Investing For Success In Demanding Markets

This company constantly strives to uphold a quality reputation, stay lean and continue to expand its business. It attributes its most recent success to the addition of three Variaxis machining centers.


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Like what every company should strive for, Northside Machine Company (Dugger, Indiana) upholds a quality reputation, stays lean and continues to expand its business at the same time. Company management says the addition of three five-axis Mazak Variaxis 500-5X machining centers is to thank for the company’s success. Its first Variaxis machine was a used model, which allowed the company to learn about the machine’s capabilities at a fraction of the investment.

Owner Rich Smith understands that a profitable company needs to provide its employees with the resources and training required to manufacture quality products. This also means being willing to invest in the most innovative machine tools to support his business.

"We had to re-think how we did things as far as holding parts and tooling," says Mr. Smith about working the Variaxis machine into his operation. "Once we got past that, we bought two new machining centers with pallet changers. I wouldn’t buy another without a pallet changer. They give you so much more uptime on the spindles."

Northside manufactures precision components for the military, firearms, automotive and medical industries—all are demanding and competitive markets.

Mr. Smith says Northside has experienced growth every year, but the addition of these machining centers helped the company grow an additional 20 percent. "Those three machines are our mainstay," Mr. Smith adds. "We keep them running two shifts a day."

Mr. Smith notes that Northside does very little full, five-axis machining with its five-axis machines, but uses them mostly for indexing. "We can work on five sides of a part with one setting," he explains. "We run a lot of parts that have multiple holes and slots. Usually, we can finish the part if not in the first setting, in the second."

The company’s investment in Mazak machines started in 1996 when it invested in a Mazak VTC-200B VMC from its local distributor, Shelton Machinery (Fishers, Indiana). Mr. Smith researched and compared the various machine manufacturers before making his decision to partner with Shelton Machinery and Mazak. "Mazak incorporated the latest in technology on its machine tools, and Shelton Machinery displayed great knowledge of the machines it sells," he explains. Since investing in its first Mazak machine, the shop has returned to the distributor for 12 more, including the three Variaxis machining centers.

Many of Northside’s customers are established companies that require complex parts. The company is also often involved in prototyping parts and following through to the production phase. Through Mr. Smith’s leadership, the shop has the ability to machine a variety of complex parts, either in the development stage or in production because of his vision when purchasing equipment. According to Mr. Smith, "We look ahead and try to be diversified without getting away from our core business. For instance, an additional option on a lathe may not affect the current project, but could prove to be beneficial in the future." The company purchases equipment that may have more features than it currently needs, but will help the business grow in the future.

"We know what kind of work we have done in the past where various machine options would have increased efficiency," Mr. Smith explains. "Sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling, knowing an investment will ultimately pay off in the future. These types of investments make our shop more competitive."

Northside’s preventive maintenance program is another reason the company consistently provides quality parts on time to its customers. All of its Mazak machines are on a preventive maintenance schedule with Shelton Machinery. A service technician from the distributor visits the shop on a regular basis to perform routine checks. Mr. Smith says, "It helps to reduce downtime, which increases productivity. Potential problems can be recognized before they cause production issues."

To maintain a profitable and reliable business, and continue enjoying a solid reputation with customers through on-time service, quality workmanship and competitive pricing, Northside Machine management has found that using Mazak machining centers has helped the company stay lean and efficient.