Chris Koepfer

Chris Koepfer has been involved in metalworking for 30 years. His first 14 were in the machine tool group at Cincinnati Milacron where he honed his technical writing skills in turning, machining and grinding before joining Modern Machine Shop in 1992 as an associate editor. In 2001, he helped found MMS’ sister publication Production Machining, which speaks to the precision machined parts segment of the industry. Chris is graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, as are three of his four children, and an XU basketball fan—which can be as daunting as working in metalworking, he says.

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 24. November 2015

Expanding for the Future


On Nov. 19 and 20, Marubeni Citizen-Cincom (MCC) hosted an open house to celebrate the expansion of their North American headquarters in Allendale, New Jersey. The guest list of almost 300 was made up of customers, Japanese executives, distributors and current employees from as far west as California and as far south as Florida. This expansion comes on the heels of MCC’s new Mexican office that opened in Queretaro last month.

The 2-day event showcased the expansion of the New Jersey facility that went from 26,000 square feet to more than 42,000 square feet.  Not only does the expansion increase warehouse capacity, add office space, include an expansive machine tool showroom, quality/inspection area, beautiful 30-seat conference room, with accompanying 30-foot-long conference table, workout area and break room, it also makes room for a  large job shop that handles in-house repairs on spindles, ballscrews, motors and more. 

“One of the main reasons for the expansion is to serve our customers with parts from one central location,” says MCC’s executive V.P. and COO John Antignani. Mr Antignani has been an employee of the company from the beginning—for more than 30 years. Where he’s not only been witness to MCC’s growth, he’s had a lot to do with it. “The new service warehouse now holds more than $20 million in its parts inventory.” With the help of five massive Remstar shuttling units, the inventory is now more organized than ever.

During the open house there was a special celebratory presentation of the company’s 10,000th machine being delivered—an L20 type 10 machine—a milestone the organization is very proud of.

Chris Noble and Scott Rymer from the Norman Nobel company—the customer who purchased the L20 type 10 machine—were on hand for the special recognition. They were presented with a brass rhythm clock made by Citizen and a commemorative plaque. Mr. Nobel took the opportunity to thank presenters Kenji Yamashita, president and CEO, and Mr. Antignani for their partnership in business and went on to say, “The reason we own so many Citizens is because they are reliable, accurate and the service is fantastic.” Norman Nobel is a Cleveland-based company that serves the medical device, orthopedic and implant market.

Based on its track record, MCC is likely already looking for its next opportunity to expand.

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 20. November 2015

Grob Holds In-House Exhibition

Grob’s in-house exhibition was well attended and included tours of the company’s sprawling Mindelheim, Germany, manufacturing headquarters. 

Recently, I attended an open house in Mindelheim, Germany, the headquarters of machine tool builder Grob. In attendance were customers, representatives from the company’s global distribution network and suppliers from tooling, software and workholding companies. It was actually a mini trade show.

Grob is a family business that began in 1926 in Munich. It moved to its current location in Mindelheim in 1968, building a manufacturing campus that continues to grow. I was told they are the second largest builder in Europe and that the concentration of manufacturing facilities at the headquarters represents the largest concentration of machine tool building in Europe.

The company also manufactures in Bluffton, Ohio, Brazil, and China. Part of the company’s manufacturing strategy is to make these three satellite plants capable of making the same product lines as the German headquarters. They do this by pursuing vertical integration.

Highlighted at the open house was the line of universal machining centers built around the company’s G series of HMCs with multitasking capability. These machines are modular in design and can be customized with workholding, palletization, extended tool storage and myriad of other modules to customize the base model to a given application.

The other side of the company’s business involves machining systems that serve the automotive industry, in which Grob holds a significant market share.

Another highlight of the visit is called Grob-Net 4 Industry. According to Christian Grob, this connectivity package was implemented and tested in the Grob factories and is now being offered to its customers. We’re seeing this trend from other machine tool builders as Industry 4.0 and what we call the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) gains momentum.

It was an interesting and enlightening visit. 

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 12. November 2015

TRAM Visit Brings AMRC to Light


A major part of my week-long tour of England included a stop in Sheffield. Here, I attended TRAM, which is an acronym for Trends in Advanced Machining, Manufacturing and Materials.

This was its fourth edition, and the second TRAM held in the U.K. Over 2 days, 24 world-class presentations rolled across the stage. Sessions were grouped into topics that included manufacturing in the future, assembly and metrology, materials, additive manufacturing and reconfigurable flexible manufacturing. I've attended few technical conferences that have been as comprehensive. While the main focus was on aerospace, many of the topics are germane to all aspects of the manufacturing sector.

At the heart of this industry-sponsored conference is AMRC, an acronym for Advanced Manufacturing Research Center. With Boeing, AMRC specializes in helping manufacturers of all sizes become more competitive by introducing advanced techniques, technologies and processes.

While in England for TRAM, I toured the AMRC campus, which was established in 2002 as effort among the University of Sheffield, industry sponsors and the government. It is currently composed of seven centers, each specializing in an aspect of advanced manufacturing. There is also a training center that is exposing the next generation of manufacturers to potential careers in manufacturing.

With its 80-plus industrial partners, AMRC has become a global source for solutions to manufacturing challenges. They are problem solvers.

The next edition of TRAM will be held during IMTS 2016 on Sept. 14-15. Consider attending during your visit to Chicago for the show. 


Posted by: Chris Koepfer 6. November 2015

Visit to Wickman Reveals Interesting Machine and Application

Chris Barrett, director at Wickman, Coventry, England, gave us a tour of the company's operation. 

Last spring at PMTS, I met with Jeremy Rose who heads up the U.S. operation for multi-spindle builder, Wickman. He wanted me to visit the company's headquarters in Coventry, England, because he said the company is doing some interesting things.

Well, I made it, and he was correct. Chris Barrett, director, was my host and showed me several machines in the build and run-off stage.

One of the machines that caught my eye is the model 675, which stands for six-spindle, 75-mm diameter. As Mr. Barrett says, this is about as far as the technology for Wickman goes. It is a 28-axis machine with CNC and compound axes of all of the cross slides.

What's really interesting is the application. The customer makes electrical connections, which are an assembly comprised of six parts. Each spindle makes one of the parts, so when the machine indexes, a complete assembly is produced. This makes double-drop pale in comparison.

My hope is to write a feature article in PM next year to tell you all about it. 

Posted by: Chris Koepfer 30. October 2015

Cutting into the Workforce Shortage

These students are getting a first-hand look at robotics in combination with CNC grinding machines.​

On Manufacturing Day, which was October 2 this year, students from Williamson County, Tennessee, toured multiple manufacturing facilities to obtain a firsthand look at local career opportunities. These 46 young men and women from middle school to high school will soon enter the workforce and are preparing for the jump by taking courses in mechatronics. The courses cover disciplines in electrical engineering, pneumatics, mechanics and robotics, which are skills required in today’s high-tech manufacturing industry.

The final tour of the day was held at Horn USA Inc. in Franklin, Tennessee, where Operations Manager David Fabry began the tour with an overview of the carbide cutting tool industry. 

“Many questions were raised and their caliber led the team at Horn USA to believe that these students are on the right track,” says Jason Farthing, responsible for technical sales and marketing.

Following the brief overview, the 46 students, their chaperones, local media reporters, members of the local chamber of commerce and board of education were given a behind the scenes tour or Horn USA that included the demonstration center, logistics and production areas. The demonstration center interested everyone as chips collided with the protective enclosures while a variety of metals were being machined on a CNC mill and a CNC lathe with Y axis. The recent installation of an automated inventory control system was of primary interest to the students learning robotics while Horn USA’s production area was impressive to all. The clean, climate controlled production area with fully enclosed CNC grinding machines allowed attendees to get up close in order to view the fully automated equipment in action.

“It was a pleasure to host these young men and women who are excited about their mechatronics program, and we hope to see them in the workforce as one of our customers or co-workers,” Mr. Farthing says.

Technical Manager John Kollenbroich explains the manufacturing process.

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