From Cow Chips to Cutting Chips

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Six years ago, Dave Karlstadt decided to add on to the family’s beef cattle business, but not in the way you might expect: he started a machine shop. Dave initially invested in used Okumas, and found them to be strong and reliable for running large parts in the high tolerance range. In five years Karlstadt Machining went from a 30’ by 40’ pole building to a brand new 12,000 square foot facility, and today they’re speeding up production by bringing in new Okuma machines. The reliability of their Okumas plays a huge role in their success – being able to produce quality parts on time is their biggest advantage

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Location: Ney, Ohio
Employees: 14
Equipment: 19 Okuma machine tools: 11 vertical mills and 8 horizontal lathes. Recently added a new GENOS M560-V vertical machining center.


It’s 5:00 a.m. in the farm country of Ney, Ohio, and Dave Karlstadt is heading out for his usual long workday. With quick, purposeful strides, he nearly sprints in the direction of the cow barn, where 500 head of Holsteins look expectantly at him. Dave pushes right past the steers however, and walks into his busy machine shop, the place where he happily spends most of his time. How did these two worlds collide, agriculture and manufacturing?

Ney is an agricultural community, located in the Northwest corner of Ohio, with a population of about 348. Dave grew up there, right across town from where he lives and works today. In the Karlstadt family tradition, as soon as you can stand on a hay wagon, that’s your first day of work. So at the age of three Dave got started in the barn, feeding the beef cows.


Upon graduating from high school, Dave had no desire to attend college, so this meant he needed to get a job, pronto. A friend was working in a machine shop that specialized in medical implants, and he helped Dave get a job there. He worked at this shop for six years, then spent a year at an air tool company, and eventually moved on to manage a general job shop for 12 years. This last shop ran all Okumas. “Being around manufacturing for a while, I was exposed to a wide variety of machine tools,” Dave recalls. “The Okumas seem to be the ones we have the easiest time running, and they’re the most reliable.”


Six years ago, Dave struck out on his own and started Karlstadt Machining. He still wanted to maintain the family agricultural business, but felt that adding manufacturing to his portfolio would balance out the slow periods between the two. And indeed it has worked out that way – when agriculture is slow, manufacturing is busy, and vice versa. As he planned his first machine tool purchases, he knew, based on his experience, that Okumas would be reliable enough to meet his objective for delivering quality parts, always on time.


There was one more important criteria in his search for machine tools: Dave wanted to build his business on a cash basis. “Some people say that’s just the farmer in me, wanting to buy only with cash. But whatever it is, that’s how I choose to do business.” This is where the Okumas provide another advantage, because he was able to purchase used equipment and successfully built his business with “the old green machines.” Dave worked with Infinity Rebuild (the only authorized Okuma rebuild provider) to spruce up his used Okumas, and his first machines were an LB15 and a MC-4VAE. “It’s been really good,” says Dave. “Okumas are built with heavy iron, and we have very little trouble with them. They just keep holding up and repeating. We can still hold plus or minus 5 to 10 thou, so we’re holding very tight tolerances with them. Some of our Okumas are beyond 40,000 hours on the clock meter, and we can still run parts in the high tolerance range.”


In the early stages Karlstadt was careful with their investments, and the investments quickly paid off. The company quickly doubled in size, and they purchased many other used Okumas along the way. Shop Manager Ryan Jacobs has been along for the entire ride. “When most people drive by here, they think it’s just a steer farm,” Ryan chuckles. “But we do some amazing stuff in this shop that most people can’t even fathom.”


Karlstadt primarily serves the oil and steel industries, and does a lot of die work as well. They tend to run large parts, averaging between 45 and 50 pounds each. “That’s another thing the Okumas seem to be able to handle better, the heavier parts,” Dave explains. “I was told a long time ago that the way you can tell whether you’re getting a good machine or not is to look at the shipping weight. Our Okumas, even the new ones, are quite a bit heavier than any other brand of comparably-sized machine tools, and they’re more rigid because of that.”


Another Okuma advantage they enjoy is the Mid-Auto function on the control, which allows the operator to easily stop and restart program execution. “In the middle of the program, at any point in time, you can completely stop the machine and then hit restart, and it goes right back to where it came from. That’s a pretty nice feature.”


Rob Gallagher, of Okuma distributor Gosiger Inc., stops by Karlstadt from time to time just to check in and talk machine tools with Dave and the crew, and to see when they might be ready for a new machine. For a while, Dave continued buying used machines, following his no-debt philosophy. Finally the day came when he was extra glad Rob stopped by, because he was ready to invest in a new machine (yes, another cash purchase). Dave wanted to have more opportunity with 3D milling and higher speed, while sticking with Okuma. They decided on a GENOS M560-V vertical machining center. “With all the technology, from the PC-based controller to the speed the machine can run at – with all that functionality we’re able to run parts in less time and compete with the rest of the world,” says Dave.


On the day the GENOS was scheduled to be installed there was a big blizzard in Ney, and Dave had to take his tractor down the road to tow the delivery truck in for the last two miles. He really needed that new machine in production right away, so the Gosiger service technician stayed all night to get the GENOS installed and running. They ran parts the very next day. “You can’t ask for much more than that kind of service,” says Dave.


Today cow chips are still being “produced” on the Karlstadt farm. But the machine shop has gotten so busy cutting chips, they’ve hired their neighbors to take care of feeding the steers. Karlstadt went from a one-building shop to four buildings in five years, and recently they’ve consolidated operations into a brand new 12,000 square foot building, right next to the cow barns. According to Ryan, “we’ll probably double again in the next five years.” Dave agrees. “The reliability of Okuma machines plays a huge role in our success. We don’t have to worry about downtime. Our direction for the next five years will be to add a couple more GENOS machine tools, plus a horizontal machining center with a pallet changer. Being able to produce quality parts on time is our biggest advantage."

Karlstadt Video
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