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PCI Machining: Why Buy 4 Machines When 3 Will Do?

With a recent Ellison overhaul, this Indianapolis shop has growth in its future.

Despite the storied history of PCI dating back to the early 1950s, when Ivan Hess purchased the company in May 2020, it was struggling. Decades-old Haas machines and WWII-era custom cam and gear machines were doing their best, but a change was clearly needed. And fast.

Step 1: Identify the OEM Partner

In June 2022, Keith Bentz joined PCI as a manufacturing consultant. He and the PCI team reached out to six different manufacturers to look at their part mix and get suggestions on new equipment to invest in. Alex Nowicki, Sales Engineer at Ellison Technologies, did a full assessment to look at profiles, part drawings, and needs.

By the time IMTS 2022 rolled around, PCI had narrowed the candidates down to three: DMG Mori, Mazak, and Ellison. PCI and most of their candidate OEMs identified four machines needed to completely upgrade the operation, but their accountants told them they could only afford three.

Step 2: Identify the Four Three Machines

At IMTS, PCI visited the HELLER booth to see a custom external and internal gear demo part on the HF 5500.

“That part demo would have required 3 or 4 of our machines and taken about 12 hours to make,” Hess said. “The HF did it in one setup in 22 minutes. It was mind-blowing.”

The HF 3500 from HELLER was identified as machine #1 right then and there.

At the DN Solutions (formerly Doosan Machine Tools) booth, the PUMA 3100LSY was chosen because it could easily satisfy PCI’s turning needs.

And the best news of all: the 5-axis DVF 8000T, thanks to its turning functionality, could pull double duty as both a 5-axis mill and a vertical turning lathe that could handle large turning work. Ellison had found a way to satisfy all parties—machinists and accountants.

“The novel approach with the DVF 8000T really sealed the deal for us,” said Bentz. “Ellison was the most determined to find creative solutions, and the only one to suggest three machines instead of four. It was clear that they were steering us based on what was most beneficial for us and not necessarily for them.”

Step 3: Get the Machines on the Floor

With the arrival of the HELLER HF 3500, PCI got their parts off of 3-axis machines and onto a machine that knocked them out in a setup or two. The machine makes aerospace parts for PCI, and it does the job well. “It’s extremely fast and rigid, and it’s hard to overwork it,” Hess said. “Anything we’ve thrown at it, it takes. We haven’t even begun to tap its full potential.”

The DVF 8000T makes large diameter stainless cam plates for one of PCI’s top customers. Special fixturing was needed, so Ellison tapped SMW Autoblok to develop the workholding.

“The DVF has blown us away,” Hess said. “We used to machine a 26” forged stainless gear blank in 17 hours. Now we do it in 2.5. And we can probably trim another half hour or so. And the probing tech is like having a CMM; you know you have a good part when you’re done.”

Finally, PCI welcomed the PUMA 3100LSY turning center. “Previously, we’d turn parts on lathes and transfer them to ancient gear cutters,” said Hess. “Now we do it in one setup. Small parts now take us 4 or 5 minutes on the PUMA. It was previously 15 to 20 minutes across multiple machines.”

Step 4: Grow the Relationship, Grow the Company

“Ellison is a full-bore solution provider,” Bentz said. “They stand by us through our challenges and growing pains.”

PCI relies on Ellison for on-machine services like equipment, workholding, tooling guidance, Solidworks CAD software, and a PM service agreement, but it doesn’t stop there. We work with them on ERP consultation, financing through Manufacturers Financing Service, and helping them hire with Ellison Staffing.

“We needed someone to take our new tech and run with it,” Bentz said. “Ellison started sending us some candidates and we hired the fourth person they sent. He’s been a great fit. Knows his stuff and fits the company culture.”

The PCI evolution is surely satisfying for Hess in particular. The company is completely transformed compared to what it was when he bought it in 2020. “We’re a machine shop that’s invested heavily in itself, and we’re ready to take on new challenges,” he said. “We have the capacity. In multiple ways, we’re positioned for growth.”

If you have a similar desire for consistent growth, talk to Ellison Technologies. We have a combination of exemplary machine tools and outstanding support that few other partners can match.