James “Jay” Campbell had no idea that when he and his brother Larry were paid pennies per unit to help their dad deburr injection-molded parts every evening during their high school years, the experience shaped their futures. With more than a decade of hands-on experience, Jay founded Campbell Engineering in Lake Forest, California, 19 years ago, but he still considers himself more machinist than CEO. He consults Larry for advice and is thrilled that his own daughters and son-in-law now work with him at Campbell Engineering.

Campbell Engineering has found a niche machining parts for medical laser systems.

Jay’s company has found its niche milling highly complex, low-volume components – primarily aluminum parts for medical laser instruments, developing a reputation for high quality and customer service standards while delivering parts on time. Recently, Campbell Engineering has been evolving from a job shop into more of a contract manufacturer, as current clients ramp up part quantities. Adding a Makino PS95 vertical machining center (VMC) and a51 horizontal machining center has allowed the company to expand its capacity as it shifts its business model.

“Both the PS95 and a51 have enabled us to accomplish our goal of expanding capacity beyond what was capable from previous conventional vertical machining centers,” Jay says. “Both machines are cutting 60% to 70% more aggressively than the other machines on our shop floor.”

Managing growth

Campbell Engineering had used conventional VMCs for its operation, equipment that fulfilled Jay’s dream of starting his own shop and had served the company well for many years. But he knew that adding new technology would help the company grow.

“We didn’t seek new equipment because we were having problems,” Jay says. “We just needed to better manage our expansion. There were new opportunities we did not want to pass up. Customer needs have changed in the last 5-to-10 years, and we are going from prototypes to production. To meet this new business opportunity, we wanted to increase capacity, and that required a new strategy that would enable our business to thrive without adding additional labor.”

The company had already grown from a one-man shop to a two-shift operation, and had expanded from an 800ft2 to 11,500ft2 building. Recognizing growing pains similar to those his father’s business had once experienced, Jay spoke to his brother Larry about the Makino machining solutions they had put in place during their growth spurt.

“Larry told me that he was extremely impressed by the quality, service, and productive performance of the Makino machines they had acquired,” Jay says. “So our Campbell Engineering team scheduled a meeting with SST, our local Makino distributor, to learn more.”

Campbell Engineering purchased a PS95 VMC in late 2013.

“I was still hesitant to take a chance with a horizontal machining center, so I decided that my first Makino purchase would be a VMC,” Jay says. “I knew we couldn’t go wrong due to the production capability, product quality and pricing, which were all the main factors in my decision. SST had the machine installed and running at the shop within 48 hours of delivery and also brought in a Makino engineer for on-site training with three of the company’s operators.”

Faster operations

Campbell Engineering is already seeing big improvements as it expands its capacity.

“Our cutting performance has improved significantly,” says Steve Butner, machinist supervisor. “On both machines, we have increased spindle speeds and feed rates by 50% to 70%.”

The PS95 became the company’s number one workhorse for larger applications with limited operations that require high metal-removal rates (MRR) and precise true positioning.

A machinist at Campbell Engineering runs parts on a Makino PS95 vertical machining center (VMC). Since upgrading from commodity VMCs, the PS95 has become the company’s workhorse for larger workpieces.

“The PS95 is pretty impressive compared to our previous machines,” Steve adds. “We like the speed of the tool changes and the machine rigidity. We feel like it has the performance equivalent of two to three other machines in the shop. We used to run our commodity machine at 800rpm while feeding it at 8ipm. We run the spindle on the PS95 at 3,200rpm and feed it at 30ipm to 35ipm.”

On a beam splitter used for medical devices, Steve says machinists were able to drop cycle times from 42 minutes on commodity VMCs to 25 minutes on the PS95. Repeatability also improved. He adds that higher horsepower and torque allowed Campbell machinists to be 60% to 70% more aggressive with cuts, even using smaller tools. Campbell Engineering also uses the PS95 to perform high-performance roughing operations and establish datum points on the first operation.

“We try to nail the first position perfectly, because all subsequent operations come off of it,” Steve says. “This strategy has enabled us to use the PS95’s strongest advantages across the widest number of applications.”

Hungry beast

A few months after installing the VMC, the company added the Makino a51 horizontal machining center (HMC).

“The HMC would help us combine operations and improve quality, since the products we are making require five-to-eight operations and a true position of 0.001",” Steve says.

SST provided the machine installations and related fixturing and consumable needs, even suggesting that Campbell add a Techni-Grip work-holding system to the a51.

“SST responded to all of our questions and stayed with us until we were completely up and running. The Makino service personnel were everything you would expect from a premium machine manufacturer. We received progress updates from their technicians throughout the day during the installation process,” Jay says. He adds that when Campbell Engineering encounters applications requiring three or more operations, the a51 is its go-to solution to machine the part complete.

The rigid design and high-powered spindle on the Makino PS95 have enabled Campbell to increase speeds and feedrates by 50% to 70%.

“With the B-axis table, we are able to access more part features, consolidate operations, reduce setups, and use fewer tools – all of which maximize spindle utilization,” Butner says. “We came up with 50% faster cycle times without much effort.”

One Campbell Engineering operator describes the a51 machine as a beast that is always hungry.

“We continue to keep pushing the machine’s cutting parameters further and further, and it just keeps taking on more and more,” Steve explains. “We can’t get parts programmed fast enough to run through the machine. With the 14,000rpm spindle, we feel like the sky’s the limit on the feed rates. You can be as aggressive as you want when programming it. You just need the proper tools. And even with the increased machining speed, we do not see an increase in tool wear. We attribute this to both the rigidity of our Makino mills and our quality tool holders.”

Jay adds that about six months after the a51 was in place and employees were trained, “We knew that we made the right choice. Any worries about ROI went away as soon as we fired it up and saw what it could do. The machine has proved to be what we’ve hoped for, and more. Not only have cycle times been reduced, the equipment is much more repeatable and accuracy has improved. This means that we spend less time struggling with setups and first articles, saving time and money in our quality department.”

Campbell Engineering has found a niche machining parts for medical laser systems.

The machine enables the company to take existing jobs and complete them using more efficient solutions.

“It’s fun to find new ways of doing things,” Jay says. “That kind of creativity makes this job fun. I want to do things faster and more accurately than the competition. And the speed and rigidity of both of the machines allow us to accomplish that.”

Maximizing efficiency
James “Jay” Campbell (left), owner and CEO of Campbell Engineering, stands with his brother, Larry Campbell, president of AFAB Precision Machining. The brothers grew up machining parts and both have remained in manufacturing.

Campbell Engineering operates each machine with its individual strengths in mind, maximizing value. Between the two, the company tries to run as many jobs as it can.

“Since we have been using Makino machines, we have not only seen a significant reduction in cycle times, but we have also been able to run additional volumes of certain parts,” Steve explains. “Moreover, from a programming standpoint, we are much more aggressive in the way we approach cutting material.”

Being more aggressive in the cut has improved Campbell’s throughput and profitability.

“We feel that this equipment is far superior compared to our previous equipment,” Steve adds. “At Campbell, we hold tight tolerances; ±0.0005" is not uncommon. We have already observed a decrease in setup time and in holding positional tolerances. We used to spend time trying to locate the sweet spot for the part. But the PS95 and a51 are so repeatable. This saves a lot of time, maintains quality, and eliminates scrap. We can produce high-quality parts in a fraction of the time than we did with our previous equipment.”

As the company continues to expand with more high-mix, low-volume work, it has already purchased another Makino HMC, the a51nx, as well as a Makino U6 wire EDM to give the company even more control over quality and scheduling.

“We currently outsource $8,000 to $10,000 per month in wire EDM work,” Jay notes. “And based on the user-friendly design of Makino’s U6, we believe we can quickly eliminate those expenses while obtaining additional flexibility for the future.”

Campbell Engineering knows that acquiring new technology can help it maintain its competitive edge.

“We know that the companies that are growing are the ones that have the nerve to invest in technology to obtain power, speed, and accuracy. As bidding for work remains competitive, we need this kind of advantage to stay ahead,” Jay says. “Because we have Makino equipment, our customers will know that we’re serious about making accurate parts. They are some of the most top-rated, cutting-edge tools out there. We enjoy showing them off when someone visits our shop. It makes them feel confident knowing that we have the capacity to handle their needs. We believe that quality breeds quality, and we look forward to growing our business as we acquire more Makino machines.”

Makino Inc.


IMTS 2016 Booth #S-8700

Campbell Engineering