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Tool & Die

Going mobile

By Lynn Stanley

Gordon Zemnickas takes tool-sharpening services directly to fabricators with his mobile shop

March 2012 - A dull tool can stick and ruin a piece of sheet metal. During a production run, processes like hole-punching can pull an unsharpened tool from the clamp, shutting a turret punch press down. Sharpened tools are essential to a fabricator’s productivity and profitability, but sheet metal fabricating equipment sales representative Gordon Zemnickas noticed manufacturers struggled to keep up with tool maintenance.

“Fabricators want someone who can maintain their tooling, but they either don’t have time or the proper equipment,” says Zemnickas. “Sending tools out for sharpening is costly and the turn-around time can be lengthy.”

That’s when the 22-year tooling and metal fabrication equipment veteran got the idea to make tool sharpening mobile. He established Turret Tooling Mobile Services Inc., Howell, Mich., in 2002 and took his services on the road.

Meeting a need
“I had bounced the idea off several business owners, and they thought it was a good one,” Zemnickas says. “I put the pieces of equipment I needed into a trailer and went to my first sharpening job. I’ve been doing this full time ever since.” The centerpiece of Zemnickas’ rolling rig, a DCM punch and die grinder, can regrind turret press punches and dies in minutes. DCM Tech Inc., Winona, Minn., designs and builds industrial surface grinders, blanchard grinders, rotary table surface grinders and automotive rebuilding products.

“The team at DCM has been very supportive of me,” says Zemnickas. “Equipping the trailer and making sure everything would work under those conditions took some thought. Initially, we looked at a three-phase power converter but DCM wasn’t sure it would operate the punch and die grinder. They also weren’t sure the machine would run on a generator or stand up to being bounced around on the road and still run efficiently.” A rotary phase converter solved Zemnickas’ voltage issues and proved an effective portable power source for running the equipment. The grinder also proved it could stand up to the pounding of the road and still refurbish tools to a like-new condition. “It has been bullet-proof,” says Zemnickas. “I’m on my third power generator and second trailer, but I’m still using the same grinder.”

Boosting productivity
At first Zemnickas says he visited manufacturers he had appointments with but he also made cold calls. He knocked on doors in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, performing free tool-sharpening demos. Today, he travels this route every two weeks, servicing local shops in the Detroit area in between trips. His custom-designed, self-contained mobile shop is now a familiar site to customers who have been able to optimize shop floor space, boost productivity and build their bottom line with the help of Zemnickas’ services. “That’s how I got where I am “knocking on doors,” he says.

Made in the United States, the DCM grinder is easy to use with both manual and automatic operation. Universal-style fixturing accepts all tool types. The grinding wheel provides a consistent finish, eliminating streaks and burn marks.

Zemnickas primarily performs his sharpening services in a customer’s facility parking lot but also accepts shipments of tools with a turnaround time of one week. “I refurbish some tools that need a surface grinder to sharpen convex profiles, but the DCM grinder can handle nearly everything else,” he says. During the last five months, Zemnickas has observed an uptick in customers’ tool-maintenance needs, which he says reflects an increase in productivity. “Usually, I never work between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, but this year I had to work because my customers said they weren’t closing and needed me,” he says.

Zemnickas’ business also is growing. He recently opened a franchise in Northeast Ohio and is looking at Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. When Zemnickas hits the road, he still sometimes thinks, “Here I am, just one person, who is starting to evolve into a business that employs other people and meets a critical need.”

For others in the industry, he is a reminder that the spark of ingenuity and innovation can turn an idea into an enterprise. “It is about ideas, looking at things that are already here and combining them into something that meets a need,” he says. FFJ

Sources

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