NTL Industries founder and owner Greg McArthur believes in goal-focused planning. “One of my favorite ideas was from Elon Musk. He said to have a 10-year plan but try to accomplish it in six months. You’re never going to accomplish it, but you’ll be a lot further ahead than if you weren’t trying to accomplish that bigger 10-year plan.” All photos courtesy of NTL Industries.
Greg McArthur grew up in the family machine shop, happily doing the grunt work while he was still in high school — from cleaning to driving to spending Saturday nights painting parts. He learned from his dad and uncle on the job, as well as through courses at a local community college. He parlayed this knowledge and experience into becoming a machine operator and full-time employee. Things were going well, but like so many other machine shops in the country, this one suffered from the fallout of the Great Recession in the late 2000s and closed. But that wasn’t going to be the end of McArthur’s career as a machinist or in a family business.
He found work with a hydraulics manufacturer, but dreamed of opening a manufacturing business of his own. He and his wife Shelley came up with a company name over dinner one night: NTL Industries. The acronym stands for “Never Too Late” or “Nothing To Lose.” He says both work for the business they launched in 2017.
Today that business has 11 employees and has recently added capabilities including horizontal machining. Significantly, the dream has also expanded. McArthur is preparing to become a manufacturer of aftermarket automotive parts — and the horizontal machining center will enable this. Here is how automated machining, specifically running lights out, can allow a single shop to run as a job shop by day and a production manufacturer by night.
This frame part of 7075 aluminum was made on the NHP5000 utilizing the
Building With Growth in Mind
McArthur started NTL by purchasing a Bridgeport knee mill and a CNC lathe to set up shop in his 500-square foot home garage while still working full time. The CNC lathe was a particularly significant investment, but he knew he needed the lathe to be programmable so he could run it and the mill at the same time.
He continued to work full-time and would spend several hours each afternoon doing sales for his own business. “If anyone had a ‘help wanted’ sign, I’d stop in because obviously they had more work than they could handle,” he says. “I’d leverage those opportunities to get them through whatever they needed,” building relationships and trust among these other shops. This helped McArthur grow the business, and create lasting relationships with other local shops, many of whom are still customers today.
Within six months, McArthur resigned from his job and committed to NTL Industries full-time. He outgrew the garage and leased his first building in March 2019. By the end of 2020, when the US was in the full throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, NTL had eight full-time employees; had added three Haas CNC vertical machining centers, a CNC plasma cutter and a welding department; and had expanded to 3,500 square feet. NTL Industries also received its ISO-9001 certification at this time.
This 316 stainless-steel clamp is made of two different parts that were machined at the same time. They were run in a Kurt cluster vise in three set ups.
Creative and Strategic Expansion
McArthur had always planned for the business to be more than a job shop — he wanted the capacity to realize some of his own product ideas as well, in effect becoming an OEM. This aim helped shape the trajectory of his business’ growth. He bought most of the machines secondhand from eBay and Facebook Marketplace. But he knew he had to expand not only his equipment, which he did though buying machines secondhand from eBay and Facebook Marketplace, but also his capabilities. Thus, he purchased two Doosan (now DN Solutions) machining centers in 2021, both of them new, one of which was the shop’s first horizontal machining center.
It was important to McArthur to buy the two machines from the same builder. “I knew I was going to buy two machines, so making sure the controls were very similar was critical to not having to learn two different systems,” he says. It was also important that the machines have large enough tables and work envelopes for large parts and production runs. Today, he and the team work to determine how to best set up parts and sequential operations on the machines to maximize spindle time. They also create many of their own workholding systems, designed for economical setup and/or rapid changeover.
He considered purchasing a five-axis machine, knowing it would grow NTL’s capabilities even more, but the shop could not yet justify the cost. “We’re doing five-sided machining on our horizontal Doosan by spinning the part and remachining the other side,” he says. “I would love to get into it with a real five-axis machine, and I will. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
Castings also account for a significant share of the job shop work. The part on the right is a cast water pump housing received from a customer, while the part on the left is NTL Industries’ take as machined on the DN Solutions NHP5000.
Working Toward Full Lights-Out Production
The DN Solutions horizontal is a NHP5000 machine. It has a 19.7” pallet, with a maximum workpiece size of 31.5” by 39.3”. The version NTL purchased has a 60-tool capacity and Renishaw probes for tool and workpiece measurement.
The companion vertical is a DN Solutions DNM5700S machining center with a 51.2” by 22.4” table and 2200-lb. capacity. The addition of these two machines is already changing the trajectory of the company’s growth. By taking full advantage of the machines’ capabilities, NTL can do bigger parts in stacks of six or eight parts high and machine all the faces of a part in just a couple of operations. The NHP5000 has a two-pallet system so the operator can set up for the next job and have it ready to load when an operation is done running, reducing wait time between projects.
Brian Kozlowski is the operator of the HMC. With 24 years machining experience, he came to NTL after working with McArthur at his previous employer. Kozlowski started his career doing on-machine programing but now works in Mastercam to program the DN Solutions machines.
This prototype part was machined on the HMC in both 7075 aluminum and 4140 steel. Machining was performed 360 degrees around the part using the HMC’s fourth axis.
Current Project Work
Today, NTL Industries focuses on a few vertical markets — agriculture and defense. The company manufactures a variety of turned products, along with sometimes complex parts milled on its machining centers. Depending on the job, NTL may start from steel or aluminum billet or from castings.
One area of growth is workholding tooling for other shops. “We can fill the voids when we have small downturns or holes in our day-to-day production and help out guys like me when I first started out,” McArthur says. “We can help them keep their costs down,” leveraging some of what NTL has learned about fixture tooling during its own work. This is the beginning of the company sourcing its own product, and the goal is to go to lights-out production, particularly on the new HMC.
“We need to make sure the timing is right. We don’t want to run our machines for eight hours at 50%, slowing them down. The goal is to let them run at capacity overnight,” McArthur says. “We want it to be as efficient as possible so we can gang parts and run consecutive operations.”
NTL Motorsports is taking the customer experience seriously when testing its prototype rims for Jeeps: the company’s prime test subject is McArthur’s personal vehicle.
A New Business Within the Business
In addition to the job shop work, NTL has launched an offshoot brand: NTL Motorsports. McArthur got the idea from watching his son, who is a go-kart racer, and now makes a line of aftermarket parts for go-karts.
“We’re starting with oil catch cans, but from there we’ll keep adding to the product line,” McArthur says. He plans for the shop to slowly advance into this line of products, designing new offerings then moving them into production as unattended capacity warrants.
“With the Doosans, we’ve got automation capability, and that will open more doors for us,” he says. Recurring production of his own products can run at night, while less-predictable job shop machining can still fill the day, when there are team members onsite to oversee the work.
Also coming from the NTL Motorsports line: parts for real automobiles. The first of these was a bumper for the Jeep model McArthur drives, with operations and welding performed in-house.
McArthur has already refined the design for the next round of this product. The DN Solutions machines will let NTL make multiple components for the bumpers simultaneously with one set up. “We’ll be able to stack parts and cut all the holes and mounting openings at once because they will be duplicate parts. We’ll load the machine and let it run all night. The final product will be better than what we could do today because we’ll make one integral frame piece in the Doosan for the bumper and all the accessories — the lights, winch, etc. Then you won’t have as many different parts making up the bumper, so there’s less room for it to break.”
A line of custom rims is also in development, starting with protective rims for McArthur’s own Jeep. “We’ll create standard blanks that people can customize and design to say whatever they want it to say. We’ll machine the rims on the Doosans and customize with the plasma cutter. Whatever personal touch you want to put on it, we’ll try to make them fully customizable for our customers.” With ideas like these to pursue, and with a thriving manufacturing business providing a platform to pursue them, the future looks bright — and somewhat ironically, it looks all the brighter thanks to lights-out production.