Supported by 15 Okuma machine tools (with more on the way), ZYCI has put Mitch Free exactly where he wants to be. He gets to work with the tangibles while creating noticeable, impactful changes within the manufacturing landscape.

ZYCI: Manufacturing on a Mission
ZYCI: Manufacturing on a Mission

Case Study from | Okuma

MANUFACTURING HAS LIFT OFF

Mitch Free is no stranger to success in manufacturing. The aviation enthusiast, author, and presenter has done a little bit of everything — and he’s done it well. He first jumped into the industry by attending a CNC trade school. Then he moved on to an apprenticeship within the aerospace and defense sector. In these early years, Mitch produced complex parts and assemblies for mission-critical industries, focusing on the tangibles of manufacturing.

Bolstered by his technical background, coupled with an agile craftsman’s skillset to match, he accepted a job at Northwest Airlines where he developed methods to produce commercial aircraft parts amid material and labor shortages. Successfully producing parts in high demand amid volatile market conditions was just one of Mitch’s many accomplishments in this role. Soon, his knack for turning challenges into opportunities helped him grow into a senior management position where he began to oversee the airline’s global projects.

Achievements were in surplus, but something was missing. He wanted more. So, he founded 3DATUM, a niche company focused on providing 3D CAD/CAM software and 3D printing systems to product designers and manufacturers.

Shortly thereafter, he used his business acumen, eye for opportunity, and passion for manufacturing to start the largest online global marketplace for manufacturers. For 13 years, Mitch was chairman and CEO of MFG.com, which served customers in 50 countries and garnered praise from distinguished business moguls and investors. He poured his proficiency into this company from the ground up and built it into what it is today.

 

FROM BOARD ROOM TO SHOP FLOOR

But something was still missing. In his executive, high-level role at MFG.com, Mitch moved away from the tangibles and trades of the industry to focus on business operations. He supplied manufacturers with a platform that facilitated valuable connections between buyers and sellers and highlighted their unique manufacturing capabilities. Each passing year brought greater success for Mitch and MFG.com. With this success, however, was an equally strong craving to get back to his roots. When he focused on strategic matters, his hands yearned to create. When he provided leadership, his mind constantly considered new projects that required an experienced machinist’s touch.

With his finger on the pulse of all things manufacturing, Mitch couldn’t ignore the industry’s missing piece: there was a gradual increase in demand for low-volume, highly complex parts with quick turnaround times. And yet, there were very few who could satisfy it.

In a prime position to accomplish two things — fill a void within the manufacturing industry and get back to making parts and operating machines — Mitch Free sold his stake in MFG.com in 2013 and did what he does best. He started another business, this time with his wife and business partner, Shirene Free. ZYCI was born.

 

MOVING FORWARD, MOVING FAST

Most companies don’t expect to experience substantial success in their first year. Sometimes, it takes even longer to make a name for yourself in the manufacturing industry and prove that what you offer is worth an investment. Things were different for ZYCI. Mitch Free’s extensive industry understanding built over decades, combined with his standing as a trusted manufacturing expert, meant customers were inclined to take ZYCI seriously from the start at an accelerated rate. Mainly for aerospace and defense projects, it wasn’t long before ZYCI had a considerable number of highly complex, low-volume orders to fulfill.

Mitch knew he wanted to machine parts flawlessly. But even more than that, he wanted ZYCI to operate with unprecedented urgency, turning around quotes in an industry-best 24 hours compared to the standard of five to seven business days. At first, Mitch and ZYCI relied on an entry-level machine tool to make parts. But soon thereafter, the machine couldn’t make parts to spec, hold tight tolerances, or meet rigorous timelines. Constant use wore the machine tool down to a point where it no longer kept up with ZYCI's standards for accuracy and speed.

He knew he needed new machines — and fast. Faced with an important business decision, he evaluated top-performing brands on the market, weighing initial costs with returns on investment and considering which machines are known for unparalleled accuracy, always.

He had his answer in no time.

 

ALL IN ON OKUMA

Highly recommended by peers, and relying on his own careful research, Mitch selected Okuma machines to move ZYCI’s operations forward. “We know the machines can do the job,” he says. Shirene Free, who also serves as Vice President of Operations at ZYCI, echoes his belief: “Okumas are by far the most accurate and reliable machines on the market.”

Not only do all Okuma machine tools help ensure accurate cuts each and every time, but they work fast without compromising necessary precision. The stable, durable, heavy machine construction and build structure make constant, exact operations possible — and help ZYCI stay true to its business hallmark of fulfilling quotes within 24 hours.

Machines that work as fast and as accurately as ZYCI’s do are just one reason Mitch decided to go with Okuma as its primary machine tool provider. Knowing how complicated it can be when operators are expected or required to run multiple machines from multiple OEMs, Mitch wanted to cut through complexity and standardize ZYCI’s operating processes. He achieves this with help from Okuma’s OSP control. This advanced CNC control comes standard on each Okuma, so no matter if his engineers and operators work with lathes or 5-axis machining centers, they can make the transition to and from different Okumas seamlessly.

Some machine tool OEMs sell a CNC control alongside their machines. Okuma, however, designs and builds its own OSP CNC control for better harmony between control and machine. “We move fast and want to complete all jobs well. Speed doesn’t matter if you don’t do things the right way.” Mitch is confident Okuma helps them do things the right way.

“If only one person can run a certain machine, and they’re out, then we’re stuck,” Mitch says. The standardization Okuma provides eliminates potential downtime and streamlines training for new employees. Shirene adds, “One operator can keep two machines running or can work on multiple machines at once.”

 

INVESTMENT AFFORDS OPPORTUNITIES

Mitch has relied on and continues to trust Okuma machines to grow ZYCI’s business and to keep customers coming through the door. When he decided to purchase his fleet of Okumas, he acknowledged that the investment would be a bit more than some competitors’ offerings. He purchased them anyway. This is because, as a true businessman, he understands the meaning of investment. Buying a higher-quality, higher-performing machine tool will pay for itself in customer satisfaction, part superiority, and a longer machine life. From his first purchase to his most recent, his Okuma machines have consistently paid for themselves in more ways than one, including accuracy, speed, and longevity.

 

AFTER A DECADE, ZYCI ISN’T SLOWING DOWN

For the first time in an established, respected, and accomplished career, nothing’s missing. Since its inception, ZYCI has since expanded into two buildings, with another 60,000-square-foot facility coming soon. Thanks to machines that never fail to deliver, what was once just a quick-turn supplier of complex, low-volume parts has evolved into a proven company that handles higher-volume repeating orders, too.

Supported by 15 Okuma machine tools (with more on the way), ZYCI has put Mitch Free exactly where he wants to be. He gets to work with the tangibles while creating noticeable, impactful changes within the manufacturing landscape.

Business is truly better than he ever could’ve imagined. With Okuma’s help, he can get customers what they need, when they need it, at a much quicker rate than other parts suppliers.

Mitch Free, on Okuma: “I’m an evangelist of the brand. It’s easy when you’re passionate about something.”

 

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow

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