Short-run tool shop has long history of success

Published
December 16, 2022 - 07:00am
TJ Grinding currently operates 10 ANCA tool grinding machines, 9 of which operate with robotics.

Shortly after Mike Winters started his company in his garage on Nov. 10, 1982, first as Winters Carbide Tools and now TJ Grinding, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he had the good fortune of being at a K.O. Lee facility in South Dakota and saw an interesting piece of equipment -- the FastGrind TG4 from an Australian company called ANCA.

Shortly thereafter, Winters met Russell Riddiford, who was selling the ANCA machines. Winters bought his first machine in 1989, becoming only the third company in the U.S. to purchase an ANCA tool grinder.  

Today, sons Tim and Jason Winters carry on the tradition of high-quality, short-run tool production, selling nationwide both directly to end users and through a network of distributors, some of them who started with Mike Winters and remain with TJ Grinding to this day.  

As Tim Winters explained, “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.”  

Tim (left) and Jason (right) Winters are co-owners of the company founded by their father Mike in 1982.
Tim (left) and Jason (right) Winters are co-owners of the company founded by their father Mike.

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, while TJ Grinding has grown substantially and today supplies tools nationwide plus in Canada and Mexico.  The company currently operates 10 ANCA tool grinders and credits the advanced 5-axis grinders with “changing the industry,” as Tim Winters observes.  

TJ Grinding specializes in short-run production of custom reamers, endmills, drills and burrs, with an emphasis, as Jason Winters remarked, “on the ‘custom’ part of that sentence.”  

He notes that the ANCA software and CNC, both developed by the machine builder, “…give 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 said.  

“The flexibility and versatility of the ANCA machines allow us to do much more than ever and that’s a testimony to their non-stop innovation,” said Tim Winters.  “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.”  

A tool being ground on an ANCA FX7 Linear machine at TJ Grinding.
A tool is being ground on an ANCA FX7 Linear machine at TJ Grinding. 

On the training front, Tim Winters notes the machines 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 9 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 job shop, sharpening mills and drills.  

“As you can see, we’ve come a long way down the road to automation and higher-level production,” said Jason Winters.  “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 the short-run per print specials but today runs up to 1000 pieces quite often.  

Tim Winters 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.  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, Wis., home to myriad job shops and equipment builders in a variety of industries.  

“That’s another fun part of the job here,” said Tim Winters.  “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.  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 sing in harmony about the value of ANCA service.  Jason notes, “We once had a problem over a weekend and I called the office in Detroit, spoke to somebody and it was fixed on Monday.  How often do you see that nowadays?”  In fact, Tim recalls when John Francis, the ANCA sales rep for the area, took over the account and Tim spoke to him.  “I told him he could better spend his time canvassing the area for new customers, because we were all set with service and were very happy customers.  ANCA uses our shop as a showroom for their potential customers.  That makes us proud.”  

In the end, as Jason Winters remarked, “We gravitate to the weird stuff and we love it.”  

TJ Grinding works with various substrates to produce tools, including specialty coatings, so their products are used on all types of metals, as well as composites, specialty plastics, carbon fibers and more.  

One of the company’s specialties is solid carbide rotary cutting tools, used in the orthopedic, orthodontic, catheterized and other surgical instrument markets.  

Coated toolingThe shop also produces such cutting tools for auto parts, engines, motorcycles, snowmobiles, pattern and moldmakers, plastic parts and the woodworking industry.  

Once made, these 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. Specialty coatings are a frequent happening at this shop, including Titanium Aluminum Nitride (TiAIN) and Aluminum Chromium Nitride (ALCRN).  

Lastly, it should be noted that Tim Winters 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 wage and work conditions of today’s machine shop and the “…cool opportunities you get when you make things.” 

SIDEBAR: Carbide tooling example

TJ Grinding part
Coated carbide tool used to machine a 1018 steel compressed gas bottle valve.

An example of a part made by TJ Grinding for 10 years now on ANCA 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 ten-year span.  

The tool, after coating on the gage line, is holding a +/- 0.0003” tolerance consistently.  According to Winters, “Despite the length of the run and the changeover in machines, the ANCA combination of machine mechanics, software and CNC consistently hold the tolerances for us.  We have made and continue to make thousands of this tool, every year.” 

Tim Winters added that, “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 over ten years.”

Related Glossary Terms

  • composites

    composites

    Materials composed of different elements, with one element normally embedded in another, held together by a compatible binder.

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.

  • grinding

    grinding

    Machining operation in which material is removed from the workpiece by a powered abrasive wheel, stone, belt, paste, sheet, compound, slurry, etc. Takes various forms: surface grinding (creates flat and/or squared surfaces); cylindrical grinding (for external cylindrical and tapered shapes, fillets, undercuts, etc.); centerless grinding; chamfering; thread and form grinding; tool and cutter grinding; offhand grinding; lapping and polishing (grinding with extremely fine grits to create ultrasmooth surfaces); honing; and disc grinding.

  • metrology

    metrology

    Science of measurement; the principles on which precision machining, quality control and inspection are based. See precision machining, measurement.

  • micrometer

    micrometer

    A precision instrument with a spindle moved by a finely threaded screw that is used for measuring thickness and short lengths.

  • robotics

    robotics

    Discipline involving self-actuating and self-operating devices. Robots frequently imitate human capabilities, including the ability to manipulate physical objects while evaluating and reacting appropriately to various stimuli. See industrial robot; robot.

  • sawing machine ( saw)

    sawing machine ( saw)

    Machine designed to use a serrated-tooth blade to cut metal or other material. Comes in a wide variety of styles but takes one of four basic forms: hacksaw (a simple, rugged machine that uses a reciprocating motion to part metal or other material); cold or circular saw (powers a circular blade that cuts structural materials); bandsaw (runs an endless band; the two basic types are cutoff and contour band machines, which cut intricate contours and shapes); and abrasive cutoff saw (similar in appearance to the cold saw, but uses an abrasive disc that rotates at high speeds rather than a blade with serrated teeth).

  • titanium aluminum nitride ( TiAlN)

    titanium aluminum nitride ( TiAlN)

    Often used as a tool coating. AlTiN indicates the aluminum content is greater than the titanium. See coated tools.

  • tolerance

    tolerance

    Minimum and maximum amount a workpiece dimension is allowed to vary from a set standard and still be acceptable.

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