Shortly after Mike Winters started his company in his garage in Waukesha, Wis., on Nov. 10, 1982, first as Winters Carbide Tools, now TJ Grinding, he had the good fortune of being at a K.O. Lee facility in South Dakota where he saw an interesting piece of equipment – the FastGrind TG4 from an Australian company called ANCA. Shortly thereafter, Winters met a young man named Russell Riddiford, who was selling those machines. Winters bought his first machine from Riddiford in 1989, becoming only the third company in the United States to purchase an ANCA tool grinding machine.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Though Mike passed away in 2017, his sons Tim and Jason carry on the tradition of high-quality, short-run tool production, selling nationwide directly to end users and through a network of distributors, some of which started with Mike and remain with TJ Grinding to this day.
As Tim Winters explains, “You don’t get to the point we’ve reached without three things: a passion for what you do, the very best equipment available to do the work and, most importantly, the people to do it. That includes the people who represent your suppliers. When you find people who know their business, share your passion for it and always act in a straightforward, honest manner, you’ve found pure gold. You help their business and they help yours.”
This simple yet often elusive formula has served both companies well over the years. ANCA has grown to be a major player in the tool grinding, laser marking and integrated automation business for tool producers and users worldwide; TJ Grinding has grown substantially and today supplies tools nationwide plus in Canada and Mexico. The company currently operates 10 ANCA tool grinding machines and credits the advanced 5-axis grinders with “changing the industry,” as Tim says.
TJ Grinding specializes in short-run production of custom cutting tools, such as reamers, endmills, drills and burrs. Jason Winters remarks on the “custom” part of that sentence. The ANCA software and CNC, both developed by the machine builder, “provide us great flexibility and speed in our design work, working from ideas that often come our way in a variety of formats, including the cocktail napkin,” he quips.
Shown is an example of a cutting tool that has been made by TJ Grinding for the past 10 years on ANCA tool grinding machines, originally, the RX7 and today, the FX5 and FX7. This coated carbide tool is used to machine a 1018 steel compressed gas bottle valve.
To date, according to Jason Winters, not a single leak has occurred in the customer’s high-volume production over a 10-year span. The tool, after coating on the gauge line, holds a ±0.0003-in. tolerance consistently.
“Despite the length of the run and the changeover in machines, the ANCA combination of machine mechanics, software and CNC consistently holds the tolerances for us,” he says. “We have made and continue to make thousands of this tool every year.”
Tim Winters provides additional background. “We were approached by the customer when their primary supplier began having issues with production and staying in spec. We were initially a second source, but quickly took the lead and have maintained the business for more than 10 years,” he says with obvious pride.
“The flexibility and versatility of the ANCA machines allow us to do much more than ever and that’s a testimony to their nonstop innovation,” Tim says. “The company never settles for their last accomplishment; they’re always looking to do more and do it better for their customers, something we try very hard to do for ours, as well.”
Doing the work
On the training front, Tim notes the grinders are very intuitive, so the TJ Grinding workforce is easier to train, and especially cross-train, to run multiple machines. There are currently 15 employees at the shop, but, as Tim points out, “we have nine of our 10 ANCA machines running with robotics, so the production in the shop is designed to remain at a very high level.”
The company had started as a strictly manual tool shop, sharpening mills and drills. “As you can see, we’ve come a long way down the road to automation and higher level production,” Jason says. “We look to solve some big challenges for our customers, another way my brother and I have fun in this business every day.”
TJ Grinding specializes in short-run per print specials, but today runs up to 1,000 pieces quite often. Here again, Tim credits the speed and flexibility of the ANCA machines to keep the schedule of work at a consistently high level of production, with minimal downtime.
TJ Grinding works in various substrates to produce tools, including specialty coatings, and the company’s products are used on all types of metals as well as composites, specialty plastics and carbon fibers. One of the company’s specialties is solid-carbide rotary cutting tools used in the orthopedic, orthodontic and other surgical instrument markets. The shop also produces cutting tools for auto parts, engines, motorcycles, snowmobiles, pattern and moldmakers, plastic parts and the woodworking industry.
Once made, the cutters are inspected using a variety of metrology equipment, from optical comparators to RAM optics and a laser micrometer. Additional measurements are frequently made to meet specific, necessary customer certification standards.
The fun part
Assisted by sales manager Mark Sauer and sales associate Paul Ferguson, himself a machinist by trade, TJ Grinding is a fast-paced, high-production facility in Waukesha, which is home to a myriad of job shops and equipment builders in a variety of industries.
“That’s another fun part of the job here,” Tim says. “We’re rarely working in the same industry sector, so the variety of work and especially the material substrates we encounter challenge us every day.”
He further credits the onboard integrated robotics with changing the face of TJ Grinding.
“I subscribe to the ‘automate or die’ philosophy, so our ANCA machines have kept pace with our expectations and often exceeded them,” Tim says.
“I’m frequently impressed with the next generation of machines and how much more they help us do here.”
In the service area, the Winters brothers agree about the value of ANCA service. “We once had a problem over a weekend, so I called the office in Detroit, spoke to somebody and it was fixed on Monday,” Jason notes. “How often do you see that nowadays?”
Speaking of service, Tim has a strong commitment to workforce development, not only for the company’s employees but also for the next generation of machinists, programmers and machine maintenance personnel. He works with a local high school to give talks about the value of manufacturing, the good wages and work conditions of today’s machine shops, and the “cool opportunities you get when you make things.”