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How Wagner Machine Makes the Hard Jobs Look Easy

Wagner Machine, located in central Illinois, prides itself on seldom saying no to any request that is within their wheelhouse (precision parts you can hold in your hand). In fact, their motto is, “The difficult we do right away, the impossible will take a little longer.” We asked CEO Kurt Wagner to explain why they manage to succeed where other shops fail, and how Ellison Technologies and DN Solutions machine tools fit into the process.

Organic Growth

“My parents started the company in 1982,” Wagner said. “Dad enjoyed being a one-man shop, but word soon got out about the quality of his work, and the business just expanded.”

Wagner Machine entered the CNC age in the mid-80s with the purchase of a Daewoo PUMA 10. In the beginning, the shop worked on whatever people brought in. With the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as a neighbor, researchers and graduate students found their way to the growing facility. “A lot of work was brought to us that people weren’t even sure could be made,” Wagner said. “Customers came to us with projects that other shops wouldn't touch (or quote), or they had tried and failed. Then they would bring it to us and we were able to make the parts right the first time.”

“So early on, we were solving problems, pushing limits, and doing work people weren’t sure was even possible. And that’s who we became.”

Low volume prototypes made up the bulk of the work at first. According to Wagner, “The focus on prototype machining and oddball parts made us stronger and helped us fine-tune our processes for production.” Production now is 90% of the company's business while still maintaining robust prototype capabilities.

Going Big with Ellison

Since Wagner Machine has traditionally made smaller pieces, most of their mills have typically been small. “We were looking for something with a 2' x 4' travel range,” Wagner said. “We wanted superior rigidity and a high RPM spindle because we wanted to make larger parts that included small features.”

Since the competition didn't seem to have enough rigidity in the larger, beefier VMC range, Ellison suggested the DN Solutions DMN 6700. “It was more rigid, really fast, and still had a nice price point,” he said. “We customized it with the high RPM spindle, and it has worked out great for us.”

“When we have jobs with surface finish or tool life issues, we move them right to the DNM 6700, even if they’re small parts in stainless or titanium. They run noticeably better on the DN than on the lighter-duty equipment. It's comical to see 2-inch parts in a machine with 4 feet of travel, but it works extremely well for us and sometimes we run a bunch of parts at a time to make use of the travel.”

Ellison Expertise + PUMA Power

Wagner Machine had a PUMA 2600Y on the floor that they had bought second-hand . “It's our largest lathe, and we were impressed when we bought it,” Kurt said. “It has enough power to take nice heavy cuts, has good rigidity, and it's easy to maintain. The quality of the live tooling was better than anything we’d had up to that point.”

So, when the time came to replace four smaller lathes in the shop, Ellison Technologies was at the top of the list. “The old machines were all single spindle, no live tooling, and no automatic bar feeders,” Kurt said. “We wanted to increase part diameter capacity and raise productivity, so we put in a call to Ellison.” As a result, three PUMA 2100SY-II machines with bar feeders were installed at the end of 2022.

“The new PUMAs have been great,” Kurt said. “Ellison did some adjusting and tuning until they were running to perfection.”

Ellison helped Wagner Machine make the equipment as versatile as possible from the beginning. According to Wagner, “Ellison has done a lot of installations, so when we were in the buying process, we told them what we wanted to do, and they were able to propose proven solutions.”

Challenging and Satisfying Workplace

Wagner Machine doesn't have a lot of employee turnover. “I'd like to think it has a lot to do with the way we treat people and the interesting mix of parts we do. We’re always looking at new challenges,” Wagner said. “Our machinists work with the best equipment, tooling, workholding, and software available. And since everyone on the management team has a machining background, we all speak the same language.”

He summed up the Wagner Machine philosophy like this: “It feels good to solve problems that other people think are impossible. With the right machines and people, you can work miracles. The difficult we do right away, the impossible will take a little longer.”

Whatever manufacturing niche you've carved out for yourself, Ellison Technologies can provide equipment, expertise, and support to help you grow. Get in touch today and tell us about your next big project.

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