Flexible Manufacturing System Ensures Job Shop’s Future

L & R PRECISION TOOLING, INC.

“We don’t think you have to grow or die. But you do have to improve or die. Our PALLETACE system from Okuma allows us to do that.”

-Clay Leath, President, L & R Precision Tooling

Location: Lynchburg, Virginia

Okuma Equipment: PALLETACE flexible manufacturing system integrated with 3 MB-4000H horizontal machining centers; MA-600HB; MULTUS B300W; MULTUS B200W; MB-56VA

As a busy job shop, L & R Precision Tooling has a wide variety of jobs coming through the door every day. Customers value the shop’s ability to manufacture complex, tight tolerance parts, even in exotic materials. Although these can be challenging parts, L & R always insists on delivering the highest quality – a commitment they proclaim in their company slogan, “When Quality Matters.” Theirs is a good kind of busy, but an unpredictable one. How can one be prepared for what’s coming down the road, when you don’t exactly know what that will be? For this reason, L & R decided to invest in flexibility.

FULFILLING A LEGACY

L & R was formed in the spring of 1997 by Allen Leath and Don Raby. Don retired in the spring of 2004, and passed away in the fall of 2005. In August of 2013, Allen passed away unexpectedly. A tragic loss, but he’s remembered every day, and you can still find photographs hung to honor him throughout their facilities. Allen was very detail oriented, and his meticulous planning left the company on solid financial footing. Clay Leath, Allen’s brother, a deeply experienced machinist himself, immediately came on board to lead the company. Clay and Allen were very close and were sounding boards for each other as they moved through their careers. Due to this, Clay was fully aware of Allen’s plans and long-term goals for the company. Clay and his sisters, Ginger and Sherry, along with 40 total employees who all consider themselves “family,” work every day to ensure that the company fulfills these goals so they can continue Allen’s legacy.

THE VISION COMES TO LIFE

Part of Allen’s vision involved creating flexibility in L & R’s processes. The seed was planted on a trip to Missouri, where he saw Okuma’s PALLETACE flexible manufacturing system in action. Immediately he envisioned taking some jobs off their existing vertical machining centers, and transferring them to the PALLETACE so they could free up time, expand capacity and bring in more jobs. He also saw how dramatically this system reduces setup times. As Clay describes it, “if somebody calls and says, ‘can you make me X number of pieces?’ and it’s already set up in the system, all you have to do is get the material loaded in the next available opening in the machine and you can go ahead and start producing. That’s flexibility there. When we set up repeat orders, it opens up so much potential to bring in new customers, or even new work for existing customers. It was also exciting to imagine bringing in new customers without having to add a lot of additional employees."

L & R moved quickly to realize Allen’s vision. In January of 2014, with help from Mike McDaniel, their sales engineer from distributor Morris South, they installed an Okuma PALLETACE flexible manufacturing system integrated with three Okuma MB-4000H horizontal machining centers. This enables them to shorten lead times, improve pricing (even on smaller batch sizes), and accommodate schedule or quantity changes for repeat horizontal machining. With their flexible manufacturing system they can run many different jobs at one time, and even operate lights out during two shifts. Adopting this kind of advanced CNC machining technology follows a philosophy that Clay sums up nicely. “We don’t think you have to grow or die. But you do have to improve or die. Our PALLETACE system from Okuma allows us to do that.”

FLEXIBLE MANUFACTURING SYSTEM ENSURES THE FUTURE

L & R sees the flexibility they’ve gained from their PALLETACE flexible manufacturing system as a way to ensure the future for their company. “What you’ve got to do is look at what the environment is going to be three, four, or five years down the road,” explains Clay. “Are you going to be prepared for changes? Because everything changes. What you manufacture today I’m sure will change five years down the road, because technology improves and everything else like materials, and customer demand changes. So it just makes sense to prepare for the future, and this PALLETACE system is the perfect way to go.” Just a few years ago L & R was operating in 12,000 square feet, with 27 employees. Today they have 57,800 square feet and 40 employees. According to Clay, “the exciting thing is where we can go from here. We’re just getting started.”

Learn More: Watch L & R’s time-lapse video that shows the entire two week installation of their PALLETACE flexible manufacturing system in just under three minutes.

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