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Inside an Amish homemade machine shop | Modern machine shop

The State of the Art Machine Shop offers an exclusive tour of an Amish-owned machine shop where cutting-edge machining technology meets Old World heritage.
Northern Indiana Axle is an Amish-owned, 60,000-square-foot CNC machining shop that specializes in wagon parts, stainless steel guardrails, ball ties, cable parts, and aluminum trailer flaps.
As early as the 1960s, sociologists in the country generally believed that the Amish would be integrated into the broader American culture within a few decades. “Of course, once European customs wear out like broken clocks, the Amish will be assimilated into mainstream society,” John Hostler wrote in an article for the Washington and Lee Law Review.
Due to their preference for extended families, the Amish are one of the fastest growing communities in the United States, having tripled in population from about 84,000 in the mid-1980s to over 300,000 today. Not surprisingly, this growth creates problems. For example, while agriculture remains an important source of employment for Amish families living in the Midwest, the integration of agricultural industrialization and factory farms has undermined this traditional way of life.
In northern Indiana, this phenomenon manifests itself in an unusual way. The area, located three hours north of Indianapolis, is home to the settlements of Nappani and Elkhart-La Grange, which are home to approximately 30,000 Amish. In addition to having a large Amish population, northern Indiana is also known as the “RV Capital of the World” where about 80 percent of all recreational vehicles in the United States are made. For decades, these two worlds have been intertwined. According to a study by the Youth Center for Anabaptism and Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College, in Elkhart County, Indiana, most Amish people under the age of 65 work in RV factories.
Ken Mallet, founder and owner of a Nappani machine shop called Northern Indiana Axle, was one of them.
We first met Ken last August at the Precision Machining Technology Show (PMTS), where he wanted to add a host of CNC machining centers and automation technologies to his shop. Northern Indiana Axle specializes in wagon parts, stainless steel parts, ball couplers, gun parts, cable guard parts and aluminum trailer hinged covers. The company employs 25 employees, both Amish and “English” (the Amish term for non-Amish), with an almost equal number of men and women on the shop floor.
When one of Ken’s salespeople at the show suggested we go to his store for potential items, the offer was hard to resist. Having been in close contact with the Amish community for a while, I think I know a little about the set of rules that Ordnung or every Amish community church has. However, I have never seen an Amish-owned facility running dozens of high-tech CNC machines and pallet changers, all powered by 1200 rpm natural gas generators.
The day of the visit was full of surprises. Here’s a glimpse of what I found in an Axle store in Northern Indiana earlier this year.
In addition to several Okuma Cadet large diameter turning centers and Haas VF-2 and VF-4 VMC machines, Northern Indiana Axle uses several Marubeni Citizen Cincom and Miyano Swiss-style CNC lathes.
About half of Northern Indiana Axle’s staff, including the Amish and English, are women. “If an employee wants a promotion, she can get it,” Mallett said. “We won’t stop anyone.”
When Ken Mallet founded Northern Indiana Axle in 1989, his only experience with machining was learning from a 70-year-old former store owner. The first Mullet axles made on this Gisholt manual lathe were rejected by the customer. But his technology improved rapidly. It wasn’t until 1994 that Mallett learned about CNC machining at the International Trade Show for Manufacturing Technology (IMTS). “This is a game changer,” he said. “I went to this show to see what people were doing with metalworking. When I walked in, it was like a kid walking into a candy store.” productivity from 20 to 80 bobbins per day. The shop currently uses 30 CNC machines, but still uses Gisholt from time to time.
After working in a RV plant from age 16 to 31, Ken Mallet started his own fencing business, which he ran for several years. But since the work was seasonal, Mallett began to look for new opportunities at the urging of his wife. To avoid returning to the RV factory, Mallett purchased a small machine shop in 1989 that used Gisholt manual lathes to machine axles. He took a course in CNC machining and programming after learning that CNC could be vastly superior to his manual machines (Mullet had no experience with either type of machining). Now, decades later, the shop has about 30 CNC machines, some equipped with bar feeders or pallet changers, as well as various test and measurement equipment. Today, axles like the one you see here still make up about 25% of the store’s sales.
Most Amish children stop going to school after 8th grade, which is when they should start preparing for the adult world of the Amish community. This training may include helping run a family farm or learning trades such as woodworking or even machining, though a CNC shop like Northern Indiana Axle is far from the norm. “The original idea was that after that, the kids would work at home with their dads and help with the farming,” Mallett said. “Well, farmers have less work today. The big farmers come and the small ones don’t. So the kids are looking for jobs and summer activities. They can drop out of school right away… They won’t be paid like adults, but they don’t work like adults. So you bring that up, and by the time they’re 18, they’re doing just as much work as adults, maybe even better.”
Stephen Mallet, son of Ken Mallet, is currently Senior Production Manager at Northern Indiana Axle. After purchasing the Keyence IM series of optical comparators, Mullet was equipped with a small inspection room to check the high precision parts produced by the shop on Swiss type machines.
Mallett invested in a new Okuma MB 4000 HMC to machine these parts for a cable fencing company that was trying to produce the company’s products in a vertical mill. “We tried to do it in four or five steps and we had a great time,” he said. In other cases, Mullet invested in machine tools before customers, such as the first time the store purchased Swiss-style lathes for customers who needed high-precision parts.
“I got married in 1984 and we bought some really open properties,” Mallett said. “As a strict guy, the first thing I said was, let’s get into fencing ourselves. So we were looking for fencing supplies and a guy from Middlebury (goods store) asked Napani if ​​anyone was into fencing because he thought I was good at it. That’s how I started fencing, because someone believed me. It gave me public relations experience and taught me how to meet needs. But since it’s seasonal, winter is over. So we were thinking about different things, and my wife said that in the winter I should go back to the van factory. I say no no. I have tasted freedom and will not give it up. ”
To recruit and retain talent, Ken Mallet offers a profit-sharing program he calls the Impact Award. Mallett explained that the quarterly plan is divided into three tiers, each representing a higher level of hourly pay for each worker. “Tier 1 is the general operator who manufactures the part,” Mallett said. “The second level is that the machine has several programs and you can go from one program to another. You pick it up and insert a chuck or whatever tool you need. The third level is when we give you a printout of “You program it and get to work. You can do anything.” Compensation is based on the part away from home and the total number of hours worked per employee per quarter.
Northern Indiana Axl maintains the Amish standard of not using electricity from the city grid. (Many Amish believe that connecting to the public grid would mean connecting to the outside world, violating the principle that the Amish don’t fit in.) Instead, the store uses a 1,200-rpm natural gas generator and a diesel backup engine. a generator to heat the 60,000-square-foot building and provide most of the electricity needed to power 30 CNC machines. The store also has a large battery pack that powers security lights, fax machines, and a “word processor,” an Amish term for personal computers with limited Internet connectivity. However, the store uses Wi-Fi and fiber optic cables for its Autodesk Fusion 360 cloud-based CAD/CAM software.
When it comes to his employees and their work environment, Mallett said he doesn’t differentiate between Amish and “British” workers, but emphasizes family responsibilities in particular. “Weddings, funerals, anything like that, you can film,” he said. “If you have a family vacation, which is important to you, you can leave. We all need a family, and just because you have a job doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your family. For those on the outside, English-speaking world, I say this: we have a culture that we live in. You come and you have a culture. We must respect this culture. We don’t think we are better than the British. We don’t have that at all. This feeling. we have a culture and they have a culture, let’s respect each other and move on.”
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Post time: Sep-01-2022