IMTS Community  Brian Olson & Mitch Olson

Brian Olson and Mitch Olson

Co-Owners, Olson Custom Designs

Two Wills to Win

Technology, team building, and partnerships keep the Olson brothers coming back to IMTS, a place to share their passion for manufacturing.

There's no easy way to start a business, but to get a leg up in the race, you need the will to win, and no one – or two – people have more will than former USAC midget racing competitors Brian and Mitch Olson, owners of Olson Custom Designs, based in Indianapolis.

“We're very competitive people, so we want to win in everything we do,” Brian says. “We want to win by overperforming for our customers and for our employees.”

What began with two brothers and a Haas-VF2YT vertical mill (IMTS booth #338100) and a Haas two-axis lathe in 2014 has since grown to employ 60 people and occupy a 24,000-square-foot facility with 24 machining centers. The shop is certified to ISO 9001 and AS9100D and is getting certified for ISO 13485 for the medical industry.

“As entrepreneurs, we have a will to win,” Mitch adds. “We've taken our passion for motorsports and applied it to our business.”

Never-Quit Attitude

The brothers grew up in Puyallup, Washington, accompanying their dad to races and racing go-karts as soon as they could reach the pedal. To pursue a racing career, Brian moved to Indianapolis in 2006 to race USAC midget cars while also working as a fabricator/welder building chassis components. Highlights of Brian's career include winning the 53rd Joe James/Pat O'Connor Memorial at Salem Speedway, an event whose past champions include A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, and Tony Stewart.

After about eight years of working for someone else, Brian called Mitch on his way home from work one day and said he was ready to start his own shop. Mitch was also at a point in his life where he was ready for change, and he drove to Indianapolis two weeks later. With Brian's exposure to CNC machining, opening a machine shop would enable them to stay involved in motorsports while developing a diverse customer base.

“I think deep down we both knew that we were going to start a business together, we just didn't know what it was going to be,” Mitch says. “We were teammates from the time we were born. Everybody asked who the better racer was, who was the aggressive one, or how did you get along, but I think mom made us be teammates from day one.”

“Growing up, Mitch was the older brother, so he's always had my back in every situation,” Brian says. “What we got from our parents was that never-quit attitude and support along the way to always keep going.”

Their parents also bestowed an entrepreneurial spirit and passed on lessons about good workflow and the dos and don'ts of growing a business. They watched as their dad and uncle started an underground utilities site equipment business and expanded it into a 100-person operation.

Fast Reaction

One of those lessons is helping customers improve their business. By working with a contract manufacturer like Olson Custom Designs, OEMs can improve their speed to market, especially for new product development of complex pieces for jet engines, microchip processing machines, and medical device components.

“I feel we can take a partner from development phase to full-scale production much faster than a large OEM can do on their own,” Mitch says. “We make decisions quickly and work efficiently because we don't have bureaucracy. We can make capital investments without getting approval from a board.”

“As an example, one of our customers launched a new product that ramped up very quickly,” Brian recalls. “We were able to put a Kitamura (IMTS booth #338520) Supercell-300G five-axis horizontal machining center with a 20-station pallet pool on the floor and ramp up our production to meet their needs.” Once fully loaded with material, the cell can run for 35 hours unattended.

In addition, Olson Custom Designs can apply three shifts to a project. The first shift focuses on engineering and second and third shifts can focus on machining and production. From an operational standpoint, the shop's ProShop ERP system (IMTS booth #133027) allows it to be ultra-efficient on every task because there is a computer at every workstation.

“Being organized in every aspect of your company is crucial, from quoting to materials prep to manufacturing process to quality control aspect of your business, to the tool crib,” Mitch says. “We took ideology from our motorsports background and applied it to our manufacturing business, and it's proven successful so far.”

“Our drive to win is reflected on the shop floor with our processes, how we process parts, the technology that we use with tooling and tool holders, our ERP and CAM software, and our inspection equipment,” Brian adds. “We use the best equipment to set us up for success, and that's proven day in and day out by all of our great employees.”

Equipment includes a Haas VF-4 five-axis trunnion-style machining center, four Mazak VC-500 five-axis machines (IMTS booth #338300), and a Mazak VC-300 five-axis machine. Olson partnered with Smart Machine Tool to equip its turning department with FANUC controls (IMTS booth #236426), as well as with Zeiss (IMTS booth #134302) for its CMMs.

“Every time a new piece of equipment hits the floor, it's exhilarating. Even though we've done it dozens of times, each one is just such a showpiece for an expansion of our business. It feels like a good accomplishment, showing that we've grown again,” Mitch says.

Machines and People

Brian, a self-professed machining geek, is always fascinated by what's new in the machining world. As for the business side of the industry, Mitch wants the shop to be ready to run with whatever manufacturing ball is thrown in their court. Both go to IMTS to find the right solutions.

“On one of our trips to IMTS, I was strolling through the Zoller booth (IMTS booth #134049),” Brian recalls. “We weren't necessarily in the market for a tool presetter, but, when the time came, Zoller was one of the companies that we called up, looked at their product, and ultimately purchased one of their pieces of equipment.”

Mitch focuses on the vendors and people at IMTS from more of a business relationship perspective.

When we go to IMTS, it's not just to look at the technology and the bright lights; it's looking at who is going to be our next partner, our next vendor. IMTS is a people event,” Mitch emphasizes. “You never know who you're going to run into.”

As an example, Mitch recalls the company's first visit to IMTS in 2014. They were not looking for a coolant company, but stumbled upon QualiChem because “we got drug into one of their booths (IMTS booth #432164), and that's been a great partnership moving forward. It's what you don't expect to see that becomes the most beneficial.”

Mitch and Brian will be looking at new technology at IMTS 2024, particularly automation, AI as it becomes more integrated into programming CAD-CAM software, and additive manufacturing. Olson Custom Designs has a lot of young staff, and many have 3D printers for home use.

“I lean on our younger employees, with their knowledge of the 3D printers, to print fixturing for our CMMs,” Brian says. “We always try to look at how to get from one job to the next as quickly as we can, so we use Inspection Arsenal inspection plates from Phillips Precision (IMTS booth #432295). These plates have a magnetic rail that attaches to the CMM plate. We can inspect multiple parts at one time, which saves time.”

These younger employees also go to IMTS, as the Olsons believe becoming more interested and involved with technology keeps their motivation and inspiration at peak levels. At IMTS 2024, that will include evaluating additive manufacturing technology as a viable path for business expansion.

We visit IMTS to research ideas and to know what technology is available,” Brian says. “When a customer presents us with a new opportunity, we're ready to react, which is part of our winning mentality.”

Experience the world of manufacturing to see what technologies can help you be ready for new opportunities. Visit and register for IMTS 2024, Sept. 9-14, at McCormick Place, Chicago.

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