Illinois Aerospace CNC Shop Moving Out and Up to Meet the Future Head-On

Jim Carr, President and CEO of CARR Machine & Tool, is a true believer in advancing the manufacturing industry. The next iteration of CARR isn’t just an increase in physical footprint, it's a mission to be different, change the perception of manufacturing, and let his personal brand bleed over into the business. Since taking over for his father in 2004, the co-founder of "MakingChips," the #1-rated manufacturing podcast, has matured CARR into a high-tech CNC shop and has changed the company's culture. Jim shared his philosophies in this article he wrote for MAN.

CARR Machine & Tool, Inc. has been machining parts since 1973 and has seen the industry change dramatically over the decades from making parts on manual milling machines and lathes to advancing to high-tech, 5-axis CNC machine tools, and cutting tool paths that were nearly impossible decades ago.

CARR Machine & Tool Inc. manufactures parts for elite companies in the Space & Exploration, Semiconductor, Aerospace, Medical, and Defense industries.



It really does "blow my mind" to see some of these components come out of these machines. I think of the days I spent on the shop floor and the early days of CNC. We thought the technology was incredible, but today with the CAD/CAM software coupled with multi-axis capabilities and sophisticated cutting tools, this technology has accelerated the making chips era, a dramatic paradigm shift for the industry.

Not only has chip making evolved to new levels, but the way we inspect parts has also matured to a hypersonic speed.

At CARR we are utilizing imaging equipment that can measure an entire part, or a handful of parts concurrently, to produce inspection data at the push of a button. It's literally as simple as laying the parts on a glass tray, in any manner, and hitting 'go.' In addition, we recently added a portable Coordinate Measurement Machine (CMM) that we can mount on the table of the machine so as not to remove the part from the setup, and laser scan the surface to get immediate results.

As a second-generation business owner in manufacturing, Jim Carr has embraced the opportunities and challenges that come with leading a modern CNC machine shop that his father founded in 1972.





All of this technology and documentation are paramount now that we are an AS9100 aerospace machine shop. We cater to high-value clients like Virgin Galactic, Jacobs, Tesla, and Moog. We receive purchase orders with multiple flow-down instructions from tier-one OEMs.

Lately, we're seeing verbiage like "this product is for use in manned space flight; materials, manufacturing, and workmanship of highest quality standards are essential to astronaut safety." This is serious stuff. There is no substitution for human life. Our clients realize we have the wherewithal, experience, capacity, and cadence to provide them with first-class products and services.

It wasn't always this way at CARR. Our growth in recent years has been deliberate. It started about 7 years ago. We knew we had to pivot away from our current customer base, notably, commercial printing. Although the foundation of the company was built on newspaper printing press parts, the advent of digital media has been ever apparent. We witnessed decreased sales year over year and knew that something had to change.

The aerospace CNC machine shop specializes in close-tolerance, multi-axis machining.



We started with a cultural shift and an investment in our people. Any great business that has a robust and healthy culture will ultimately be better in all aspects and over time, the culture will be organic. The development of our core values: Flex, Fly, Play and Energize, are all words that define who we are as a company. You know you have implemented and are practicing a great culture when your employees engage with each other, our customers, and our vendors, and everyone is noticeably happy. It's like a dynamic that is felt when you engage with us.

We then started weekly production meetings. At first, the objective was to get the entire team in the know on production and deadlines. It was a great beginning, but it has now evolved into a weekly, all-employee meeting, for 90 minutes. I craft a weekly agenda that is timely and relevant to everything that is happening in our world, our country, state, county, village, and of course, our company. We start the meeting by sharing good news, business or personal, to set a positive tone for the meeting. Discussions include, but certainly are not limited to, the state of the economy, the progression of our new facility, and everything COVID. It's an open forum and we have a collaborative discussion.

During these weekly meetings, our Sales Manager presents to the team about what he learned during the prior week of prospecting, the potential new industries he thinks we need to look at, and reports on the overall pulse of our industry. Our Quality Lead keeps everyone in the loop about our AS9100 credentials and fields questions about policies and processes.

Jim's experience includes full knowledge of GD&T, conventional and CNC machining/programming, and CAD/CAM systems. What differentiates him from his manufacturing peers is his innate passion for marketing, brand, and design.





Other topics include shop floor efficiencies, "hot" jobs, shipping schedules, new hires, and more. We always end the meeting with a positive story from the Good News Network or an inspirational YouTube video. We leave the meeting with a "feel good' vibe.

The next major change was updating our antiquated ERP system. With fresh, young talent driving operations at CARR, it was evident that we needed a system that could seamlessly run all aspects of the business. One that was dynamic, powerful, and easy to use. We chose ProShop ERP, a near custom-tailored system, built by a group of intelligent entrepreneurs who had experience running a machine shop in the Pacific Northwest. This one change alone drove our efficiencies to a never-before-seen level. From estimating, to order entry, to workflow, to finance and profit and loss, to containing and management of our AS9100 credentialing to shipping, invoicing and so much more.

We also knew we needed a systematized way to run our business and through word of mouth heard that "Traction" by Gino Wickman was a solid tool to do that. Three leaders were identified: one from operations, one from sales, and one from finance. We meet weekly for 90 minutes to develop and work on big company "issues" by identifying, discussing, and solving them, or "IDS-ing" them.

CARR Machine & Tool is known for its unique culture as well as its recent implementation of high-technology tools and equipment including 5 axis machining, mill-turning, and CMM inspection.





Quarterly meetings are held outside of the office. We meet for a full day and craft goals or "rocks" for the next quarter. Every leader crafts a few rocks that match their skill set and take' accountability for them. During our weekly meetings, we ask if they are on track for completion by the end of the quarter. If they are not, we identify if the issue needs to be discussed. 90% of the time our leadership hit those quarterly goals.

There are other tools like GWC -- Get it, Want it and Capacity to do it. This exercise is part of the people analyzer chapter of the book, where we as leaders rate the entire staff on the three GWC traits. If, when rating, someone ranks one of those traits as a "no," for instance, if we decide they don't have the capacity to do it, it becomes an issue that requires solving and could potentially result in termination.

The last and most recent change was the decision to move our business into a new facility that is 300% larger than the previous location. Growth was happening; we were serving new industries, seeing new customers, and purchasing capital equipment that was filling our facility. We were hiring new team members, implementing new processes, practicing better efficiencies, and witnessing record sales.

Staying in Elk Grove Village, IL, the largest industrial park in the country, was important to us. We brought in a team of professionals: engineers, designers, architects, and planners to rebuild a rundown building. The result is a polished, industrial-modern facility that dovetails our brand. We have buried the stigma of an old, dirty machine shop and now believe we look and act like the aerospace company that the headliners want to work with. We know the reward will far outweigh the risk and so far, we're off to an amazing start.

Remaining loyal to Elk Grove Village, CARR recently moved only .3 miles from their previous location to a new 15,000-square-foot industrial-modern, high-tech facility.



"We truly 'live' in this industry and believe in the direction it's going as it pertains to innovation," Carr said. "We're not riding its coattails; we're leading the charge and want to connect with clients that have the same ambition. We are making moves to be able to meet the future, together with our clients, and go beyond."

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