Manufacturers join forces, create ‘virtual assembly line’ |

Manufacturers join forces, create ‘virtual assembly line’

Anne Knowles
Hood EIC is a Sparks machine shop and one of a handful of

Northern Nevada manufacturers are banding together to build a virtual one-stop shop for customers.

The idea is to link local manufacturers with varying skills and expertise in a dispersed assembly line that can quickly respond to orders. The goal is to attract more work and in turn create more jobs and turn the area into a haven for contract manufacturing.

“Manufacturing used to be all in one building, but in today’s world there is customization,” says Susan Clark, founder and president of Reno’s Nevada Venture Accelerator 250 known as NVA250, which is spearheading the effort. “People want (products with) mass-produced price points but customized for them. Think of it as a virtual manufacturing hub.”

The backbone of the project is a supplier database built and hosted by NVA250. That database was funded in part by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which has identified manufacturing as a key industry in the state’s economic future.

The database contains detailed information on 200 manufacturers that can be searched using precise criteria such as materials, machine types and part size. The group is continuing to develop it and plans to add more features, including an interface to computer-aided design programs which would assemble a Nevada-based supply chain for a product as it’s being designed.

But NVA250 is working with a smaller group of manufacturers — about 15 right now, says Clark — to coordinate their work on some initial forays into producing products using the team approach.

One of the first projects the group has worked on is parts for a motorcycle engine being built by a California racing outfit. (Customer names aren’t revealed because manufacturers’ work is done under nondisclosure agreements.)

“One of the success stories of these manufacturing clusters is the UK-based motorsport market,” says John Kucjaz, a manufacturer who moved here from Michigan and is developing component technology to improve the performance of hybrid vehicles. “There is this amazing cluster in southwestern England that caters to that industry.”

The California customer hopes to duplicate that environment here, says Kucjaz, who says he moved to northern Nevada largely because of the manufacturing know-how.

Several manufacturers are working on the project, passing off parts to one another as the pieces move back and forth down the virtual assembly line. Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technology, for example, is developing material for a piston and needed a 3D scan of the part. So Tripp Enterprises Inc. in Sparks scanned the piston for AM2T.

“We gave them a piston and they did the 3D scan and produced data files for a CNC (computer numerical control) program which we in turn gave to a manufacturer in Carson City and said here’s the files, here’s the materials, now fabricate the pistons,” says AM2T owner Henry Meeks.

The machine shop in the production chain was Vineburg Machining Inc.

Meeks estimates having access to Tripp’s 3D scanner cut production time in half.

Meanwhile, Betra Manufacturing is working on incorporating in the engine the lightweight aluminum it is beginning to work with.

“There’s a lot of demand for the material, anywhere where weight saving is important,” says Larry Kondik, owner of the Carson City foundry. “I’m making cases for the outside the engine.”

So far, all the manufacturers are pleased with the results.

“It’s really a way for manufacturers in this area to come together and understand each other’s capabilities and strengths, and then organize to create an offering that’s compelling to potential customers,” says Frank Terrasas Jr., marketing and business development at Tripp. “Rather than doing it individually, what NVA250 is saying, and I think it’s brilliant, is this is what we can do as a region.”