Matt Guse


“Attending IMTS opens up your eyes and should be part of everybody's business plan. It should become a habit to learn new things. I just don't know how you can afford to miss the show.”

If you were being honored by Modern Machine Shop magazine but had a conflict for the award ceremony, would you send a bunch of high school students to speak in your place ... at the first inaugural Top Shops conference in Indianapolis no less?

For those who know Matt Guse, President of MRS Machining in Augusta, Wis., they know it's exactly the type of stunt he would pull. MRS Machining was a 2017 Top Shops Honors Program winner in the category of human resources. In his place, Guse sent a team of students that he works with from Cardinal Manufacturing, the in-school manufacturing program of the nearby Eleva-Strum School District.

Matt Guse

Modern Machine Shop Editor-in-Chief Pete Zelinkski noted that Guse couldn't make the award ceremony because he was out demonstrating the type of practices that won MRS Machining the award in the first place: working as a referee for a local high school football game. He officiates four games a week.

“When the industry started picking up in 2010, I wanted to recruit more young talent,” says Guse. “I tried to invite the guidance counselors and principals from the area schools so I could showcase careers in manufacturing, but I got some resistance.” As a lifelong sports player, Guse realized that working as a football and basketball referee would enable him to see if kids were team players on the field. Plus he could talk with the coaches.

Matt Guse discusses manufacturing career options with students from Cardinal Manufacturing.

“A lot of kids look up to their coaches. This approach worked, and I started being able to interest more kids in manufacturing careers,” says Guse, who employs 47 people.

“The thing I like about working with kids is that they're hungry for attention,” he says. “If I can get these kids into MRS Machining, I can show them clear, direct career paths. Once you show them that they can make something, turn a piece of raw material into a piece of art, they take ownership in it. We need more manufacturing in our schools to help more kids believe in themselves.”

As an example, he mentions two students from Cardinal Manufacturing who, when first involved with the program, were so shy that they could barely speak a word in class and didn't know what they wanted to do with their lives. This year, Guse watched these same students speak before a crowd, explaining what they learned as part of Cardinal Manufacturing's program and how it prepared them to pursue a technology degree at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

“My father said that one hand is for giving, the other is for receiving,” he says. “When it comes to Cardinal and their efforts to close the skills gap, my hand is for giving.” In addition to donating equipment and providing students with the opportunity to make real parts, Guse also sits on the board of Cardinal's student-run business association (learn more here).

Connecting with People

Just as Guse connects with students, he values the face-to-face connections he makes at IMTS, which he has attended since 1996.

“What I get at the show is the ability to meet people,” he says, citing a study that words express seven percent of a conversation, tone of voice expresses 23 percent and facial and body expressions convey 70 percent.

“I remember back during the Y2K craze that all business was supposed to be done over the internet. That didn't happen,” he states. “Online retail cannot replace manufacturing. When buying a CNC, people want face-to-face contact, and that's what you get at IMTS.”

The other thing, he says, is that “you meet people just sitting around and talking with them. You share ideas, or they tell you what they've seen.” He continues, “Sometimes you think you've seen the whole show, and next thing you know, someone tells you about something new in the next hall. Then you get out your MyShow Planner app, ping the booth location, go find it and you see how awesome it is. That's why I always say IMTS is the Super Bowl of manufacturing.”

Guse emphasizes that the exhibitors aren't just representing their products or companies. He says they are at the show “for you and the whole manufacturing community, which makes it totally amazing.”

After 32 years in the industry, Guse likes to think he knows a little bit about machining. However, after every IMTS – and he as attended 10 of them – he feels humbled and inspired by the breadth of technology on display.

“Attending IMTS opens up your eyes,” he says. Some of the things he learns can be applied instantly and some plant the seeds for ideas that come to fruition five or six years down the road. “I just don't know how you can afford to miss the show. Attending IMTS should be part of everybody's business plan. It should become a habit to learn new things.”

Matt Guse's father taught him that one hand is for receiving and one hand is for giving – and when it comes to supporting Cardinal Manufacturing's efforts to produce skilled tradespeople, Guse's hand has been filled with generosity.

As an example of how the show has changed his own practices, Guse cites high-speed machining, peel milling and the fact that he won't purchase a CNC machine with less than four-axis capability because “the extra set up time of a two-axis lathe just kills productivity.”

Although MRS has a shop full of Mazak CNCs, Guse firmly believes that many great solutions come from the smaller exhibits at the show, such as the Black Magic sub-harmonic vibrational stress relief device from Bonal Technologies. For stress relieving thin-wall parts made from 4140 alloy steel, this device saved MRS Machining $7,000 in the first two months by keeping stress relieving in-house.

While Guse learned about stress relief technology, another employee learned about “devibe bars,” such as the Silent Tools from Sandvik, which solve vibration problems encountered in boring operations when machining with long overhangs. The advanced dampening qualities of Silent Tools enable machining up to 10X bar diameter, while carbide reinforced adapters are optimized for overhangs up to 14X bar diameter. Extending boring depth capabilities reduced cycle time, opened machine capacity and enabled MRS Machining to bring in more customers.

“We would've never learned about this solution if we didn't come down to IMTS,” says Guse, noting how visiting the Tooling & Workholding Pavilion is an essential part of his business strategy. “We take complex parts, apply technology and reduce costs. Instead of buying a machine tool, maybe we can use tool holding technology or long-life CBN cutting tools to increase utilization rate, so we don't have to make the capital investment in a new CNC. Finding an insert that can last 10 minutes longer can contribute significantly to profitability.”

Sharing the Wealth

At MRS Machining, when machine operators need or want something like a CBN cutting tool, they order it. Every operator knows the highlights of the budget plan and receives guidance, not micromanagement, from managers.

“We don't want operators waiting for approval to buy a tool because unnecessary delays lose money,” says Guse. “Plus, it's more important to create a culture where people feel important and trusted.”

To foster that culture, Guse set up an incentive plan. After establishing a company budget and determining an annual profit goal, MRS Machining gives back a portion of profits to employees — with some caveats. Any employee who has more than 24 unexcused absences in a year is not eligible for profit sharing. Tardiness at MRS Machining disappeared instantly after instituting this policy. More importantly, profit margins have increased. The profit-sharing pool is charted, posted publicly and updated every month.

“We have rules, but we organize MRS Machining so that everybody is their own boss as much as possible,” says Guse. “Operators are responsible for completing parts orders. If they can't get them done, they know that they can turn to other operators or work the weekend to meet deadlines. They work more hours, but they also get paid more and have the profit-sharing incentive as well. I like to think we flipped the traditional compensation model on its side because all 47 people know what's at stake.”

As a result of human resource policies like these, MRS Machining enjoys an 85 percent retention rate. Shop floor employees average just 31 years old, but they boast an average of nine years of experience.

“As the President, I may be the most visible ‘rock star' of the company, but I'll tell you what, I have 47 great musicians on stage with me,” says Guse.

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