Tom & Julie Hoban


“At this year's IMTS, I'll bring some blueprints of a new design project I'm working on for the motorcycle business. I'll just start walking into booths and say, ‘How can you help me with this?’ That's what's great about IMTS.”

It began with a gearhead’s dream to own a motorcycle repair shop. Tom Hoban started Hoban Cycle in 1985 in Osman, Wis., with his two brothers. When he realized that he wasn’t getting custom parts quickly or high-quality enough from his suppliers, he decided to install his own job shop, making custom motorcycle parts with a small Haas mill and Haas SL-10 lathe.

Tom and Julie Hoban

After 15 years, Tom expanded the machining capabilities and started JTD Enterprises (Chilton, Wis.) with his wife, Julie, in 2001. Today this machine shop manufactures parts for a variety of industries and has 20 employees. As CEO, Julie has taken ownership of all accounting and human resource responsibilities, allowing Tom to focus on the technical side of the business as operations manager.

Keeping Up with Tech

To beat out competitors for high precision work, Tom knows that new technology usually makes all the difference.

“The biggest challenge right now is just to stay on top of technological advances,” he said. “I do that by attending IMTS and seeing what’s going to revolutionize my business. Every two years things change so drastically, whether it is tooling, or just general technology. It’s always worth the trip to see what's new and exciting in this industry.”

Shopping at IMTS

JTD uses IMTS for making acquisition decisions because all the technology and experts are in a single location for easy comparison.

“I can research online, but IMTS is the place to come if I want to compare apples to apples because everything's in one spot,” he said. “Most of my best options are at IMTS.”

For a mattress manufacturer, JTD was challenged to make a small pin that goes inside the mattress foam for extra stability. To win the business, Tom knew he would need to invest in a 7-axis Swiss-style machine to make the parts economically, so he chose a Hanwha machine. Selecting software became the next challenge.

“In 2016, we were interested in software for the Swiss-style lathe, so we waited until IMTS and I brought along our programmer to check it out at the show,” Tom said. “Having all the competitors together, we could see all the options in the same place. That was our main goal at IMTS 2016.”

The company chose PartMaker software from Autodesk®, which offered an IMTS promotional sale price that even further sweetened the deal.

“A commercial lawn care machine manufacturer approached us and asked if we could machine a two-speed gear box. It had a lot of features that would require 40 minutes to check each part,” says Tom. He took the blueprints to IMTS 2014 and found a programmable CMM that reduced inspection time to 1.5 minutes.

New technology continually helps JTD grow. The company recently bought more capacity in the form of four Haas ST-35 SSY lathes. They provide a larger through-hole so the company can take on more shaft work from customers and not bog down the other lathes.

“This past year we did more gross sales with 20 people than we did with 30 people about 12 years ago,” Tom said. “That's because we added more CNC machine capabilities and better tool technology.”

The Skilled Worker Challenge

Currently the shop has 18 Haas multi-axis and 5-axis CNC machines. Multi-tasking lathes and mills eliminate slow, labor-intensive secondary operations but still require skilled workers to operate the machines.

“We don’t have button pushers here,” Julie said. “We use talented people who can handle the entire manufacturing process, from programming to set-up, production and inspection. More challenging projects can command more money from customers, so I can afford to pay higher wages to my employees. It’s the best case scenario for everyone.”

As skilled workers become more scarce, it’s increasingly important to keep and grow good employees.

Julie uses a variety of fun and morale-boosting tactics, including social events, customer visits, surprise treats, parties and rewards, which create a closer, friendlier atmosphere.

“We have two employees that have been with us for more than 20 years, and most have been around for more than five years,” Julie said. “We take pride in being a good place to work. I know if we take care of our employees, they will take good care of the customers and stick around for a while. Happy workers are more stable and productive, so we are more profitable, which benefits everyone.”

Future Tech

Since tooling is such a quickly growing technology, Tom knows he’ll focus a bit of time looking at tooling and fixturing at IMTS 2018.

“Tooling changes so drastically, and the speeds and feeds are always improving,” he said. “It's nice to come to the Tooling & Workholding Pavilion because there's a lot of small companies that I may not even know about that have solutions to my problems.”

3D printing is another area of interest for Tom, who attended the Additive Manufacturing Conference held in conjunction with IMTS during show years. This technology will have two benefits for JTD. First, it has a real potential to bring in new clients and new orders the company can’t do now. Second, the 3D printers could be used to make custom fixturing for the unusually shaped parts they machine themselves.

“We do such weird shaped parts sometimes, and they are hard to hold,” Tom said. “If we could 3D print a fixture to hold that part properly, it would make the process easier and faster for us. I think additive technology is an area that will interest our younger employees in particular, so we’ll probably give them the responsibility to own and improve that area.”

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