try to compete in the conversational market, but Fryer Machine Systems chose Siemens CNC controls because they are truly intuitive, first and foremost.”

 

In the span of a few hours, Matt needed to learn to use a CNC machine for the first time. Not only that, but he was learning on one of the world’s most powerful controls, the Siemens Sinumerik 840D, to program complex contour milling, right at the machine. “Ever since, when customers ask me how much training time is needed on one of our machines, I tell them we schedule 16 hours”, Lowe recalls “Then I tell them about Matt, someone who didn’t know anything about CNC, but who in less than a day picked up enough CNC know-how to relaunch his business.”

Programming at the machine

The ability to program at the control brings a competitive advantage to a shop. It empowers both the operator and the shop owner to efficiently produce more than they could otherwise. Instead of waiting for a CAD/CAM programmer to feed a G-code program to a machine, an operator can quickly setup the next program and keep production rolling. Spyder Manufacturing is also the story of how a greater return on CNC can mean a greater return on a shop’s workforce, enabling a business to leverage the skills and knowledge of its people to create new opportunities for the company.

CNC-driven innovation

As Matt recounts, “Not long after we bought our first Fryer machine, I drew up an improved version of our climber product. But the immediate feedback I got was, ‘No. That will never work.’ But then I showed the sketch to machinist Edward Jones, and he said, ‘Let me make a sample.’ And so he hand made a sample, and we looked at the tools and what the new Fryer machines could do, and we all said, ‘Wow, that will work!’”

 

The new product design was soon validated by the CAD/CAM capabilities of the Siemens control. Using highly intuitive, graphically-guided functions such as the contour calculator, the shop could readily conduct design for manufacturability refinements right on the machine. And at the same time, they were establishing the program to produce it. With no G-code language barriers in the way, the shop could conceive, design and produce a new generation of products. 

Optimizing resources

Today, Spyder Manufacturing is a company transformed. For Gary and Matt Monnig, achieving a greater return on their CNC investments includes taking greater control of their business, enabling their people and operations to become increasingly efficient. Now, the company produces parts for customers overseas, rather than the other way around. Spyder is also able to bring next-generation products to market and efficiently keep pace with the demand for those products. Including products made possible by bridging “old world” machinist skills and knowledge with creative leadership to capitalize on the most intuitive and powerful CNC available. “The Fryer machines have paid for themselves many times over,” Matt Monnig says. The company owns three Fryer MC40 milling centers, all equipped with Siemens Sinumerik 840D controls. Before the company’s investment in Fryer and Siemens, it took their shop a month to produce 50 sets of tree climber products. Now the shop produces nearly 500 sets each month. 

 

Higher production capacity and efficiency have brought a near tenfold increase in the sale of the company’s flagship product, the same product whose evolved design was first thought never to work.  Looking back, Gary and Matt Monnig consider themselves fortunate to have stumbled upon the best possible strategy for revitalizing their business. Looking ahead, they plan further investments in Fryer-Siemens machines, knowing that anything is possible given the right set of circumstances: the managerial desire to ask what if, the strength of a machinist’s imagination to see the way, and the power of intuitive CNC to make it happen.

2017-09-14

Picture credits: Siemens AG

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