A reputation for un-erring precision brings risks and rewards for Precision Grinding Solutions
For nearly two decades Curt Reed learned the art and science of high precision grinding as a hands-on practitioner. For 15 years he worked as a tool and die maker at BIC Corporationʼs Milford, Connecticut plant. By the end of his stay, he was group leader of a ten-man grinding operation and well versed in the use of high-end Studer precision grinding equipment.
Then he was presented with an opportunity to serve as a consultant with United Grinding Technologiesʼ Studer Group. This allowed him to tackle some of the most challenging precision aerospace grinding applications using the worldʼs finest grinding equipment at a laboratory in North Kingstown, RI. (Right down the street from Meister Abrasives USA.)
Unfortunately, the economy plunged after 9/11 and the lab was relocated, Curt was offered a full-time position at the new location but he decided to stay in New England and pursue his own dream.
“It is a big challenge when you are starting out with nothing,” he said. “You can’t get a high-end grinding machine (that costs upward of $1 million) without the work and you can’t get the work without the machine. It’s quite an interesting situation.”
Preparation Meets Opportunity
“I stayed on my own doing applications work for a variety of companies. One of these was a large aerospace company that needed to outsource grinding of parts for a very large military vehicle program in support of the Iraq War. Based on the work I had done for them in the past and their confidence in my capabilities, they gave me a shot at it.”
Based on a willingness to invest their life savings, put their home up as collateral and possession of a 3-year contract to manufacture these critical parts, Curt Reed and his wife were able to obtain financing to buy a new, fully-loaded S40 Studer grinding machine and lease a small building to house their new manufacturing business– Precision Grinding Solutions (Wallingford, CT). That was 8 1⁄2 years ago.
PGS met the requirements of its first big contract, was awarded others, and over the years purchased additional high-end equipment, including another Studer grinding system, Fischer Center Hole Grinding Machine, various high quality tool room equipment, and significant inspection equipment (Zeiss Prismo CMM and a Taylor Hobson Form Talysurf) that enables PGS to ensure itʼs customers of the highest quality standards.
The company has become so proficient in the measurement of precision-ground components that PGS is now being used as a source for contract inspection by a number of customers particularly in the medical device arena. This aspect of the business has grown to the point where Curt subcontracts some of the high-end inspection and engineering to his brother Scott, owner or Reed Technical Associates.
The business also has two additional employees. John Huckick, one of Curtʼs original mentors at BIC now works the second shift several nights a week. Curt himself is mentoring Nick Bajda who had no previous grinding experience., “He started with me about three years ago and he couldn’t do more than read a ruler. Now heʼs working to ten millionths tolerances” Said Curt.
“Iʼve said Iʼd trust those guys with my life,” He continued. “And essentially, I do. These guys are using extremely expensive machines and every part is worth tons of money. We work on aircraft parts sometimes worth $25,000-$30,000 by the time they get to us. So having people you can trust to do this sort of work is big.”
Solving A Puzzle
Among the important relationships that Curt cites as being essential to his business success are suppliers of equipment, materials, tools, coolant, etc. Establishing a repeatable, high precision grinding process is like solving a puzzle with lots of pieces and Curt relies on his trusted suppliers to insure that each of the pieces are the best fit for a given process. Grinding wheels are one of the most important parts and Precision Grinding Solutions relies on Meister superabrasive grinding wheels for many of its most difficult applications.
“One of the things that we’ve always enjoyed about Meister is their ability to make wheels in a reasonable period of time if they donʼt already have one on the shelf. Their delivery cycles are generally around four weeks and I canʼt recall a time when they have been late.
“Many times as a job shop people call us out of the blue in a big hurry to get a certain job done. Typically it has unique requirements and you need special wheels.
“So we find ourselves calling Meister on a regular basis and saying ʻHey we’ve got this job and we need a wheel that looks like this (usually for internal grinding) and do you have something that will work for us?ʼ We give them the overall requirements and within the same day they come back nine times out of ten and say ʻYeah we’ve got wheels that we can deliver tomorrow. On many occasions this has allowed us to handle significant jobs and new customers on short notice.”
Curt believes that ability to solve customer problems like these is the key to additional growth in the year ahead. PGSʼs plan to obtain AS90100 certification in 2011 will also help. And, when the opportunity arises, Precision Grinding Solutions will acquire more high-end equipment to support its new applications while using Meister wheels to solve the new customersʼ problems.
Pride Themsleves on Precision