Frieze remained skeptical, though. He’d tried indexable ceramic cutting tools on both milling and turning jobs in the past, with mediocre results. Now, however, he was willing to try anything if it meant meeting the customer’s deadline. When Guillon arrived a few days later with the ceramic end mills, Frieze followed Kennametal’s feed-and-speed recommendations to the letter, crossed his fingers, and pushed cycle start.

“We weren’t certain what would happen so we started out with a block of test material,” he said. “You don’t use cutting fluid with ceramic, only an air blast, and everyone in the shop was crowded around the machine saying, ‘Wow, look at that!’ There was fire shooting everywhere. It was something we’d never seen before. But within the first hour, we knew it was going to work.

“The tools aren’t inexpensive,” Stellar’s production manager continued. “At one point, Lori had around $20,000 worth of end mills sitting in her office and we were starting to question the investment. But once we calculated in the machine costs and reduced cycle time, we figured it was three to four times more cost-effective to go this route.

“Each end mill gave us one half-hour of cut time,” Frieze detailed, “at which point we replaced it whether it was worn or not. The process was so predictable we were able to run lights-out. It was a drastic savings.”

Zero scrap, and another RFQ — Best of all, Stellar Precision Components delivered the Inconel parts on time with zero scrap, and the customer returned with a request for a second, even larger order. Owner Lori Albright was quite pleased with the outcome. “This type of situation is the nature of our business. We have to react to our customers’ needs and employ the best technology available to do so. That’s one of the reasons why Kennametal is so welcome here. We work together as a team to solve challenges.”

Now Albright is anticipating continued growth for the aerospace machine shop. Having expanded Stellar’s existing operation six times, she is considering whether to invest in an entirely new building, nearby. And, she looks forward to bringing more young people to the machining trade.

“We have apprenticeship programs with several of the area schools, one of which my father used to teach at,” she said. “I find that it’s often our younger people that drive our innovation. It's too easy to keep doing things the old way and not to invest in tooling and equipment, or pursue new technology. The days of high volume, round-the-clock fender clip manufacturing are gone, and it’s only by continually improving their manufacturing processes that companies can succeed and grow.”