Machining Company Employs Swiss Turning Expertise for Miniature Parts   David Gaines


In order to stay competitive in the world of modern manufacturing, machining companies must invest earnestly in their futures. One machining company near Seattle, Northwest Automatics, Inc., continues to adjust to the ever-changing manufacturing landscape by increasing plant space dramatically, investing in new high-tech machining equipment, and creating a niche that is effectively carrying the company into the digital manufacturing revolution.

In less than three years after its founding in 1993, the ISO-9001-2008 certified company acquired a 10,000-square-foot building to handle its increasing production workload. Eventually, it acquired another 10,000-square-foot building for maintenance, storage, and customer fulfillment. Last year, Northwest Automatics added an additional 10,000 square feet by adding a third building. “We’ve added extra machining capability, and upgraded our quality control department by adding new equipment in both areas,” stated Cristina Ketola, the general manager and sales manager of the family-owned company, located in Kent, Washington. “And we still have more room for expansion in the future.”

“One piece of production equipment that we purchased for this new facility is a Mori Seiki NV-2000, twin turret, CNC turning center,” says Cristina Ketola. “We also brought several other turning centers into the new building. We might be doing more milling work in the future, so we have room to bring in new milling machines, if necessary. The secondary operations that we handle are done in our other building, which is next door to the new building. For quality control, we bought a MicroVu and a Form Tracer. These QC machines will help us check very tight tolerances, and they can check surface finishes, dimensions, and visual properties. We renovated the whole QC department after adding the new equipment, so everything is now in the new building.”

While milling is available, most of the company’s work is focused on conventional CNC turning and CNC Swiss turning for parts of all shapes and sizes, with a specialty niche in precision miniature parts. “The Swiss turning machines are better for tight tolerance work,” says Mike Ketola, the company’s founder and president, and Cristina’s father. “The Swiss machines, for example, are good for small connectors, since they are more precision machines. We do our large parts on the regular turning centers, parts up to ten inches in diameter. We make a lot of small brass parts that go into electronic switches and temperature control devices for trucks,” he added.

The machine shop’s equipment inventory includes a sophisticated Deco 2000, 13-axis, CNC Swiss turning machine, a piece of equipment that added increased value to the company’s machine tool capability. “The Deco 2000 has 21 tools available with it, so it opens up a larger range of Swiss parts that can be machined,” says Cristina Ketola. “The lengths and diameters can be bigger, and more complex parts and parts with intricate insides can be done more easily. And we can handle a lot of geometry with its 13-axis capability,” she continued. “We also have a twin turret, Mori Seiki, NZ-2000 CNC turning center that handles our complex regular turning work. And the parts are full, complete parts, near net shape when they come off the NZ-2000.”

Although Northwest Automatics (www.nwautomaticsinc.com) makes parts for a variety of industries, including automotive, medical, recreational, and agricultural, many of the company’s parts are for the aerospace and aviation fields. The company routinely makes firing mechanism parts for torpedoes and electronic parts for missile projects. In addition, high-precision, critical medical parts are made for dialysis machines and oxygen tank regulators mounted in hospital rooms.

Although the company doesn’t handle any finishing processes in-house, it provides for its clients a large variety of secondary processes, such as deburring, broaching, tumbling, grinding, and high-gloss polishing. Many of the company’s parts have aircraft quality standards, so they have to be extremely clean, burr-free, and highly polished. “Sometimes we have to check the parts under a microscope for microscopic burrs,” Mike Ketola explains. “We do the deburring by freezing and electrocharge, or it could be done with a chemical etch process, depending on the type of material that’s being used. And we handle all of these processes in-house.”


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