Manufacturing Showcase: Flex Machine Tools

Richard Kennedy launched Midwest Specialties, Inc., in 1971 as a government contracting manufacturing business. He designed and built a tapping arm to increase speed and efficiency when tapping holes off of his NC machining centers. The FlexArm was the first of many innovations the OEM now known as Flex Machine Tools, and is still based in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from which all of its products are assembled and shipped from CNC machine tools and water-jet cutters.

Now a third-generation enterprise helmed by Nick Kennedy, Flex Machine Tools remains committed to quality while seeking out fresh opportunities to expand its product line to meet industry demands. Primarily devoted to the North American market, Flex has representatives located across the country, and their customers are loyal.

“I met a fellow a while back who has a 20-year-old FlexArm, and he hasn’t had any serious problems,” Nick Kennedy, the current CEO. “So that’s proof of our equipment’s longevity, which will remain as we design new machines harness the power of the industry’s latest technologies.”

“We’ve made no acquisitions, all our development has been done organically with the company’s resources,” says Kennedy. We started taking a close look at automation solutions in 2015 when Nick took over the company and we made the decision to be a “Growth” company. We looked at FlexArm closely and realized the product is excellent, but it is mature and we needed to invest in automation solutions to scale.

The FlexJet, which actually transforms the standard cylindrical spray into a “knife blade,” providing faster cutting speeds and greater precision than is found in most older water-jet machines. “The FlexJet cuts up to 7 times faster than most machines on the market,” he says, “due to its design, a 6-axis cutting head, and AI in the controller is unlike anything that’s been seen in the industry.

Although Kennedy admits that current industry leaders still access most of their information by reading trade magazines and attending trade shows, he has brought a social media specialist onboard to make sure Flex Machine Tools is taking full advantage of the latest platforms available in this fast-moving digital environment. “Our go to market is with aggressive marketing. Something we do that’s unique for a machine tool builder is the focus we have put into social marketing, “The reach you can obtain with social marketing to assist with brand awareness is huge. We tweak daily based on the analytics to see what will give us the most reach so we can ultimately eliminate obscurity for our brand. We can’t afford a Nascar team, so a social marketing approach is a great tool that we can leverage to help compete with companies that are 100x bigger than us.”

The next step involves developing dedicated software that will allow its machines to be user-friendly, precise, and capable of delivering the company’s customer’s goals and demands.

This approach — respecting its past while keeping an eye keenly trained on its future — has led to tangible rewards. It is currently adding on 55,000 square feet to its existing 50,000 square foot facility. “In addition to giving us more space for stock items, it will allow us to graduate from building five machines each month to 25,” Kennedy says.

“We want to be known as innovators,” he says, “so we’re looking at ways to move manufacturing forward instead of gazing into the rear-view window. Our company vision is to “pioneer machine tool automation solutions” and that’s exactly what we do. We have a team of software engineers and mechanical engineers that can literally build anything, “according to Kennedy. “We really try to focus our energy on specific machines like the FlexCNC and our newest machine the FlexJet. These are machines where we see niches in the market for and machines that need new innovations that we are building.

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Standard Features

  • Hand Pendant
  • 22″ Touch Screen Monitor
  • Omron FlexCNC Controller
  • Mobile Control Panel
  • Through Spindle Coolant 
  • Auto Tool Changer 
  • Flood Coolant
HP
Max RPM
FT/LBS
Series

18

4000

92

C-20-02 / C-10-02

18

6000

61

C-20-02 / C-10-02

33

12000

61

CM-20-02

Auto Stand-Off – This is currently defined to be surface stand-off and not to be confused with vector stand-off in 5-axis mode. The current auto stand-off is based on a changing surface and will adjust vertically based on the angle of the “A” Axis, so there is five (5) axis taken into account during the calculations, but this is not the same as the tool vector stand-off. There is the ability to do the vector stand-off change while the machine is running manually with buttons on the screen.

Z-Reader Probe – The Z-Reader is a device for mapping the location of the surface. It can be controlled manually & programmatically. The option is NOT active while cutting & is retracted out of harm’s way. It can be triggered to verify the surface at every pierce before the cutting process starts, or it could be used to drive surface mapping of the whole part before cutting starts. It begins with initialization or zeroing of the device to the surface at the beginning of a program and then accumulates or tracks the difference from that zeroing effort.

Automatic Edge Finder – The edge finder is or can be utilized manually (Jogging Method & Screen Buttons), programmatically (M & G codes), or fully automatic routine (dedicated program). This option sets offsets & program rotation to match the orientation & location on the cutting table.

AC Unit Installed on Electrical Cabinet – The unit is mounted on the cabinet’s High Power (480v) side. It is close to the location where the drives are mounted. This option keeps the cabinet temperature stable and allows heat dissipation faster. The servo drives for all axes are the most significant contributors to heat inside the electrical cabinet.

5-Axis Renishaw CalibrationThe calibration unit is a Renishaw model APCA45 with a modified spherical stylus. The device has a retractable cover and air purge to clear debris & dust during the activation process. It mounts to a swing arm controlled by a pneumatic rotary, so it is out of the way during regular operation and swings into the calibration position for calibration only. 

HP
Max RPM
FT/LBS
Series

18

4000

92

G-20-06 / G-10-06

18

6000

61

G-20-06 / -10-06

40

4000

217

GM-20-06 / G-20-06 / G-10-06

40

6000

145

G-20-06 / G-20-06 / G-10-06