Chris Steele is quite the busy man, machining quality parts for both of his business; ATR, Inc. & Art of Steele Design (AOSDesign). His machinery includes Mazak Lathes & Mills, alongside several manual machines, including gear hobbs and surface grinders. “ATR, Inc. is my main line of work. It is our family owned shop that my grandfather established 30 plus years ago, employing 3 generations of machinists. We are a job shop/production manufacturing and fabrication facility. We have done production work for automotive as well as many other automation and machine companies. A lot of stuff we do is prototyping and job shop work. We do designs and redesigns for medical & machine companies, as well as service and repair jobs for local customers. We even make parts for a local vintage motorcycle/car shop called Southern Vintage Customs,” says Steele.
Essentially, if they can make it on their machine, then they are going to accept that job. Chris is more of the ‘modern’ CNC machinist, while his father and grandfather are more of the old school Tool, Die & Fabrication. “We all have our unique strengths that help make magic happen. Both of my aunts (one of which is the CEO) contribute with machining as well as keeping our office going.”
Chris’ second line of work is Art of Steele Design. AOSDesign is also a family company that includes his wife and sister. “We do all of the design work and pull together to put it all together. We do custom art and jewelry, as well as small production runs for local breweries and businesses using machining & laser engraving to do most of the work.”
Chris uses BobCAD very similarly between his 2 businesses. “For ATR, it’s my go-to for complex Milling jobs that have a lot of features. I love how easy it is to control how I am going to run my tool paths in intricate ways. Mazatrol just wasn’t cutting it (pun intended). BobCAD saves me so much time. Working out my programs on the computer made life so much easier. We currently only use 3 axis machines, but the 3D toolpaths make it feel like I have more. I even use BobCAD and BobART for laser cutting/engraving (for AOSDesign).”
Chris does have a couple other CAM systems in his shop but says he utilizes them exclusively for different things. He tells me that using different products affords him the ability to round out his experience, but he uses BobCAD about 90% of the time. “I love (BobCAD’s) interface and toolpaths. The new features BobCAD offers every time a new version comes out gets me excited. The Toolpath Editor changed the game for me. Additionally, BobCAD’s customer support is top notch too. I don’t have issues often, but if I do, they help immediately and know how to solve the issues very quickly.”
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So, what brought Chris to BobCAD-CAM’s CNC software to begin with? According to him, it was all about organization and saving time. “When I worked solely in Mazatrol Conversational, I had random papers everywhere with notes and dimensions and all sorts of ridiculous craziness around me. BobCAD destroyed all the things that slowed me down when using my old methods. It took all my recurring setups that used to take so many processes and so many hours of unnecessary work and stripped away all the fat.” He tells me jobs that used to take him over 6 hours to do now take about an hour and a half. He is able to take on more complicated jobs that he had never even dreamed about. “One of my favorite things to do is make fixtures and life easier on everyone. Time is money, but more importantly, you need employees that appreciate the job being much easier so they want to come to work! Fixture building has come a long way and with BobCAD, I make the craziest fixtures that cut down on time, hardship and failures.” Wow. Safe to say that Chris is quite the cool boss!
As we came towards the end of our interview, I was curious if Chris has anything that he made that he is particularly proud of. His answer was one of confidence and pride in his abilities. “All of them! I do a good bit of work for automation machine companies. The parts I program for have a ton of features and the datums for these features can be rather odd to deal with on a 3 axis machine. With BobCAD, I’m able to create setups and build fixtures based on the features, making it so much easier to know where I am locating from. As for projects of my own design (Art of Steele Design), I have a lot of fun with BobCAD, experimenting with toolpaths and setups. I made some custom beer tap handles and unique displays for people and I used different toolpaths for aesthetic purposes.”
I pressed him a little harder to give me one of his more memorable creations and he said, “My favorite project where BobCad shined for me was a tractor part I made for a local customer. He couldn’t find this part anywhere and was getting insane quotes from people to have it made. So, I tackled it and had him up and running in a few days instead of months. The setup and programming enabled me to make his part for a few hundred bucks instead of thousands. My customers see a real benefit from BobCAD too!”
As a lot of you are starting to understand, BobCAD’s latest CNC software has quite a bit of features that people really love. Sometimes we get stuck doing something because we know how to do it so well, but as Chris is going to tell you, upgrading your software can make quite the difference. It may even leave you wondering how you lived without a particular feature that you use all the time now. For Chris, it’s our Contour Ramping feature.
”I use the heck out of contour ramping. A simple feature that has been around for a while, but I can bore 5-inch holes 6 inches deep with an extended indexable Mill & get some super smooth finishes. All while holding .0001 tolerances all day long with little to no taper. I also use the heck out of many of the 3D toolpaths, as well as Thread Milling. Thread Milling tapered threads!? I mean c’mon! I used to have to hand-tap big NPT and Straight threads with two people on each end of a massive tap handle… it would kill us. I can’t think of the last time I broke a sweat like that in ages now.”
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