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Fort Walton Machining unveils state-of-the-art aerospace milling machine, propelling manufacturing in Okaloosa County

Fort Walton Machining (FWM) is cementing its position as a leader in advanced manufacturing with the addition of cutting-edge technology that will expand its capabilities to serve major aerospace and […]

Fort Walton Machining CEO Tim McDonald showing off the company's new Makino MAG3.EX 5-axis horizontal machining center at its facility on Jet Drive, making it the first of its kind in Florida.

Fort Walton Machining (FWM) is cementing its position as a leader in advanced manufacturing with the addition of cutting-edge technology that will expand its capabilities to serve major aerospace and defense customers.

  • The company recently unveiled a new Makino MAG3.EX 5-axis horizontal machining center at its facility on Jet Drive, making it the first of its kind in Florida. The multi-million dollar machine is specifically designed for high-productivity aerospace machining of complex aluminum monolithic parts.

“We’ve always been known as trailblazers in this industry,” said Tim McDonald, CEO of Fort Walton Machining. “Especially being a family-owned business, taking on that kind of investment and risk is really not common.”

The MAG3.EX builds on FWM’s history of being at the forefront of manufacturing technology. In 2016, the company brought online the first Mazak VHP-160 5-axis CNC machine in the world.

According to McDonald, the new Makino machine dramatically increases FWM’s capabilities for producing parts for space vehicles and larger aerostructures for commercial and military aircraft. It features an automatic pallet transfer and storage system that allows for extended periods of unattended operation.

  • “When we took our first test cuts, my jaw was on the floor,” McDonald said. “It’s almost scary fast.”

The MAG3.EX represents a significant leap in manufacturing technology. Built specifically for Structural Aluminum Aerospace Milling, it features a larger X-axis and pallet than its predecessors, allowing for the production of bigger, more complex parts. 

The machine’s precision is so critical that it required the installation of a 39-inch thick, rebar-reinforced concrete pad, which had to cure for 90 days before the machine could be installed.

One of the MAG3.EX’s most impressive features is its rapid pallet change system. “From the time that machine stops cutting and making a part, to the time it’s cutting another part is about three and a half minutes,” McDonald explained. 

  • This is a dramatic improvement over traditional setups, which could take hours to change parts. This efficiency, combined with the machine’s ability to run unattended for extended periods, positions FWM to meet the increasing demands of the aerospace industry, particularly in the burgeoning commercial space sector.

The machine’s speed and precision will help FWM meet increasing demand from customers like Blue Origin, which is ramping up production of its New Glenn rocket. FWM has produced over 300 different part numbers in multiple quantities for the New Glenn, which is slated for its first launch later this year.

“We really bought it for them, because they’re ramping up pretty hard,” McDonald explained. “We go to their supplier summits every year, and it’s the same thing – we need to go faster, we need more capacity from the industry.”

In addition to Blue Origin, FWM’s customer base includes major aerospace and defense companies like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and SpaceX. The company specializes in high-mix, low-volume production of precision parts.

  • “We’re not building 100,000 of one part. We’re building 10 of one part, then maybe five of another part, one of another part,” McDonald said. “I like a challenge every day, something different.”

Chris Scalia, Director of Business Development at FWM, emphasized the company’s reputation for quality and reliability. 

“When I was a customer, if I wanted it done correctly and on-time, I’d go to them,” Scalia said, referring to his previous job before joining FWM. “It might cost you a little bit more, but it’s going to be done when they said it’s going to be done. And it’s going to be done right.”

FWM comprises 113,000 square feet of production capacity across two sites in Fort Walton Beach. Its Manufacturing Division houses over 50 CNC milling centers and 12 CNC lathe turning centers, while its Metal Finishing Division offers chemical processing, painting, and non-destructive testing capabilities.

The company’s growth comes as Okaloosa County looks to expand and diversify its manufacturing base beyond its traditional focus on tourism and military. 

  • “I wish manufacturing was larger in Okaloosa County,” McDonald said. “But there is a ton between Crestview Aerospace, Crane, DRS, Lockheed Martin, Boeing.”

McDonald sees FWM playing a key role in supporting economic development efforts like the Shoal River Ranch industrial park. The company has even explored the possibility of building a new facility there in conjunction with its customers in the future.

Equally important to McDonald is developing the next generation of skilled workers to sustain the manufacturing industry. FWM runs an apprenticeship program that has been in place for about 15 years, training new employees in various aspects of machining and fabrication.

“There’s a big push for trades and I’m a big pusher of it – college was the focus but we’re losing skilled labor,” McDonald said. “We’re just trying to bring that back.”

The company recently celebrated several graduates of its apprenticeship program, including McDonald’s son – marking the third generation of the family to enter the business. 

McDonald and his team are passionate about raising awareness of career opportunities in manufacturing, particularly among young people. He regularly hosts tours for school groups, from elementary to high school students.

  • “I want to bring awareness to this industry and let the individual, if they want to go into trade skills, make that decision for themselves,” he said. 

As part of those efforts, FWM works closely with local educational institutions like Northwest Florida State College and the University of West Florida. The company also supports initiatives through organizations like Florida’s Great Northwest and the Technology Coast Manufacturing and Engineering Network (TeCMEN).

Looking ahead, McDonald and Scalia see continued growth opportunities for FWM. The company is already exploring the purchase of another Makino machine to further expand its capabilities.

  • “We want to grow with our customers,” he said. “We want to support the community as much as possible and just keep growing this business and hopefully one day hand it over to my children if they want to do it.”

For McDonald, leading the way in advanced manufacturing is about more than just business success – it’s about creating opportunities and securing a prosperous future for the local community.

“It’s my job to figure out how to fix it,” he said, referring to the skills gap in manufacturing. “It’s all of us, part of our job in this industry is to try to figure out how to fix it. I want to be on the forefront of that.”

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