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From Cow Chips to Cutting Chips

Dave Karlstadt started his own machine shop in one building on a rural Ohio farm -- right next to the cows. But it wasn't long before he was concentrating on the metal chips, not the chips the cows "produced." Karlstadt credits his machine tool manufacturer, Okuma, for being one of the main reasons for his rapid growth and success.

Six years ago, Dave Karlstadt decided to add on to the family's beef cattle business, but not in the way you might expect: he started a machine shop. Dave initially invested in used Okuma's, and found them to be strong and reliable for running large parts in the high tolerance range.

Located on an Ohio farm, Karlstadt Machining went from a one building shop to 4 buildings in just the first 5 years.

 

 

In five years Karlstadt Machining went from a 30' by 40' pole building to a brand new 12,000 square foot facility, and today they're speeding up production by bringing in new machines. They now have 19 Okuma machine tools -- 11 vertical mills and 8 horizontal lathes -- including the recently added GENOS M560-V vertical machining center.

Agriculture + Manufacturing

It's 5:00 a.m. in the farm country of Ney, Ohio, and Dave Karlstadt is heading out for his usual long workday. With quick, purposeful strides, he nearly sprints in the direction of the cow barn, where 500 head of Holsteins look expectantly at him. Dave pushes right past the steers however, and walks into his busy machine shop, the place where he happily spends most of his time. How did these two worlds collide, agriculture and manufacturing?

Dave Karlstadt pointing out his very first Okuma turning center.

 

 

Ney is an agricultural community, located in the Northwest corner of Ohio, with a population of about 348. Dave grew up there, right across town from where he lives and works today. In the Karlstadt family tradition, as soon as you can stand on a hay wagon, that's your first day of work. So at the age of three Dave got started in the barn, feeding the beef cows.

Upon graduating from high school, Dave had no desire to attend college, so this meant he needed to get a job, pronto. A friend was working in a machine shop that specialized in medical implants, and he helped Dave get a job there. He worked at this shop for six years, then spent a year at an air tool company, and eventually moved on to manage a general job shop for 12 years. This last shop ran all Okuma'. "Being around manufacturing for a while, I was exposed to a wide variety of machine tools," Dave recalls. "The Okuma's seem to be the ones we have the easiest time running, and they're the most reliable."

Quality Parts, Always On Time

Six years ago, Dave struck out on his own and started Karlstadt Machining. He still wanted to maintain the family agricultural business, but felt that adding manufacturing to his portfolio would balance out the slow periods between the two. And indeed it has worked out that way -- when agriculture is slow, manufacturing is busy, and vice versa. As he planned his first machine tool purchases, he knew, based on his experience, that Okuma would be reliable enough to meet his objective for delivering quality parts, always on time.

Tight Tolerances on a Budget

There was one more important criteria in his search for machine tools: Dave wanted to build his business on a cash basis.

Karlstadt Machining has expanded to a 12,000 square foot facility housing 19 machines tools operated by its 14 employees.

 

 

"Some people say that's just the farmer in me, wanting to buy only with cash. But whatever it is, that's how I choose to do business." This is where the Okuma's provide another advantage, because he was able to purchase used equipment and successfully built his business with "the old green machines."

Dave worked with Infinity Rebuild to spruce up his first machines -- an LB15 and a MC-4VAE. "It's been really good," says Dave. "Okuma's are built with heavy iron, and we have very little trouble with them. They just keep holding up and repeating. We can still hold plus or minus 5 to 10 thou, so we're holding very tight tolerances with them. Some of our Okuma's are beyond 40,000 hours on the clock meter, and we can still run parts in the high tolerance range."

In the early stages, Karlstadt was careful with their investments, and the investments quickly paid off. The company quickly doubled in size, and they purchased many other used machines along the way.

Shop Manager Ryan Jacobs has been along for the entire ride. "When most people drive by here, they think it's just a steer farm," Ryan chuckles. "But we do some amazing stuff in this shop that most people can't even fathom."

Heavy Duty

Karlstadt primarily serves the oil and steel industries, and does a lot of die work as well. They tend to run large parts, averaging between 45 and 50 pounds each. "That's another thing the Okuma's seem to be able to handle better, the heavier parts," Dave explains. "I was told a long time ago that the way you can tell whether you're getting a good machine or not is to look at the shipping weight. Our Okuma, even the new ones, are quite a bit heavier than any other brand of comparably-sized machine tools, and they're more rigid because of that."

Over the next 5 years, Dave and Shop Manager Ryan Jacobs plan to add several new machines -- a couple more 560's and a horizontal machining center with a pallet changer.

 

 

Another advantage they enjoy is the Mid-Auto function on the control, which allows the operator to easily stop and restart program execution. "In the middle of the program, at any point in time, you can completely stop the machine and then hit restart, and it goes right back to where it came from. That's a pretty nice feature."

Speeding Up

Rob Gallagher, of Okuma distributor Gosiger, Inc., stops by Karlstadt from time to time just to check in and talk machine tools with Dave and the crew, and to see when they might be ready for a new machine.

For a while, Dave continued buying used machines, following his no-debt philosophy. Finally, the day came when he was extra glad Rob stopped by, because he was ready to invest in a new machine (yes, another cash purchase).

On the day this newest machine, the GENOS M560-V vertical machining center, was scheduled to be installed there was a big blizzard in Ney, and Dave had to take his tractor down the road to tow the delivery truck in for the last two miles.

 

 

 

 

Dave wanted to have more opportunity with 3D milling and higher speed, while sticking with Okuma. They decided on a GENOS M560-V vertical machining center. "With all the technology, from the PC-based controller to the speed the machine can run at -- with all that functionality we're able to run parts in less time and compete with the rest of the world," says Dave.

Doubling Growth

Today cow chips are still being "produced" on the Karlstadt farm. But the machine shop has gotten so busy cutting chips, they've hired their neighbors to take care of feeding the steers.

Karlstadt went from a one-building shop to four buildings in five years, and recently they've consolidated operations into a brand new 12,000 square foot building, right next to the cow barns. According to Ryan, "we'll probably double again in the next five years."

Dave agrees. "The reliability of Okuma machines plays a huge role in our success. We don't have to worry about downtime. Our direction for the next five years will be to add a couple more GENOS machine tools, plus a horizontal machining center with a pallet changer. Being able to produce quality parts on time is our biggest advantage."

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