KSPT SGS Precision Tools (KSPT) of Ohio is marking its sixtieth anniversary with new products and a spirit of optimism.
“Since April of last year, we have expanded our product offering by thirty-three percent, and that was through a pandemic period. We have taken the position that, even though business might not be as strong as it otherwise would be, this is a time for us to continue to be aggressive in product development and product launch activity, so when the market does rebound, we’re ready to service customers,” states Mark Stockinger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Last profiled in the August 2017 issue of Business in Focus magazine, KSPT manufactures solid round carbide cutting tools. Company operations used to be split between Munroe Falls, Ohio and nearby Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. While these cities are only a few miles apart, the company decided to concentrate the business in one locale. It had plenty of land and buildings in Cuyahoga Falls, so the head office and several facilities were moved there.
“Probably the biggest thing that’s happened for our company since 2017 is that we have moved from independent locations here in Northeastern Ohio to one main campus. The headquarter offices, coating facility, and distribution center have all been moved to buildings in Cuyahoga Falls that are adjacent to the main manufacturing facility,” says Stockinger. “The goal being a gain in manufacturing and efficiencies and service of the customer.”
Throughout most of its history, this was an independent entity called SGS Tool Company, Inc. Although now owned by KYOCERA Corporation of Japan, the company continues to make SGS branded products—a point of pride for the decades-old business.
The Z-Carb brand “is the one we’re best known for,” Stockinger says. “But we manufacture an extensive offering of round solid carbide cutting tool technology for the machining and metalworking industry. We offer high quality general application tools to our customer base, but where we really differentiate ourselves from our competition is in the high-performance sector.”
The company excels at providing the best cutting tools for difficult-to-machine materials such as titanium, Inconel, high-temperature alloys, and composites.
KSPT maintains a network of other facilities, including a research and development (R&D) facility in Munroe Falls, a service center in Orange, California, the KYOCERA SGS Tech Hub in Danville, Virginia, and a medical device manufacturing plant in Columbia City, Indiana. Medical, aerospace, defense, general engineering, power generation, and automotive are the main sectors served. The firm is excited by “the prospect of growth in the electric car market. Round solid carbide cutting tools will still be needed for manufacturing electric cars. However, they will be different than those used for internal combustion engine cars. This is something the business needs to be ready for,” says Stockinger.
KSPT developed a proprietary software program called Tool Wizard to help customers make cutting tool selections. After being updated in 2019 to incorporate new features and new information, the program is being overhauled once again. “Our R&D team has come up with some things that we’re hoping will take Tool Wizard to an even more sophisticated level and be a more powerful tool for those using it,” he states.
The company has also updated its quality assurance certifications. In addition to being ISO 9001: 2015 certified, it now has ISO 14001:2015 certification for environmental management, and its California facility has ISO 45001:2018 for occupational health and safety management.
The company was founded in 1951 in Akron, Ohio. It was a business that specialized in regrinding work for the tire industry. Over the decades and under the leadership of Jack and Tom Haag, SGS expanded its services and employee numbers and began to emphasize round solid carbide cutting tool manufacturing. The Haag family sold SGS Precision Tools to KYOCERA in 2016.
Stockinger believes that consistency is behind the company’s longevity. “Servicing the customer, quality of the product, commercial strategy. Management structure and practices have been consistent since the business first opened. KSPT has a demonstrated history of keeping the customer first in mind.”
The KSPT corporate culture has also been a big factor in the company’s long-term success, adds Chief Financial Officer Jeff Zaucha. This culture “starts at the top and drives down in the company. It’s why KYOCERA is our owner. [KYOCERA] wasn’t the first company to come calling, but it was the only one our owner thought would keep our culture going. They have the same philosophy on how to run the business and treat people. Your largest asset is your people. We make decisions based on people and make sure we take care of them first and foremost,” he says.
This people-first culture was on full display when the pandemic struck last year. The firm followed health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), augmented with protocols from state medical officials. A mask mandate, hand-cleaning and social distancing policies were introduced at KSPT facilities. Some employees were furloughed during the worst of the health crisis, but the company was able to hire workers back when conditions improved.
The firm launched a webinar series followed by an online tool clinic during the COVID lockdown. The virtual clinic was designed “primarily for our distribution partners, but end-users also participated. We teach techniques on how to select and apply tools effectively in different material groups,” explains Stockinger, who adds that the company looks forward to being able to host in-person tool clinics once the COVID threat dissipates, later this year.
KSPT continues to embrace a spirit of innovation and is looking closely at 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.
“We have not yet implemented any 3D printing within our facilities [but] we are ready to take that step. We think in the next year there’s opportunity to bring in some 3D printing technology to help with the design of new products,” he says.
The KYOCERA Tech Hub, established in 2018 in Danville, Virginia, also reflects the company’s ethos of innovation. The hub was set up to provide aerospace tool design and regrinding services for a plant run by Rolls-Royce, one of the company’s largest clients. Rolls-Royce eventually shuttered its Virginia facility, and the technology hub was reborn as a standalone venture offering services for a broader clientele.
The hub is “now standing on its own two feet. It continues to do what it was intended to do when it first opened, and that is to provide application-driven special tooling to end-users that have demanding applications,” states Stockinger.
KSPT continues to donate cutting tools to university engineering programs. These outreach efforts “help them learn how to machine and build something while getting better introduced to cutting tools. So, we’re helping to develop a new generation that will hopefully come into our industry,” he says.
Working with university engineering programs is one of the ways KSPT is addressing its biggest challenge: the skills gap. Workers are ageing across the entire manufacturing sector and not enough young people are entering the field to replace them.
“As our workforce continues to age, all that tribal knowledge is going to walk out the door. We have to find that next generation of associates who are going to make the company grow. We want people to get over the stigma that manufacturing is a dirty industry. If you come to our facilities, you’ll see they are state of the art and clean as you could find,” states Zaucha.
Manufacturing has become increasingly technologically advanced. “It’s now all math and computers to make tools,” says Zaucha, and this is a point the company highlights when talking to technology-savvy teenagers. It tours high schools to raise awareness of career opportunities in manufacturing and brings on young people as summer interns. When possible, KSPT hires them on a full-time basis after they finish school.
“Hopefully, we can continue to develop our workforce to help this company remain strong and go for another sixty years,” says Zaucha.
As for the immediate future, KSPT has plenty of products in the wings. “We have an aggressive product launch schedule for the upcoming twelve months. We will be going to market with continued material-specific, high-performance drill offerings. You will see an expansion of our end-mill offering to include high-performance products for market segments such as mold and die. There will be continued expansion of our micro-tool line as well,” says Stockinger.
The company’s growth strategy has been strengthened by its experience in dealing with the pandemic. “If we’ve learned anything from the last year and a half it’s that you have to really be a balanced company commercially to withstand different pressures that come along. Five years from now, I would like to see us have as diversified a customer base as we can so that we’re not overly reliant on any one segment. As we diversify, we want to continue to be a market leader in the round solid carbide cutting tool market and consistently deliver quality products and services that are innovative,” Stockinger says.