Flexible forming

By Lynn Stanley

With an eye to the future, fab shop cuts time, costs

December 2014 - “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future,” author Eric Hoffer wrote. A migrant worker during the Great Depression, Hoffer could have been describing Mathison Manufacturing Inc. The Waukesha, Wisconsin-based company has tenaciously clung to its roots for more than 50 years while adopting new ideas and technology along the way. 

“More than ever, our business is as much about serving our customers as what we produce,” says President Al Leidinger. “Keeping promises has been the cornerstone of this business since the Mathison family started it. That principle continues to support our core value: to provide a level of service that earns us a position as a trusted, single source for OEM customers. Some call it an old-fashioned approach. We call it business as usual.”

Over the last four years Mathison has been growing steadily at an annual rate of 8 to 10 percent. Leidinger, Vice Presidents Ken Welsh, Mike Arntz and an outside investor purchased the company two years ago. A fresh crop of employees—men and women Leidinger says are willing to learn—are being groomed for the future.


“Nearly half of our employees can count their tenure in decades. At some point they will begin to retire so we are very cognizant of the fact that we have to be proactive now about filling that skills gap.” 

The manufacturer participates in local technical college and summer youth programs to cultivate prospects. Candidates that prove a good fit are mentored by experienced hands. 

Forming solutions

Mathison takes parts from concept to production for industries that include electronics, computer-based equipment, mobile hydraulic Mathison2equipment, traffic control, embedded design and many more. Mathison can turn quotes around in a day and build prototypes from scratch in as little as five business days. 

“We like to partner with customers versus just selling them a part,” Leidinger adds. “As engineers, Ken and I are able to help customers design a full system.”

The company has developed a reputation as a problem solver. When Mathison was approached by a customer in danger of losing work to competition in China, Leidinger says they put their heads together to find a solution. The customer’s need to reduce part costs along with Mathison’s own growth made investing in a new turret punch press a part of the equation.

“It was very high-volume work,” Leidinger says of the job the customer was looking to keep stateside. “We had a Murata turret punch press that was nearly 25 years old. It ran well for the jobs we processed on it but we knew we needed to boost capacity if we were going to support our customer.”


Mathison considered other turret punch press manufacturers but the dependability of its existing Murata was a deciding factor.

“It was an easy choice really,” Welsh says of press selection and installation. “We just contacted our local Murata dealer,” Gladwin Machinery & Supply Co., Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, which Welsh calls “a great service provider.”

Like Mathison, Murata Machinery USA Inc. also has a long history. A subsidiary of Murata Machinery Ltd., Kyoto, Japan, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company makes a variety of automated metalworking machines for fabrication and cutting industries. 

Mathison installed a Murata Motorum M2048TS in October 2013. The 22-ton turret punch press was equipped with a large table and a high-tool-capacity, 44-station turret for handling 4-ft. by 8-ft. sheets. “Muratec introduced the world’s first servo-driven punch press in 1994,” says Cary Teeple, sales manager of Murata Machinery’s fabrication business unit. “The servo-driven M2048TS continues that evolution with the latest ram axis and intelligent control operations interface.”

The new machine was a key component in Mathison’s strategy to help its customer. The perforated part, an embedded technology application, specified tight tolerances of ± 0.005 in. with hole tolerances at 0.002- to 0.003-in. 

Quick startup

“We started production with 150 units a week,” says Leidinger. “Within a month of purchasing the new turret punch press we were running 120 units every three days. As a result, we were able to help our customer keep production for that part from going overseas.”

Tooling interchangeability allows Mathison to use its large inventory of punches. “We have racks of tools,” says Leidinger. “Replacing them was not a cost-effective option. Four index stations on the turret punch press make it very versatile for us. Minimal tool changes also help to shorten setups, which typically is the most time-consuming activity with turret punch press operation. 

The machine’s efficiency has Mathison converting work previously done on the older turret punch press to the new M2048TS. “We’re also transferring some parts from our laser to the new turret punch press because it’s cheaper and faster.”


“It often is the smarter choice because you can integrate processes,” says Teeple. “With a turret punch press you reduce handling and lead times, a savings that increases profits. It also allows companies like Mathison to free up their laser for specific jobs.”

Mathison is also saving time with Murata’s deburring roller tool, which eliminates the need to deburr parts in a separate operation. “Parts can go right to forming or another process,” Leidinger notes. “It also frees up one or two employees we can use elsewhere.”

The M2048TS’ high-speed production is saving Mathison time in other ways. “Before we got the new turret punch press we were going to add a third shift,” Leidinger says. “But the machine is so fast and gives us such high production rates it eliminated the need to add the extra shift.”

The balance of material run on the turret punch press is about evenly split between steel and aluminum with some stainless steel, galvanized, galvanneal and copper. Part batches range from L-shaped brackets a few inches long to large welded assemblies. 

Material handling is made easy with the Murata table’s ability to handle Mathison’s large sheets. “It’s reduced our shearing requirements and allowed us to optimize material usage because we’re able to nest more parts to a sheet,” Leidinger explains. 

Mathison is looking at Murata’s material handling automation to support future growth. “When we reach that level of volume, we plan to automate the punch material handling and run lights out,” Leidinger says.

Flexible manufacturing

Automation is really the core strength for Murata’s Machine Tool Division, says Teeple. “In 1977 we introduced the world’s first flexible manufacturing system (FMS), which allows users to control production from start to finish. As Mathison grows, instead of adding another machine and another operator, they can simply add FMS.”

Job scheduling and tool maintenance are also made simple with Murata’s intelligent control interface. Introduced recently, the technology assists machine operators “with tool changes, turret load monitoring, scheduling and tool maintenance, along with other features that are helping Mathison regain green-light time.” 

Software upgrades allow operators to view and edit jobs that are scheduled for the day or a week ahead. “The guys don’t have to guess how long a tool’s been in the machine,” Leidinger says. “The control tells us. They can pull a tool, sharpen it and get back to work.”

As customer demands continue to accelerate, “companies are demanding shorter and shorter lead times,” Welsh says. “It’s not uncommon for customers to want one- to two-week lead times, including paint and screen printing. With the turret punch press we can get metal into the machine right away, punch out parts and transfer them to the necessary outside services.”

The reliability of Murata’s technology allows Mathison to focus on what it does best—giving customers what they need. FFJ



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