The Power of Precision

Swiss Precision Machining

Swiss Precision Machining (SPM) specializes in precision manufacturing of metal and plastic components for a variety of high-precision applications, primarily in the medical, surgical, and dental industries.

This year, SPM is celebrating its fortieth year in business, but its roots reach back even further. “It all started with my grandpa,” says Vice President of Operations Cassandra Haupers. “He worked for a major dental manufacturing company after he got back from the war. My dad worked under him at that company and realized that he loved machining. He started his own company machining a lot of parts for that dental manufacturer because they knew him.”

Michael Haupers founded SPM in 1979 in a small 3,500-square-foot warehouse. In the beginning, the company focused on components for the dental industry. By the 1990s, it had seen significant success and began to expand into other markets, making parts for medical and surgical applications.

These industries were operating at the leading edge of technology, and as their instruments grew in complexity, so too did the need for precision components. SPM’s leadership was paying attention. In 1994 it purchased its first computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine, and in 2017, it acquired its first five-axis milling machine.

Over the years, it has developed an expertise in tight tolerance, precision machining. “Precision is the name and the heart of our company,” says Haupers.

Today, it operates from an 82,000-square-foot facility in Wheeling, Illinois, where it employs 140 people and works with some of the top medical device companies in the world. It has a wide range of process capabilities, including five-axis milling, turning, tumbling, blasting, passivation, thread rolling, and more, but SPM’s computer-controlled value is in its expertise.

The company can produce parts with such tight tolerances because it uses Swiss-style machining techniques. These processes, named for the renowned precision of Swiss watch components, requires a different skill set than conventional machining equipment, but SPM is a leader in the field.

“The biggest thing is that we work really closely with our customers on design for manufacturing opportunities. It’s really important for us to make a manufacturable part in the design stage before it ends up in production.”

By applying more than forty years of experience in machining processes, the company can guide customers in designing components that are suited for machining. These design decisions will result in faster production at a lower cost, with no loss in quality. One example of how this approach has been successful arose a few years ago with a customer in the surgical instruments industry.

The customer was manufacturing a small surgical component in such a number that moving its production to a metal injection molding (MIM) service was being considered. MIM is an alternative to machining when manufacturing a great volume of metal components.

“What a lot of people think is that, once a part gets to a certain volume, you should switch from machining to MIM because you’ll get a better price,” says Haupers, “but I worked very closely with an engineer at our customer’s site, and we came up with some design for manufacturing suggestions to make the part more efficient for machining, and we ended up beating out the MIM price. I’m very proud of that because I like to show people that MIM isn’t always the solution for cost savings.”

This kind of collaboration in making design choices suited to machining is one of the ways that SPM has been able to compete with other manufacturing processes like MIM and three-dimensional (3D) printing, but it is not the only one.

High precision manufacturing is a rapidly growing industry, and everyone operating within it is constantly competing to make smaller, more precise parts, faster and at a lower cost than everyone else. SPM invests more than two million dollars every year into new equipment. It is always incorporating new machines, automation systems, and better technology.

Keeping the company at the leading edge ensures that it remains competitive, but beyond the machines, SPM believes that it is the people who have allowed it to find so much success. Its employees are resourceful, passionate, committed, innovative, and so much more. This started as a family company, and after forty years, the leadership has made an effort to hold onto that family atmosphere.

Cassandra Haupers’ first foray into the world of machining began when she was in high school. She learned the ropes in the quality control department of her father’s company, and by the time she was in college, she was working the machines on the shop floor. Today, she works in an upper management position, but she believes that starting from the ground up has been key to her success in leadership.

In an interview with Jason Zenger and Jim Carr on the Making Chips podcast, Haupers explained her philosophy. “It’s really important for me to build the respect from the people that are working for us. In order for me to do that personally, I had to work on those machines,” she told them. “I think that by them seeing me on the shop floor every day they feel comfortable coming up to me talking about the issues… I really am big about empowering everyone at SPM to bring their ideas to me because it’s really important to us that everyone has a voice.”

The company’s leadership has worked to foster a culture where employees feel empowered and invested in the work they do. They run machines and make parts, but the results of that work can go so much further. A few years ago, when Haupers’ father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the surgical robot that was used to save his life was made from components that were manufactured by SPM.

“We quoted the job, programmed the job, ran the parts, inspected the parts, shipped the parts, but then they were used on someone who’s actually in my life,” she says. “I try to drive home the point that we’re doing stuff that matters.”

For a long time, manufacturing has carried the stigma of being a dirty, dangerous, unfulfilling job with few prospects. Haupers is making an effort to repair that image within SPM and beyond. She has been involved in outreach initiatives, speaking at the local chamber of commerce and the International Manufacturing Technology Show. By telling her story, she hopes to help change the way people see the industry, and it seems to be working.

“We have a lot of women who work here,” says Haupers, “not only in management, but there are plenty of women on the shop floor running machines as well. It’s really encouraging to see them coming out and realizing they can be in this field. I want to give manufacturing a different spin. It’s a good environment. It’s not dirty. We have clean air. It’s bright. It’s innovative. We’re tech-savvy. It’s a great career path to go down.” As the skills gap continues to limit growth in the American manufacturing industry, Haupers and SPM are doing their part to make a difference.

After forty years of machining high precision parts, SPM has grown into a company with a unique outlook. This is more than just a company that manufactures metal and plastic components; it is deeply invested in the work it does and the quality of the parts it produces. It makes parts that help keep people in good health or even save lives, and the company does not take that charge lightly.

“We care for our customers, and we believe in the missions that they have for their companies just as much as we care about our own. We’re not just making parts; we’re making a difference.”

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August 15, 2020, 8:00 AM EDT