Terry & Molly Keene

CO-OWNERS — TEK MANUFACTURING, INC.

“IMTS is a great investment of our time and money. We spend time with people who can further our business. It's hard to beat a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation with an expert in that field.”

Terry and Molly Keene started a high-tech machine shop by accident in 1978, and now they can’t imagine doing anything else. The married couple have been co-owners of Tek Manufacturing, Inc., in Spokane Valley, Wash., for four decades and credit IMTS as being an integral part of growing their company from a small dream to a big success.

Terry and Molly Keene

Building on a Dream

While working at a bicycle shop right out of college, Terry designed a unique part that allowed motocross racing bikes to freewheel backwards without braking, a part he named the “Un-brake.” He dreamed of the potential to market the part, so he bought a single manual Gisholt Turret lathe and began machining in his garage. Soon the part was picked up by bicycle parts distributors, so Terry had a new challenge on his hands – how would he keep up with demand?

As orders increased and new customers came on board, Terry quit his day job, bought more machines and opened up his own machine shop in 1978. He introduced Molly to the machining equipment and she fell in love with it. Shortly afterward, she quit her job as a prison guard and joined Terry in the shop. From there, it grew into something neither one had expected.

Today, the company has 6,000 square feet of floor space, 11 employees and 7 CNC machines, as well as manual equipment necessary to support the operation. Through the years, their specialty has developed into building screw machine parts of all sizes with extremely tight tolerances (some as small as 0.0001 in.) with intricate detail. These parts are used in critical applications, such as dental and medical equipment, aerospace, agriculture equipment and firearms.

Information is Power

To stay on top in a competitive market, Tek Manufacturing built a reputation on providing reliable high-quality parts at a reasonable cost.

“Every second has a cost on our machines, and every second could win or lose a quote if we don’t have the most efficient process possible,” Molly said. “You can lose a job by a few pennies, because at 10,000 parts per order, those pennies add up.”

IMTS helps the Keenes stay competitive by providing them with updates on the industry’s newest available machines and tooling. They rely on IMTS to give them the information they need, so it’s no surprise they’ve attended the last 10 IMTS shows.

“The information we gather at IMTS gives us the knowledge to make parts less expensively and meet the quality requirements our customers need. As we invest in more high-tech equipment, our capabilities become greater and it opens up doors for us,” Terry said.

“We go to see what's out there,” Molly said. “We'll see technology that we have no need for today, but who knows what we're going to need next year? That's part of what feeds the dream.”

Catalyst for Growth

The company is currently running three Citizen CINCOM L20 and two CINCOM 32 mm CNC Swiss-style lathes with automatic bar loaders, and one Haas five-axis CNC milling machine.

Molly Keene, Co-Owner of Tek Manufacturing, Inc.
Molly Keene, Co-Owner of Tek Manufacturing, Inc.

The Swiss-style machines, which they started adding after seeing one at IMTS 1998, account for 90 percent of its work today. It took Molly more than a year to convince Terry that Swiss-style machines were the future of their company.

“It was a great addition to our business, and it really set the direction of our business going forward,” Terry said. “It has increased our capabilities 100-fold because we can create a part that's complete when it comes off the machine without any additional operations to it.”

“Terry is my first love, but the Swiss-style machines are my passion,” Molly said.

Striving for Perfection

Quality is top priority for Tek Manufacturing. In fact, it’s an obsession. A part will not go out the door until the team can prove it is perfect. That’s why they have invested in several pieces of quality inspection equipment, such as optical comparators, a 30 mm profile machine, a coordinate measuring machine and two digital video measuring systems, as well as the necessary mix of manual inspection and gauging equipment. Although the parts are made on computerized machines, the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the programmer and operators shines through.

“The team takes pride in ensuring perfect parts for their customers,” Molly said. “When a part is complete, it not only complies with the drawing, it’s almost a work of art. It’s like a trophy to our workers.”

At IMTS 2004, they saw a vision inspection system and started thinking about whether it would help them make an especially challenging part: a firing pin that specified a large radius but a short arc segment.

“When we put that part on the comparator with automatic edge detection, the repeatability of its best fit circle calculation wasn’t acceptable, which was frustrating,” Terry said. “So when we found the Quality Control Systems booth at IMTS and saw their SeeBrez Multi Probe vision system (video and touch probe), we knew we had found the solution. It was much more accurate to compare DXF files to the probed part so we could prove to ourselves that it was a perfect part.”

At IMTS 2012, they discovered the new Starett HDV300 vision system, which would let them analyze dimensions from a horizontal view. Two months later Tek Manufacturing became the first company in the Northwest to purchase one.

Finding Solutions at IMTS

The Keenes know first-hand how IMTS is a critical crossover point from dreaming things to doing them. On many occasions they entered the show with ideas about specific solutions they were seeking, but then left with even more useful information than they expected, which resulted in purchasing new equipment and tooling to improve their production.

“If you own a business, you've got to be a dreamer, but to stay in business, you've got to be a doer,” Terry said.

To solve a problem with poor performing air filters in the facility, the Keenes went to IMTS 2008 to find a better way to capture oil particulates in the air that were coming off the cutting tools. They discovered the 3NINE oil mist extractor and added them on top of every machine as a much better way to keep air clean for their workers.

As professionals with a deep passion for manufacturing, the Keenes see IMTS as more than just a regular trade show, but a true resource for their business.

“It's a great investment of our time and money,” Molly said. “We spend time with people who can further our business. It's hard to beat a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation with an expert in that field.”

“We often come to the show as dreamers and exit as doers. But just as often we come as doers and realize there’s technology out there that we hadn’t even dreamed of yet,” Terry said. “We do a lot of research online throughout the year, but we always learn things at IMTS that we’d never find any place else.”

Goals for IMTS 2018

For IMTS 2018, the Keenes are bringing several employees and will stay for the entire six days. They have set their sights on investigating a new turning system to help expand their operations, deciding between another Swiss-style screw machine or a dual spindle lathe with live tooling. As always, they’ll keep their eyes on robotic handling solutions that may be useful in the future. However, their first stop will be to the Spinetti Machinery booth to talk with their long-time dealer for Marubeni Citizen Swiss-style lathes.

“They wrote the book on customer service at Spinetti,” Terry said. “They’re always responsive to our needs, and they care about keeping us operational, even at five o’clock on a Friday night. We've been impressed with what they've done for us so they will always have our business.”

In recent years, the couple has moved off the machining floor and focus on price quotes and finances, with a close eye on finding ways to make their employees more and more successful. Still, they have no plans to ever leave manufacturing.

“We'll still go to IMTS after we retire. It’s in our blood,” Molly said.

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