Get On With It or Get Out Of It
I was a bit surprised when I got the call. Bryan Godby, Sales Engineer for Gosiger Indiana, wanted to bring a customer over to look at an Okuma machine tool at Morris Midwest in the Chicago area (where my office is located). It was easier for Bryan and his customer to come here than to travel down to Charlotte, and we also happened to have the machine they wanted to see – a MULTUS B300. This wasn’t the surprising part, we’re always happy to help a fellow Okuma distributor. The unusual part of this request was the fact that the customer is Amish. Wait, I thought. Aren’t the Amish known for keeping an old world lifestyle? Images of horse-drawn buggies popped into my head. (As I soon found out, this wasn’t far off the mark!)
Ken Mullet, the owner of Northern Indiana Axle, arrived with Bryan and he was full of high-quality questions about the MULTUS. Here he was, with the classic long beard, Amish hat and homemade clothes, but his level of understanding of the CNC technology we were discussing was top notch. I discovered it had taken an interesting career journey to get here.
The Manual Shop
In 1984 Ken married, and by 1986 he’d staked out a business doing fencing for local farms. But this business was seasonal, and it only took a couple winters, plus urging from his wife, before Ken was looking for something to balance this out. In 1989 he purchased a company that was making axles for horse-drawn buggies, an all-manual shop. He ran both businesses and succeeded in staying busy year-round.
Get On With It or Get Out of It
The big game changer came in 1994, when Ken attended IMTS. “My eyes opened up to what was out there in the world, and what I was competing with,” said Ken. “I still had all-manual equipment at the time. So I said to myself either get on with it or get out of it.” Two years later Ken bought his first new Okuma, a big bore Cadet.
Many Okumas Later…
Ken left fencing for good in 2000 and focused on his machine shop business full time. In the beginning the entire facility was 7,500 square feet. In 2010 Northern Indiana Axle purchased a 60,000 square foot building in Nappanee, Indiana where they have 8 Okumas in operation, including the new MULTUS. In the photo above you can see the new addition, along with Ken’s youngest son Marcus at the left, and his third son Aaron at the right. In the center is Merl, an employee who came to Northern Indiana Axle right out of school. Also playing key roles at the shop are Ken’s oldest son Steven, Production Manager, and daughter Julia, who helps out when she’s not teaching at the local school.
Ease of Use for Operators
According to Ken, “the reason we started with Okuma was because we needed the support that comes with the machine. We couldn’t have stepped up to more advanced technology without the support of our distributor.” He developed a good relationship with his local Okuma distributor immediately, and that connection still runs strong today with Bryan Godby and Gosiger Indiana. Ease of use is another important reason they stick with Okumas over the years. In the Amish community they can’t run electricity in the shop, but they do run their CNC machines off a generator. “Because we don’t have electricity throughout our shop, we can’t just run over to a computer. We do everything right on the machine. So one of the reasons we’ve stayed with Okuma all these years is that they’re user-friendly for our operators. We really like that you can take a program from one machine tool to another and it will read it just fine.”
More Competitive Than Ever
Through his journey in the CNC world Ken started out with pretty simple technology, but always kept moving up, step by step. In the last couple years he’s taken a leap forward in the technology he’s bringing in. This has allowed him to reduce setup times and reduce cost, plus he’s diversified his customer base. Today he’s more competitive in his market than ever.
I wanted to share this story because I’m just so impressed with the achievements of this company, going from an old world lifestyle into some of the highest technology you can get in the business world. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Mark Hamielec is Applications Engineer, Okuma America Corporation.