Small Machine Shop with Big Aspirations
How Thomas Engineering Used Metrology to Maximize Their Overall Efficiency
Thomas Engineering began as a small machine shop nearly 40 years ago in Coventry, RI. For Greg Vanasse, it all started when he was just out of high school, joining Thomas Laboissonniere in his one-man shop providing quality parts to a select number of clients. Turning this one-man operation into a two-person shop, Greg quickly learned the value of his labor. The shop used a woodstove as the primary source of heat.
A manual lathe, Bridgeport milling machine, and Kerney & Trecker horizontal milling machine were the 3 key pieces of equipment. At the time, Tom and Greg wore many hats. In addition to working as machinists, they also served as the in-house maintenance crew. “When I started at Thomas Engineering we had to fix everything ourselves. When we had maintenance issues, plumbing problems, or a leaky roof, we had to figure out what was wrong and take care of it. Calling a plumber or carpenter was never an option.”
Today, Thomas Engineering has upgraded to a larger machine shop. The operation manufactures small metal and plastic components for a variety of industries and companies, including Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. They started working with Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, then Brown & Sharpe, roughly 17 years ago machining parts for Hexagon’s GLOBAL CMMs and Shop Floor machines. Now an eight-person operation, Thomas Engineering has expanded their production, producing thousands of components annually.
In an effort to improve quality and expand their inspection capabilities, Thomas Engineering purchased a Browne & Sharpe Microval, a manual CMM, about 15 years ago for quality inspection. As they continued to grow their client base, they needed to also increase their overall production. They needed a Direct Computer Control (DCC) machine that they could program and run automatically. With space limitations in the facility, they also needed a portable machine that could withstand a tough shop environment.
Vanasse decided on Hexagon’s 4.5.4 SF machine after talking with an expert from Hexagon. They liked the portability of the shop floor CMM as they are limited to the space they have, and unable to create a climate controlled area that is required for many other CMM models. The 4.5.4 SF machine is currently located next to a window, which in most cases would affect the temperature of the machine, impacting the accuracy of the measurements. A recent recalibration was done on this machine, in which the 4.5.4 SF impressively withstood this obstacle.
They use the 4.5.4 SF machine to inspect most of their intricate parts, or parts with many different features. “The inspection process can be very tedious, if you do not have the ability to create a program, and let the machine automatically perform the inspection,” said Vanasse.
To keep up with demand due to recent production increases, Austin Pilla, Inspector at Thomas Engineering, is tasked with programming and operating the CMM while also running CNC machining centers. Now able to automatically inspect parts, Pilla has the ability to multi task, allowing the company to run more efficiently. With the access to inspection reports, which most customers now require, Thomas Engineering can continue improving their overall quality while keeping their growing customer base satisfied.
Going from a small two-person shop to a growing business, Thomas Engineering’s core values remain the same: to provide exceptional quality product at a competitive price in a timely manner. Looking to the future, Greg looks to increase his inspection department to keep up with his increasing demand for quality products. Over the next 10 years, Vanasse anticipates expanding to a larger facility and increasing the operation’s overall capacity.