As Seen In A2Z MetalWorker Magazine.
TCI Precision Metals has been built and managed by Burt, John, and Ben Belzer for 3 generations supplying “Machine Ready Blanks” to machine shops and OEMs all over the United States. The company strategically saves their customers a lot of money by basically eliminating as many as the first 5 operations of their job travelers. TCI Precision Metals is a company that has proven experience, certified quality and dependable service providing specialty cut and ground-to- size metals and supply chain innovation since 1956.
Years ago, after the Great Depression, Burt Belzer had the good fortune to land a job as the youngest person to work at the Belle City Malleable Iron Company in Racine, WI. Burt worked to provide traceability for the origin of every part made in the plant and grew to love metallurgy. When Burt’s Army stint was over he went back to school to obtain a business degree. After graduating and marrying his sweetheart, Gerry, they made a decision to strike out for California where eventually his cousin offered him a job at Pioneer Tool & Engineering as an office manager and he learned the business of melting metal and making cast aluminum tooling plate. Burt later became a salesman for the company and was given a territory around the LA airport and called on the job shops that supported the aircraft industry.
Early on, Burt teamed up with his friend, Ken Fritch, a tool engineer at Pioneer. They decided they would become an industrial distributor of jig and fixture hardware, calling themselves Tool Components, Inc., while also using their experience from the aluminum cast plate business they came from. During this time, they created the E-Z LOK Threaded Insert, which is still very much in demand today, sold through national distribution channels. They would also begin to provide their customers with precision sawed aluminum sheet and plate, giving customers exactly what they needed, with no waste – saving them time and money.
During the 60s and 70s, TCI began to understand that precision sawing wasn’t as “precision” as it needed to be. Always looking to provide what their customers asked for, they increased their services to include Duplex Milling and Blanchard and Double-Disc Grinding.
Today the Belzer’s business continues its evolution in a building of 105,000 sq. ft. They remain firmly committed to their mission statement, understanding what their customers want and need and then do their very best to provide it.
John Belzer, the company’s president, was raised in the business and held the family work ethic very close to his heart. The education John obtained has helped him grow a very lean and progressive business. He began his career in the business while still in high school, working on the shop floor in many areas of the manufacturing facility. After graduating from Colorado College in 1973 with a B.A. in Economics he went to work in the family business and has been president of the company since 1988.
One of TCI Precision Metals’ core values is “to be a Quality Corporate Citizen” which includes “…actively supporting our industry”. John was chairman of the NTMA (National Tooling and Machining Association) in 2002 and has led the national Budget and Finance Team for the last 9 years. He also served 6 years as a trustee for the LA/NTMA Training Centers of Southern California. An industry advocate, Mr. Belzer also currently serves as a board member of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). TCI Precision Metals has been a member of the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) since 1976.
I interviewed John and asked him for his secret sauce. John said, “We are all about adding value to the customer. We look for every opportunity to save our customers time on their work. Most everyone understands material. Not many understand the Machine-Ready Blank and the value of taking those first 5 to 7 steps of purchasing, outside processing, and prep work out of the equation for the customer and decreasing their throughput time to allow for more capacity on their equipment.
“If you have a router or job traveler in your shop it can have 10 to 20 or more operations. We can take as many operations off that job traveler as the customer needs by providing the material with our buying power, cutting, duplex milling, grinding and/or turning the material to a “perfect” blank 2 sides at a time and stacking as many as 5 to 10 parts at a time thus basically doing 10 to 20 cuts at a time. We also double-disc grind parts and we can group them as well saving the customer so much time that their internal capacities can increase as much as 25% with Precision Machine-Ready Blanks that are flat, square and parallel. Each is cleaned, deburred and typically vacuum packaged. These blanks are ready to go straight to the CNC machining center to do the really critical work.
“I view this as the next generation raw material”, John continued. “Companies that employ Lean Manufacturing concepts such as Value Stream Mapping will eventually see the tremendous value of buying and starting on operation 70 instead of operation 10 – they’ll skip right to the operation of the manufacturing processes they specialize in. We actually provide the same thing we did 57 years ago with much closer accuracy and a whole lot faster.”
TCI Precision Metals is an ISO 9001:2008 and AS9100C certified company and their prestigious quality system brings processes to the heart of everything TCI does. The processes at TCI are meticulously monitored by their ERP system and everything runs through the facility with extremely detailed documentation. This allows the TCI Customer Service Team to monitor customers’ parts in real-time and move the schedules if necessary to meet customers’ always-changing demands. This didn’t happen overnight. Ben Belzer, Vice President of TCI, was responsible for implementing Epicor Vantage, the ERP software that manages virtually every process that the company does, including accounting, shop floor work flow, to the quoting and time study of every precision blank that goes through the shop. Ben graduated from the University of Illinois in 2004 with a degree Economics and Information Systems and one of his first tasks when he came to work for the company full time was to lead a team to search for, select and implement the system best suited for TCI. Ben and his team chose Epicor. He said, “I looked at about 6 different software companies’ products and Epicor was the closest fit to the way we run our company and the data we want to track and grow our business. It was the best fit for us.”
Ben basically had to learn every single department and process of the company from engineering to accounting so he could fashion the new high powered ERP software to run the company effectively. This system is was up and running smoothly within 90 days of selection and has helped TCI reach world-class status as a valued partner of some of the best machine shops in the US. In 2007, Ben took on the management of inside sales, later taking on engineering and production as well. Ben took the quality system as his next big challenge and basically re-wrote all the processes and changed many to suit the way the company does business. “The quality manual was 98 pages”, Ben said. “Now it’s down to 30 pages with an additional 30 separate procedures to ensure our processes are repeatable.”
The goal is to have a fully accessible quality manual where the company team can place comments in the system to promote process improvement. We are very process oriented so that we don’t do things twice and we document what we do so that the process always runs smooth and is performed in the same way.”
Ben continued, “I recognize that to be a leader in our industry, we must stay on the cutting edge of technology, both from the manufacturing and information points of view. My goal is to have all work instructions and the schedule completely paperless to allow management to focus less on the tactical and more on the strategic goals. We’re 80% there, and hope to have full automation of information within 2 years.”
Today representing the third generation of Belzers, Ben is working in tandem with his father John as a strategic partner to continue building the business.
Here’s what some customers say about TCI
“I’ve been working with TCI for about 5 years now and they always give me high tolerance blanks on time. If have a tight schedule they will always work with me to meet my requirements. They are like a partner to our business. I highly recommend using TCI for precision blanks.” –Owner of an aerospace machine shop in Phoenix, AZ.
“TCI Precision Metals has added capacity to my shop. I literally skip the first 6 operations of our job traveler and I miss all the headaches too. Working with TCI saves me money and when I need them to pull me out of a bind on precision blanks they work with me to meet my schedule. I highly recommend TCI.” – Buyer with a medical and commercial job shop near Seattle, WA.