Young Entrepreneur Running Ripley Business
RIPLEY — “A lot of the stuff we do, we don’t even know where it’s going,” said Andy Reinwald, the owner of Ripley Machine & Tool, sitting in his office.
On a table in front of him were more than a dozen metal objects that had been cut, turned or ground in the adjoining machine shop.
Some of the pieces were large cylinders that weighed 5 pounds and had threads cut into the ends. Others were small and intricate and shaped like buttons or nuts.
“That’s the fun of the business, when you see something out in real life and wonder if a part of it came from your shop,” he said. “And, yes, I’ve been able to see that parts of things were made here.”
Ripley Machine & Tool’s largest customers are in the valve industry, according to the owner, and many of the parts fabricated or finished in Ripley are used in various kinds of check and flow valves. Significant volumes of work are also done for customers in the fasteners industry.
Reinwald, just 24 and a native of Clymer, has worked for the company since he was a junior in high school. He acquired the firm in early 2015 from his grandfather, Quentin Bensink, who had owned it for 21 years.
With ownership came increased responsibilities and new stressors.
Sales this year are above those of 2016, Reinwald said, but last year was one of the worst in the company’s history. He was forced to cut positions after some valve customers cut their orders.
Reinwald said triggering the reduction in staff was the hardest thing he’d ever done in a workplace. It was one of most difficult things he had experienced in his life.
“You take everything home with you when you’re the boss,” he said. “I’ll sit there at 9 o’clock at night and still be thinking about something going on at work.”
The furloughed employees have been called back, and Ripley Machine & Tool now has 13 full-timers on the payroll, along with a few part-time workers. Reinwald and Bensink also take turns on the shop floor.
Before the 2008 economic recession, there were more than 20 employees. During the depth of the slowdown, there were only 5 people in the shop. Reinwald wants to grow the business so the workforce again numbers a few dozen and the plant’s machines are running closer to capacity.
“We’ve got CNC turning centers, CNC milling centers, centerless grinders, internal grinders, center grinders, hones,” he said, listing the company’s primary assets. “Then we’ve got a bunch of support equipment, whether it is for drilling and tapping, or broaching.”
CNC, or computer numerical control, are machines on which software programs control the motions of the tool. Before computerization, the machine tools were operated manually. Reinwald said CNC has made the work more accurate but not eliminated the need for a skilled machinist.
“Making a program, throwing it in the machine, throwing the tools in the machine and hoping it runs usually isn’t going to work,” he said.
Different batches of the same metal can behave differently when they are in the same machine being run by the same CNC program, Reinwald explained. Ripley Machine & Tool’s employees a few have been with the firm for 40 years then have to make corrections to the software to solve the problem.
“You’ve got to make programs and be able to edit those programs on the fly,” he said.
Many of the products that leave the facility arrive as bar stock long pieces of metal which are sectioned and then cut to specification on a machine tool. Others come from machine shops that make the product but subcontract the finishing work to Ripley Machine & Tool.
“We do a lot of grinding,” Reinwald said. “We’ll grind those pieces so they have close tolerances on them.”
Reinwald enjoys the different segments of his occupation. He works 70 hours a week and usually comes in on Saturday to handle assorted paperwork. The drawings emailed or sent in hard copy to 9825 E. Main Road contain the depictions and measurements of a customer’s order. There is joy in seeing a fresh drawing, because it brings new work and challenges.
The boss also calls on potential customers in an effort to boost sales. He wants to increase the output from the plant and for the headcount to again be above 20 people.
And he likes doing what he was hired to do here as a high-school junior: going out onto the floor, turning on a machine and making something out of a chunk of metal.
“I love being the hands-on guy,” Reinwald said.