Both Bruce and Carlos also had an extensive background of building special purpose machinery in addition to the motion picture equipment. In the early years they had a mix of about 60% motion picture and about 40% special machinery including customized loading systems for some of the local machine distributors.  When the special effects world became more of a digital industry the product mix started to shift. The shift to digital left many of their film industry contacts looking for other work as well. “So there are a bunch of really smart special effects guys in a variety of industries all here in the LA basin,” tells Bruce. “And they knew what we could do.” Mechanical Concepts used those contacts to grow their special machinery business. Now one of their largest customers is a local laser company. They build most of their laser motion systems and provide most of the focusing and laser delivery components. Chris is a huge fan of the yearly updates from FeatureCAM, he even looks forward to them. The latest offering especially impressed him with the new Vortex tool paths. He has found that he can triple or even quadruple his speeds thanks to the way Votex enters the material. Thanks to Chris’s methods and FeatureCAM they can make XY tables in half the time.      Having dissolved the partnership with Carlos ten years ago, Bruce and Chris have been working hard to grow awareness of their own product line of standard linear motion systems and rotary motion systems. The hope is to have the standard products be our bread and butter while still actively pursuing the one off specials. “We are very excited about the standard products we have developed in-house,” explains Chris. “especially the low profile precision XY Slides. They really out-perform the competition in spec and price. At only 3” thick (competitors are 5”) XY Stages were developed to minimize height buildup when two linear axis are stacked together. It is a unique product that maintains a very high standard for positional accuracy, linear accuracy and orthogonality. “We have a stock set of sizes, or we can custom tailor one to fit your needs,” continues Chris.     With all the prototype work, one-off projects, and flexibility in their standard products, Mechanical Concepts utilizes FeatureCAM software to help them get the most out of their time and equipment. “There are two key items I love about FeatureCAM,” explains Chris. “First is the flexibility for advanced and basic users. It’s great for prototype machines. We don’t always do long runs, one-off jobs are common and FeatureCAM’s basic functionality makes it easy to use. The latest version has all sorts of intuitive controls like: automatic feature recognition, default feeds and speeds tables, and default path styles. These really help if you don’t want to spend a lot of time refining your program. It can spit something out that will work reliably. If you are not a very experienced user or not concerned about the cycle time on a one-off, FeatureCAM is great. You could push a few buttons and you are making a part. Also, if you are an advanced user and want to maintain a higher level of control FeatureCAM does that quickly and easily too.” It works well for Mechanical Concepts because Chris likes to control everything to shave off seconds, while some of the shop guys are just learning how to use it. The flexibility allows everyone to use it and be able to grow as programmers without needing to learn new software.     The other aspect that really impresses Chris and Bruce is FeatureCAM’s Vortex tool paths. Each year like everyone else FeatureCAM releases new software that will, in theory, revolutionize the way you do business. Chris loves these updates and looks forward to the year’s new offerings. “Every time they change something that improves the way I do manufacturing in the shop it causes me to rethink every aspect about how we manufacture in the shop,” describes Chris. “Recently when they did this Vortex update I was looking at it with some of our older programs and realized I could triple my output. What Vortex does is it enters the material and makes an arc. The tool comes out of the material, spins around in the air and enters the material again tangent to the first cut. It keeps making these tangent entries with bigger scoops to take out the material.” That’s important because it doesn’t make sharp direction changes with the tool that could cause a shock or breakage under load at high speed. “These tool paths are much, much smoother. Even though the air movement is a little wasteful by not touching material we’ve found we can quadruple our speeds on some jobs.” As an example Mechanical Concepts used to run a 3/4” end mill at 30” inches per minute and now they can run at 120” per minute. “Thanks to FeatureCAM and Chris’s methods implementing it we’re able to make XY tables in half the time that we used to”, adds Bruce. “And we were already pretty fast”.     After 35 years of success Bruce and Chris continue to question the way they design, the way they manufacture, and the way they do business. Their experience has allowed them to develop their one-off business into an ever growing line of precision products and they continue to be excited about the future of their business. And of course the 35 year old slogan still holds true: They can build anything, just ask. You can visit the Mechanical Concepts website at:
Mechanical Concepts Inc. got their start back in 1979 thanks in part to Star Trek the Motion Picture. Co-founder and current owner Bruce Wilton was working with his soon to be partner Carlos Icinkoff at Robert Abel and Associates, a high end special effects company in Hollywood, Ca. making models, building cameras, and designing rigs to fly stuff on. You have guys like Bruce to thank for effects like Tie Fighters flying in front of the Death Star. The company was growing exponentially with the new Star Trek contract when the job was pulled from the original production company. “People were getting fired like crazy, including myself,” explains Bruce. “I was hired and fired daily by the various production companies involved for a couple weeks.” Carlos was in a similar situation until one day he didn’t get hired back. He came to Bruce about starting their own company. Bruce went to their boss and told him he was leaving, but what they got instead was the dream of most startups. “I told him I was quitting and he said “no, don’t go. Use my shop, use my equipment and we will pay you a monthly retainer.” Eventually Mechanical Concepts outgrew the shop space and moved into their current facility in Glendale, Ca. in 1983.     With no advertising and no salesmen, all their business came from word of mouth and the philosophy of “We build anything, just ask.” They knew the industry and work just came their way, building computer controlled camera systems and all kinds of one-off projects. “We ended up winning two Scientific and Technical Achievement awards from the Motion Picture Academy,” tells Bruce. “One for a 16-axis Motion Controlled Optical Printer, and one for a line of small, lightweight, modular linear slides and rotators for cameras and model movers.” People would come to Mechanical Concepts and say they needed a camera to perform in certain ways and they would build them one. Mechanical Concepts developed Disney’s animation camera system that allowed the transition to digital. Their equipment was known for being highly accurate and repeatable. “It all comes down to motion,” explains Chris Wilton, Director of Operations and Bruce’s son, “It’s what we do.” Chris too started out in the film industry as a freelance grip, but came to work at Mechanical Concepts full time ten years ago. He had grown up at the shop doing deliveries and sweeping floors, but as time went on he realized the more he learned the more he wanted to learn and there was a moment when he realized he had a real talent for programming and precision manufacturing. “I came to the realization that there were no old lighting guys that I wanted to grow up and be like and that working with Dad was ok,” jokes Chris. “I like the work. I get to be creative. It’s very artistic with every day being something different. I was drawn to that and to making stuff. The opportunity to actually produce something valuable of our own design is very cool.”
Established in 1979
Design & Fabrication of Custom Engineered Machinery
Fax: (818) 547-0967
Mechanical Concepts, Inc.
Phone: (818) 507-1033
429 Fernando Ct. Glendale, Ca 91204