Logan, Utah

GM Jon Robinson has fostered a strategy that’s transformed the CNC job shop into a manufacturing powerhouse.

Photos courtesy 3rd Gen Machine

Founded by third-generation machinist Evan Jones — thus the company’s name — 3rd Gen Machine has been on an upward trajectory for most of its existence. But it’s hit hockey-stick growth since a pivot in 2017.

“Evan grew up walking on chips in a machine shop, learning everything he could,” says Robinson. “Machinists don’t retire, they die, so he started his own shop.”

That was 3rd Gen Machine. The company initially grew by fostering a diverse customer base in high tech and consumer electronics, then moved into outdoor gear, aerospace, and medical devices. Over the years, 3rd Gen Machine earned AS9100, ISO 9001, ITAR, and other certifications as it expanded from CNC milling and turning to design, EDM and other capabilities.

The result is a turnkey one-stop shop, says Robinson. “It started out as a job shop and moved into being a production facility,” he explains. “In a machine shop, you can have 20 machines and you’re capped out on your revenue. You’re only as good as what you can push through the door. For manufacturing, you hire account managers and product managers, you hire more quality personnel, you hire assembly teams and broaden what you can do and bring on vendors. There’s a lot of machine shops around the country that are hungry for work — small mom-and-pop shops that thrive off of businesses like us pushing them good purchase orders.”

It follows that 3rd Gen Machine has fostered a network of about 40 vendors in Utah and across the country to support higher volumes and add more capabilities. “That’s what’s really driven us over that hump,” says Robinson. “We bring in more work externally and push it out our door than we can produce internally in a given year.”

With that network established, 3rd Gen Machine’s prime differentiator is “the ability to engineer and design something that’s manufacturable at a rate that the customer is happy with,” says Robinson.

Implemented in 2015, Lean manufacturing techniques underpin the pivot, he adds. “We’ve added departments, personnel, jobs that are really going to help us maintain and sustain that Lean culture and the certifications that we need to.”

Robinson highlights a case study of a project for a plastics manufacturer. “We got thrown an assembly last year,” he explains. “It was 320 pounds, all said and done, six feet long, 43 total parts in it, a heat sink running the entire length of it.”

The lead time was about six months, he notes. “We got it done in eight weeks with all of that. Was it a little more money? Yes, but at the end of the day, they got their project in eight weeks, it’s going to make them X amount more, and it’s a quality product. They don’t have to worry about any failures with it.”

Sporting goods is the company’s top market. About 90 percent of the products 3rd Gen Machine manufactures for the industry involves products for shooting sports, says Robinson. “Word of mouth drives our shooting industry work so much.”

Federal regulations keep a good deal of that work in Logan, he adds, noting, “Under ATF law, we have to run certain things in-house.”

By the end of 2021, the company will have grown nearly 800 percent since the pivot from job shop to manufacturer in 2017. “We laid a lot of groundwork in the last six to eight months of 2020,” says Robinson. “I could sit on my hands this year and still experience that growth.”

Challenges: “Maintaining and sustaining process control and continuous improvement within the culture,” says Robinson.

To do that, “Bringing on skilled labor is definitely at the top of the list,” he adds. “That’s hard. I’m really trying to get some sort of program here in Cache Valley that targets juniors and seniors in high school.”

Opportunities: Continuing to leverage the turnkey strategy. “There’s not a specific industry — I want to serve all of them,” says Robinson. “I’m happy to serve oil and gas, aerospace, medical. It doesn’t matter, we can do it — that’s what we’re built for.”

Catalyzing productivity with cobots (collaborative robots) represents a different kind of opportunity. “We’re putting in a lot of automated cells,” says Robinson. “We’re not replacing employees with robots, we’re reallocating labor-intensive work they’re doing to robots and we’re pushing them to higher-paying, higher-margin work and jobs within the shop. . . . That’s a lot of fun. We’ve learned a lot over the last year with robots and we plan on integrating theme into our core over the next few years.”

Needs: 3rd Gen Machine is looking to aggressively grow its network of vendors, which now number about 40. “I need that to grow to over 100 before the end of the year with the growth of what I have forecast and what we’re looking to achieve in 2022,” says Robinson. “What I find hardest is finding a shop capable of hitting our quality standards and milling an aesthetic component that has a lot of complex angles without having tooling lines show up afterwards. A lot of the stuff is going into the consumer market and we pride ourselves on having no tooling lines into that industry.”

Beyond precision, Robinson seeks out other attributes in vendors: “We look for honesty. . . . Honesty is really what drives the future of a relationship. I don’t care whether it’s good or bad — bad news doesn’t get better with time. Be up front with it.”

Space is another need, but not for long. 3rd Gen Machine is on the cusp of breaking ground on a 40,000-square-foot shop in Logan to replace the current 13,000-square-foot rented space. Robinson says the company should be up and running in the new facility by the end or 2021.


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