Running a Machine Shop like a Tech Company, with David Wynn–EP 63

May 26, 2023 - 1:34pm -- Selcuk Gulboy

Lately, Graff-Pinkert has seen a lot of new opportunities for our used machinery business–particularly in the category of machines that I like to call “Sexy Ugly.” Many customers are clearing the decks of their dirty Acme, Davenport, and Brown & Sharpe cam screw machines to become pure CNC machine shops, while at the same time, quite a few machining companies are still embracing those ancient cast iron beasts.

I know I’m not saying anything that most of you readers don’t already know, but to people outside the machining industry, it must seem pretty bizarre to see many successful companies loading up on technology from 60 years ago while their competitors are buying the newest CNC machines on the market.

It made me think back to a classic Swarfcast double episode, (EP 63 and EP 64), in which I interviewed David Wynn, the CFO of ABF Engineering and Machining, whose production consists of 50% CNC work and 50% Brown and Sharpe screw machine work.

Wynn told me in the interview that in a high production run he often can get a closer tolerance on a Brown and Sharpe screw machine than on a modern CNC machine because the machine is rigid like a tank. He jokes that “a Brown and Sharpe was a CNC before CNC was cool.”

I know this equation only applies to certain types of parts, but still, what a crazy world when you can make a part in 10 seconds with a machine that cost $5,000, while your competition is making the same part in 40 seconds on a machine they bought for $150,000.

I called David up yesterday to check up on him four years later. He says about 50% of the work is still on single spindle Browne & Sharpe cam screw machines, and his operation continues to be more automated.

I hope you enjoy the interview. I believe it has remained quite current.

Make sure to check out both EP 63 and EP 64.

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Main Points of the Interview

Today’s Swarfcast is part one of an interview we did with David Wynn, CFO of ABF Engineering and Machining, a third generation screw machine shop in South Fulton, Tennessee. After earning an MBA, David joined his family’s business 17 years ago. His stated mission is to run a machining business composed of old cam screw machines as though it were a tech company.

(2:40) Dave gives a history of ABF Engineering and Machining. The business was started by his grandparents and father in 1976. They primarily ran Brown & Sharpe screw machines.

(4:45) Dave talks about the machines in his shop. He said the company has Haas lathes, CNC Swiss, and a CNC mill, but still more than 50 percent of the company’s work is done on Brown & Sharpe screw machines. The company is running 15 Brown & Sharpes currently, but Dave says he has about 100 in the building.

(6:30) Dave gives a brief education about Brown & Sharpes. He says what makes Brown & Sharpes productive is that an operator can work with the turret and other tools simultaneously. The machines are extremely rigid, and have a gear driven 5Hp motor.

(12:47) Dave explains how building a cam for a Brown & Sharpe screw machine is similar to writing a CNC program for a Swiss machine. The main difference is the CNC program is immediately implemented while the cam takes days to build.

(14:45) Dave talks about how he came into the business. He had never stepped foot in the shop before he turned 18 years old. While in college and grad school he began working at the company. He earned an MBA, but instead of going into the finance industry he fell in love with the machining business and decided to do it full time.

(18:40) Dave talks about how ABF Engineering and Machining changed after he and his father bought it from his grandfather. He says they chose to focus on creating a new culture based on teamwork and innovative work practices. They prefer to hire people who fit into the company’s culture rather than hire based on an applicant’s talent.

(21:55) Dave talks about the company’s unconventional practices for work hours. Its employees have the flexibility to work when they like and choose how many hours they work as long as they get their work done and work as a team. He says that most outsiders look at him like he is a space alien when he tells them about some of his policies.

(28:40) Dave says that usually the people who are most successful at his company are the ones who put in a lot of hours at the shop and also at home. One of the characteristics he looks for in a great employee is someone who is constantly trying to better herself.

Questions: What is your favorite non-CNC machine tool?

Do you know how to run a Brown and Sharpe?

Don’t forget to check out the podcast and summary for EP 64!

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