After nearly failing his first test in his grade nine machine shop course, Jerry Bowles wasn’t sure if machining was for him. Indeed, by 16 years of age he had dropped out of school.
“Papers mean you can read a book and remember the details long enough to write a test and it wasn’t one of my strong points,” recalls the owner of Die-Mond Machine & Tool, Stratford, ON.
His strong point was learning through work, which got him to where he is today. “My background is working; it’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve worked on shop floors and on machines all my working life.”
Last October, he moved from a 10,000 sq ft facility into a new 40,000 sq ft building, which he owns. The machine shop takes up approximately 22,000 sq ft with the remaining floor space soon to be rented out to another business.
Bowles, along with son Jason, who now runs the shop and will soon take the reins as Bowles eases back into semi-retirement, have carved a reputation for fixing other peoples’ problems.
In fact, fixing problems is how Die-Mond landed his largest customer.
“This company was actually a customer for another customer of mine and every time they ran into a problem my customer said ‘go see Jerry he can figure it out.’ So they got this mentality that when they had a problem they could call on me. Two years ago they had a machine go down. It was a specially built CNC and they simply got rid of it and now I’m making the component for them.”
While Die-Mond is known as a “fixer,” the general machine shop does a lot more than that. The company specializes in short production runs and in prototype work, “but we’ll do almost anything when it comes to making chips.”
The machine shop houses a variety of manual and CNC lathes and mills, supplied primarily by Heinman Machinery. Since the early 1990s, Die-Mond has purchased almost all of its machines from Heinman. When Bowles decided the shop needed a new CNC mill, “I didn’t even look anywhere else. Heinman’s service is second to none. Any machine will break down, no matter how expensive and it’s how a supplier deals with it that makes the difference. Ten years ago I bought a CNC lathe and I didn’t get it from Heinman because the company was just getting into lathes, so I bought from a competitor and the service I got was just brutal; I’d be lucky if they called me back on the same day when I had a problem. I made up my mind then that when I needed a machine, I would get it from the company that offers the best service.”
Most of the work Die-Mond machines is for Just-In-Time deliveries. “We don’t have much of a window for downtime. Erwin [Hoffmann] has been great because when I call he knows who I am and if I have a problem with a machine, he’ll help me troubleshoot over the telephone to minimize downtime. If I need parts for the machine, he’ll stay late at the shop so I can pick up parts and get my machine running the next day.”
Bowles attributes a large part of Die-Mond’s success to its ability to come up with innovative solutions to machining problems.
“I’m making front wheels for a streamliner car that’s going to run in the Bonneville Salts Flats race in Utah. This car will go in excess of 430 mph. I manufactured the wheels using my lathe, but it wasn’t big enough and we had to get creative. We purchased tooling, then modified it to make it work. This is a niche for us; we think outside of the box when we have to, and we have to quite often.” SMT