The fusion ignition breakthrough announced recently by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory began with a meeting 65 years ago. The James Webb Space Telescope took 20 years to build and another five years just to launch. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been in development for over 23 years and it still isn’t in the high-rate production phase.
Not All Projects Move Slowly
Aerospace and defence CNC machining projects don’t exactly have the reputation of being quick off the drawing board. That doesn’t reflect the reality of the industry, though. At Ben Machine, we’ve learned we often have to turn on a dime to keep up with the changing demands of our customers -and their customers.
National defence and security can change overnight. A sudden threat by one country can prompt another to ramp up the deployment of monitoring equipment effectively immediately. The outbreak of hostilities will evoke major changes in a nation’s defence priorities and plans. The big headline projects like a new fighter jet or space telescope do indeed move at a rather glacial pace most of the time. Plans have to be made, budgets approved and funded, contracts awarded, and so forth. It all takes time. But if your country is being invaded or wildfires are threatening towns, you’ll probably have to throw your plans out the window and do something you hadn’t anticipated. That’s the world where Ben Machine lives most of the time.
Customer Needs Come First
Most of our customers in military, defence, aerospace, medical, etc., are what you might call “off-the-shelf” integrators. They tend to design, manufacture and sell devices and components that can be used on various platforms and in different situations. One week, they may get a sudden call for a product, requiring us to shift gears to get parts produced for them as quickly as possible. The following week, it could be a different part that’s required. We have to be able to respond to those demands as they happen. Our CRM software uses artificial intelligence to help us organize production machining schedules, allocate resources, and ensure we have sufficient materials to fulfill those orders.
Ben Machine exists in what’s known as a high-mix, low-volume production environment. We’re not producing parts by the million for a video game controller. Our typical projects call for a few thousand parts. What sets us apart is the incredible complexity of those parts. They simply can’t be machined by most facilities. It’s that environment of rapidly changing demands for very specialized CNC machining that drives our business model.
Integration With Our Customers for the Win
Ben Machine actually handles inventory management for some customers. That means we have to know how their business operates, what kind of inventory levels they need to maintain, and how to handle surges or changes in the demands of their customers. That’s another way our CRM software keeps us running efficiently. As soon as they get an order, we get notified. Our software begins making sure we can meet the demand. If we’re short on inventory, it notifies us; if we need to rearrange how equipment is allocated in the shop, it organizes those changes while making sure our other commitments aren’t neglected. Our CNC machining pros know they may be called on to shift gears depending on customer needs, and the system works beautifully.
This agility -being both willing and able to reorganize our plans for our customers, even quickly adding new CNC machines when necessary- has been a cornerstone of our business model since Day 1. We’ve grown tremendously since those early days, but through it all, we’ve maintained that ability to do whatever is needed to take care of our customers.
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