Bob Bechtold


“We're always trying to improve ourselves, and IMTS is where we go to get the information we need to do that. IMTS makes us aware of what's possible in this industry.”

Bob Bechtold, President of Harbec, Inc., in Ontario, N.Y., knows first-hand that the key to growth is to never stop changing. When he started his business in 1977, he was using numerical control machines with manual punch cards and paper tape. Today, his company has evolved to using an industry-leading combination of additive and subtractive manufacturing featuring state-of-the-art technology.

“If you sit still, you might as well turn the lights out and go home,” Bechtold says. “We've survived all these years because we constantly change and redefine ourselves. By being innovators, we are ready to take the next opportunity. We're always trying to improve ourselves, and IMTS is where we go to get the information we need to do that.”

Bob Bechtold

Harbec is a precision component manufacturer that creates tight-tolerance component parts and sub-assemblies, primarily aerospace and medical customers using complex materials (there are more than 300 different polymer blends in inventory).

The Evolution of Manufacturing Tech

IMTS has been an integral source of information for Bechtold, whose company has been steadily updating equipment and expanding capabilities for decades. He's attended every IMTS since 1980.

“We're going to spend close to a half million dollars on a piece of equipment, so we'd better make the right choice,” Bechtold says. “IMTS has always been the most important part of making purchase decisions for me. In several days walking the floor at IMTS, I can accomplish more than I can for the next two years just reading the journals.”

In 1981, Bechtold started a new era for Harbec with the purchase of a Compumill CNC with a Dynapath control, which was delivered to his earliest workshop, located in a barn.

“When CNC started happening, I knew it was going to be the most phenomenal renaissance of toolmaking that there ever was,” Bechtold says. “I could see the power that it gave the toolmaker to be more accurate and more productive. The buzz on the street was that these CNC machines are going to put the toolmakers out of business, which was so far from the truth.”

Critical parts, such as those for intricate spinal implants, must be machined from titanium with zero tolerance for error. At IMTS 2014, Bechtold learned about new vibratory deburring technology to thoroughly remove burrs and chips faster than any other process.

“We saw new technology at IMTS we didn't know existed—it blew us away,” Bechtold says. “It's common to experience that ‘wow' moment once or twice at IMTS. We just never know what we're going to find, but we know if it's worth finding, it will be there.”

Within weeks of learning about this technology at IMTS, he bought a Bel Air micro-deburring machine that reduced processing time by a factor of 10. The company now has three machines and uses them daily as an integral part of the finishing processes.

Making the Most of IMTS

When Harbec was a small job shop, Bechtold would attend IMTS alone. Today, with more than 150 employees, 10 people attend each show for three days to cover more ground. Bechtold's team spends the most time in the tooling, machining and finishing areas of the show, spreading out so they can combine knowledge later.

“When we come to IMTS, we cover every single aisle in three days,” Bechtold says. “We're focused, getting in when it first opens and staying until the show floor closes. We want to explore the entire show in case we come upon something new and unexpected. It might be related someday.”

After the show closes, Bechtold and his team meet for dinner to reflect and share their knowledge of the day, which becomes a friendly competition.

“Everyone wants to outdo the others with their knowledge of new technologies that can advance our business,” Bechtold says. “By taking the team out for good dinners and treating them to a baseball game, I want to create a nice event and get them psyched about IMTS so they are eager to find the highest technology that exists.”

New Goals

For IMTS 2018, Bechtold will be focusing on five-axis CNCs and 3D printing to expand their current machining capabilities.

Harbec has more than 20 three-axis CNC machines and plans to replace the majority of them with 5-axis machines in the future.

“The requirements for precision are getting more demanding, and the value of time is getting higher,” Bechtold says. “If I can machine more parts with one set up on a five-axis machine, versus five or six set-ups, I'll reduce my chances of error and have less setup time. Five-axis machines are our future for higher precision and productivity.”

Harbec has been using additive manufacturing for nearly 20 years, so the company has learned from experience and is now engaging in more complex 3D printing processes.

“Additive manufacturing is an integral part of our present and our future,” Bechtold says. “We're training our toolmakers to be equally knowledgeable in both areas because the opportunities are in using them together. It will create a capacity for product design and manufacturing that's yet to be understood.”

“There's a great deal of change and improvements happening very rapidly in manufacturing,” Bechtold adds. “As an industry leader, we must be ready for potential solutions we'll need in the future. IMTS makes us aware of what's possible in this industry. There's no better alternative. It's the very best that there is.”

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