General Manager Tom Ferrara says the aerospace, defense, and medical device-focused machine shop is on target for record growth despite supply chain challenges.
Owned by Jack McFarland, P4Swiss Lindel got its start as Lindel Engineering in 1987. The company merged with Precision 4 Swiss, a Swiss machine shop out of California, in 2019.
“[Jack] had been wanting to get into the Swiss business for several years,” says Ferrara, who joined the company in 2011 as a quality manager. “He saw a company was available in California, so he bought it and moved everything to our facility [in Tucson]. We’re now a Swiss CNC shop, and customers are finding us from our website that says we have Swiss.”
Ferrara, who got his start in typewriter repair and copier sales before learning machining from his father-in-law in Michigan, has since been promoted to General Manager. “I really like making things,” he says of his decision to get back into the CNC business after a stint as a branch manager for Sharp Business Systems.
Ferrara explains that the contract manufacturer currently focuses on three markets: medical, aerospace, and defense. “Our niche is short-run production,” he continues. “For the regular lathes and CNC mills, short run is 25 to 50 quantity. On the Swiss machines, short-run production is 500 to 10,000 pieces.”
P4Swiss is ISO9001:2015 and AS9100D certified as well as ITAR compliant. The 10,000-square-foot shop houses eight Haas CNC mills, four of which have five-axis CNC capabilities. “This means we can do all five sides of a part without letting go of it,” Ferrara explains, “which gives us quicker lead times and better quality because we don’t have to let it go for three or four operations as you would in a regular three-axis machine.”
Ferrara says the fourth five-axis CNC mill is a “floater” in case one of the other three breaks down. “You get into surges in the work,” he continues, “and if you need your five-axis and all of a sudden it is broken and it’s going to be three months before you can fix it, it puts you in a pretty bad predicament. The backup one gives us pretty good redundancy.”
P4Swiss Lindel also has four CNC lathes, two which are multi-axis, along with the aforementioned Swiss CNC machines. “We have two Star and two Citizen,” Ferrara says. “Basically, you put a metal rod in the feeder, and it runs one part after another with no wait time between parts. It’s very productive.”
The addition of Swiss CNC machining capabilities necessitated investment in a $50,000 microscope for parts validation. “The tolerances are so small that we can’t see them with any of the equipment we had before,” Ferrara adds. The company’s quality control lab is also outfitted with a programmable CMM machine.
In addition to a reputation for quality and on-time delivery, P4Swiss Lindel is known for its ability to handle difficult parts and materials. The company specializes in non-ferrous and exotic materials including aluminum, copper, bronze, brass, titanium, stainless steel, and Teflon, as well as machinable plastics such as Delrin, NORYL, and UHMW.
“We hear customers saying, ‘I can’t find a shop to do this. Can you help out?'” Ferrara says. “Our team looks at the requirements and instead of saying we can’t, we’ve always tried to say, ‘Let’s figure this out.'”
It’s an approach that has paid off. Two of P4Swiss Lindel’s biggest customers are Raytheon and Leidos. They also machine parts for a local medical device company, Accelerate Diagnostics, which has over 100 employees. Because of their medical device customers, P4Swiss Lindel enjoyed a full docket of work during the pandemic, achieving a record-breaking year in 2020.
“We beat 2020 in 2021,” Ferrara says of the company’s growth trend since then. “And 2022 is pretty far ahead of 2021. In 2023, we have a pretty healthy forecast to attain, and we think we can hit it.”
Challenges: Ferrara says the supply chain is a major challenge. “We’ll quote a part for a customer and then send a request for quote out to our vendors for the material,” he explains. “One of the jobs we quoted last month, the vendor said they weren’t going to have the material until June of next year. It was only going to take us two days to make the part. So, we told the customer that unless they could find a source that’s quicker, they were going to have to wait until June or change their material to something that’s available.”
As the company has grown, Ferrara says it has also been difficult to find additional help. “I’ve had positions open for months on end because we just don’t find qualified candidates,” he continues. “It seems like the younger generation doesn’t consider a CNC machine shop, where you go into work and get your hands dirty while making a nice wage. They just want to work at home with their tablet or something.”
Opportunities: Ferrara says managing growth — and balancing the needs of growing customers with their own — is essential. “Some customers have so much work that they want done, they could bury our shop’s total capacity,” he adds. “If we took that opportunity, the risk would be that we might not be able to deliver some of our top customers’ projects on time. So, the smart thing is to say no to a customer who’s getting too big. Just say we can only do so much.”
Ferrara recently listed P4Swiss Lindel on Sustainment — a growing manufacturing supply chain platform — as an additional tool to get the company’s name in front of potential customers. “I looked at some of the examples they had,” he says of the platform, “and thought we’d be a good fit. I like to get our company’s name on the radar digitally as many places as I can.”
Needs: In addition to more equipment, P4Swiss Lindel also needs more employees. “We have eight CNC mills, but we only have five mill machinists,” Ferrara says. “Our goal is to try to keep the machines running all the time. Right now, I’m looking for a programmer, a quality manager, and some mill machinists. The boss says if you find talent, hire them. We’ll either put them to work or expand our capabilities and our capacity to keep growing.”