Auburn’s Titan Engineering cuts metal

Auburn’s Titan Engineering cuts metal

 Former boxer runs lean, fast-moving cutting machines – 

Titan Gilroy used to hit people for a living. These days, the owner of Titan Engineering is beating up on the competition.In just three years, his machine shop grew from three employees and $1 million in revenue to $3 million and 40 employees last year. Titan Engineering expects to double last year’s revenue, taking in $6 million and growing to a work force of 60 this year.The 35,000-square-foot Auburn shop started out with four CNC, or computer numerical control, machines. Today it has 18. The machines cut metal into parts that go into complex machines that perform jobs on the ocean floor and in space.Keith Granno, sales executive at Selway Machine Tool in Union City, a large West Coast distributor of CNC machines, said it’s “unheard of” for a shop to go from zero to 15 machines in three years.

The average shop has about five machines, he said.Other shops, Granno said, turn away complex jobs.Gilroy decided to make that his niche.”Titan says, ‘You guys all turn that (work) away so I’ll do that and be absolutely phenomenal at it,’ ” Granno said. “And he’s done that.”Titan Engineering also prides itself on its speed. Most shops, Granno said, run the machines at about 25 percent of capacity for fear of having an accident or wearing the machines out. Gilroy, he said, knows how to program the machines to run efficiently and safely at high speeds.Jeff Weaver, a retired machinist in McKinney, Texas, and a former partner with Gilroy, said in 20 years in the business Gilroy was the best he’d ever seen. “He has a gift for it,” he said.He likened the machines to a race car and Gilroy to an “amazing” driver.”What makes the difference is the ability of the driver,” he said. “Anybody can just push a machine to go fast, but what happens is you break the tool or the machine. The skill, the talent, is how to get the most out of the machine without destroying it.”I’ve worked with a lot of machinists,” he said. “Some push the machines hard, but they usually have nicknames, like Crash.”A rough startGilroy more or less crash-landed into the world, spending his first 12 years in life homeless after his mother escaped what he said was an abusive relationship.

He eventually turned to boxing and landed a contract to turn professional, but that ended when he threw a punch outside the ring and spent three years in prison instead.Once out of prison, he worked at five other shops, making about $9 an hour. He worked his way up to general manager at Nagy Precision Manufacturing in Colfax, where he earned a reputation for driving the machines hard and doing quality work.”I was always trying to push things,” Gilroy said. “I wasn’t able to prove what I could do until I had my own shop.”That happened in 2005 when he founded Titan Engineering at age 35, thanks in part to Weaver, who refinanced his home and used his life savings to give Gilroy $120,000 to put toward a down payment on a building and other expenses.Weaver said he wasn’t looking for an investment but was so impressed by Gilroy’s talent that he went into partnership with him on a handshake.”He had the skill. I had the financial backing. It worked out great,” Weaver said. “He has far exceeded everything we had agreed on.”Gilroy said he has since paid back Weaver with interest. He wants to pay him more.Selway, the distributor, also helped. It guaranteed a bank loan that helped Gilroy buy his first machines. Granno said he recognized Gilroy’s talent and saw the potential for future business.”It has paid off tremendously,” he said.’Some crazy, complex jobs’Machines at Titan Engineering range in price from $50,000 to $600,000, which Gilroy is financing through Selway.

There are milling and lathe machines and water-jet machines that shoot a stream of water, mixed with abrasive garnet, to cut 7-inch thick titanium in any pattern.Gilroy is the shop’s lead programmer. He and other programmers write instructions for operating the machines and tools. Customers such as Schilling Robotics LLC in Davis give the company blueprints and models so Titan knows what to create.Schilling makes remotely operated vehicles that perform big jobs, such as moving pipe at ocean depths of up to 13,000 feet. About 60 percent of Titan’s revenue comes from work in the subsea industry.Tyler Schilling, Schilling Robotics founder, said Titan Engineering is one of his company’s largest suppliers.Another 20 percent of Titan’s revenue comes from the aerospace industry, including making parts for rockets that take satellites into space. Gilroy declined to detail the aerospace contracts.

The computers on today’s CNC machines are three times faster than they were just three years ago, Gilroy said. But because most people don’t know how to operate them effectively at top speeds, other shops don’t run them as fast, he said.A typical machine feeds metal through a fast-spinning cutting tool at between 30 inches and 100 inches per minute, while Titan Engineering feeds the same metal at an average speed of 830 inches per minute, he said. One of Titan’s newest machines, used for big aerospace parts, feeds metal at 2,360 inches per minute.In addition, the cutting tools at Titan spin at 12,000 revolutions per minute, compared to many shop’s older machines that operate at 7,000 to 8,000 RPMs, he said.Gilroy said programmers have to know which tools can handle those speeds and have a knack for thinking three dimensionally to do jobs right.”We have some crazy, complex jobs,” Gilroy said. “It’s an art to get everything in there like the customer wants.”Gilroy said he keeps prices down by being fast, operating the shop 24 hours a day and buying materials in bulk to get discounted rates.

Titan Engineering works mostly with aircraft-grade titanium, stainless steel, aluminum and plastic. Gilroy estimated that fewer than 5 percent of shops in Greater Sacramento cut titanium, and his titanium-related jobs are 50 percent less expensive than other area shops.Titan Engineering does the majority of machine work for Spectra Watermakers, a manufacturer that builds machines that convert sea water into fresh water.”We’ve had various machine shops over the years, and we’ve always had reliability and quality issues,” Glenn Bashforth, co-owner of Spectra, said. With Titan “we’ve gotten a very solid product, on time, within budget and of impeccable quality.”

– Sacramento Business Journal by Melanie Turner