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Penn United Asks: Why Not Us?

By Mark Sewell Senior Consultant, Manufacturing, Catalyst Connection

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When Carl Jones, Robert Becker and Charles Barton started Penn United Technologies as a small tool-and-die shop way back in 1971, the machinists founded it on a vision of a “why not us” attitude.

That attitude has led Penn United to become one of the most recognized providers of manufacturing solutions for customers needing precision components or precision-assembled products. Its complete range of manufacturing services allows customers to capture value through Penn United’s  vertical knowledge of all their manufacturing capabilities and their ability to use this knowledge to solve manufacturing problems.

A couple of years ago when Penn United started exploring the realm of additive manufacturing, it rekindled its founding vision, but with the help of one of its largest customers in the energy industry. 

“Our customer started research into additive and how they could use it to improve their filters. They were in here a lot and they kept having the conversation that Penn United should get into additive,” explained Charlie Phillips, Sales and Marketing Manager. “They saw that our current infrastructure and manufacturing would very much support an additive process to make some of their filter products.”

Always looking to live up to the mantra of “why not us,” Penn United explored a deeper relationship with the customer to spin up an additive manufacturing capacity to its services.

“We were trying to figure out how that impacted our markets and customers,” said Phillips. “And so, we finally came to the agreement. Our customer thought the best opportunity would be to put the additive manufacturing machine here, so we could support it. Our precision machining and grinding, wire EDM, metrology and inspection quality systems would be here to support making parts for them.”

Thomas Pomorski, Additive Manufacturing Engineer, came on board as part of that initiative to support Penn United’s additive journey and then support the customer as well.

“We had a resin machine here that we used for a lot of internal support to make fixtures and testing concepts that we eventually make out of metal,” said Pomorski. “We would make some parts just to get some lookers and feelers of what prototypes customers were asking for. But we never deployed it as a revenue-generating opportunity like we are doing for our customer.”

It was an 18-month process developing machine parameters, generating prototypes, and testing hundreds of samples to get to a point where Penn United was able to offer a production solution for the customers filter products. Getting this first project off the ground created a number of challenges. 

“You need a combination of design knowledge for additive manufacturing and the ability to actually design the parts,” said Pomorski. “It's very challenging to model organic geometries, and then it's also very challenging to ensure that you can meet all the functional part requirements  and be confident that you have the right level of quality in your parts as well.”

Penn United has been pleased with its methodical and relationship-based approach to bring additive manufacturing into its complete line of capabilities for all of its customers.  They have recently taken delivery of their next DMLS machine to continue adding to this capability.  

According to Phillips, its expertise in additive has created an additional new business line for Penn United. The company is now also growing business as a finisher of parts made through the additive manufacturing process by other service providers.

“We can post-process other people's parts very well just based on the understanding we've received doing our additive manufacturing,” Phillips said. “So that goes down to precision machining, precision grinding, EDM inspection, material finishing and treating all those parts.”