Yates Precision Manufacturing is a small machine shop located in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area that focuses primarily on job shop work in the oil and mining industry. They also recently launched a new product line of high precision safety razors, which is their first product to be developed and manufactured in-house.
Yates Precision is owned by Jake Yates, a mechanical engineer who has spent just over 5 years in the manufacturing industry. We were able to take some time out of Jake’s busy schedule to talk with him about job shop work, entrepreneurship, his new product line, and his advice for new shop owners.
Can you tell us a little more about your backstory and how you got involved in manufacturing?
I have always had background in engineering. I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 2011 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but my first job was actually as a maintenance foreman at an underground coal mine. After spending 2.5 years underground, I realized that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.
I had two friends who were working for a turbine manufacturer in Ithaca, NY that had an open engineering position, so I took it. That was my first step into manufacturing, as we did grinding, EDM, and a little milling. Programming for both the EDM and CNC mills was mainly done by hand.
After spending three years with that company, and with my wife and I expecting our first son, we decided to move back home to Pennsylvania to be closer to family. I started applying for jobs down that way and ended up getting a call from my current employer, Perryman Company. They were looking for a manufacturing engineer, and I jumped at the opportunity. At Perryman, I got much deeper into the world of milling and turning. We work in medical implants and trials and do some instrumentation, and I get to program 5 axis mills and 6/8 axis mill-turn machines on a daily basis in Autodesk Powermill and Partmaker. This is what really led me to discover that I loved subtractive manufacturing.
How did Yates Precision get started?
It has always been my goal to start my own business. In August of 2018, I decided to take the leap and buy my own machine. I had been keeping an eye out for machine listings for some time, and I found a used 1993 Mori Seiki MV40M for a good price. That machine had actually been previously owned by my employer, Perryman Company, and so I knew that it had been taken care of and was in good shape. It had sat in storage for a couple years after the current owner bought it from Perryman so there was a little a work to do, but overall it is a great mill.
So, I bought the mill last August, and have had it just over a year. It took me a couple of months to get it running, but I am officially at the one year mark with Yates Precision.
What industries and applications does Yates Precision specialize in?
I do a lot of machining work related to oil and mining. In this area, we have a lot of companies working in those industries, and so there is always work to be found.
I have done mining couplings and fittings and a lot of oil and gas parts, but I also get the occasional random RFQ which keeps things interesting. Such is the life of owning a job shop!
What other machines and software do you have in the shop?
Right now my only mill is the Mori Seiki I previously mentioned. It may be older, but that machine was the “Cadillac of Mills” in 1993. It has full 5 axis capabilities and 5 axis table, which was unheard of on most mills in the early 1990s.
I also have a small manual lathe and will be purchasing a CNC lathe sometime in Q1 2020. For software, I use Autodesk Fusion 360 for my job shop work. Sure, it has less powerful functionality than the Powermill software I use at my day job, but it is priced perfectly for small shop owners like myself and still has lots of great features included.
Are you taking advantage of the Harvey Tool and Helical tool libraries we have created for Fusion 360?
Absolutely. I have both tool libraries, and use them quite often, especially with the Harvey Tool product. It is so nice to not have to build my own model of a keyseat cutter, undercutter, or some crazy back chamfer cutter. I could take the DXF from your website and use that, which is a great resource, but that takes a lot more time to turn into a workable model than simply opening Fusion 360 and selecting the pre-built tool from an existing database.
Do you also use our Machining Advisor Pro application? How has that worked for you?
Of course! I have a shortcut in Chrome right now which gets me right to the Machining Advisor Pro application. I have found it to be very easy to just type in a tool number, enter a few basics about my material and setup, and get great running parameters.
Outside of job shop work, you have started your own product line of safety razors. What can you tell us about that product?
Along with running my own shop, I have always wanted to launch my own product line, so I am very excited about these safety razors. I make two of the three components in house, all in 316 stainless steel. I have those two components setup so that I can press the start button and have both pieces done at the end of the job. It is great to have a single piece flow like that.
95% of the tools I am using on those two components are Harvey Tool and Helical. You guys make it easy to locate and buy the tools, and the speeds and feeds from Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) are hands down the best out there. I have tried a few other calculators and I haven’t found any others that give me the same level of information and customization that MAP has.
As for the third component, the handle, I actually outsourced that to a shop in Nebraska. I found Ben, who runs that shop, on Instagram from participating in the #InstaMachinist community. It is awesome to be able to go online and collaborate with other shops across the US to generate parts like this and support small business.
How has that social media community helped you as a machinist?
It is really refreshing to have a community like we have on Instagram, where not everyone knows everything. There have been certain forums and websites where I tried to participate, and are made to feel very small with the way that some of the more experienced machinists responded to my “simple” questions.
On Instagram especially, I know that I can reach out to any number of people and get advice with difficult or new machining jobs, talk about entrepreneurship and business strategies, and just feel like a part of a community of makers who are bringing back manufacturing and preaching about the benefits of this industry to the younger generations.
I also think that you guys do a great job of getting involved yourselves with technical content and helpful information. In my opinion, you do the best job among cutting tool brands; your presence is definitely felt. As a small shop I obviously don’t have a huge tooling budget, but I can learn from all the information you guys post and take that to my day job to recommend solutions for the machining jobs we get there which come on a much larger scale.
What are some of the toughest things about starting your own business?
Honestly, running a machine shop, doing all of the programming, machining, and making chips is the easy part. That is what I knew the most about, so that part of the transition was easy.
Forming an LLC, building a website, getting my accounting together with QuickBooks; that was the hard part, as I was no expert in those areas. I learned a lot from John Saunders (NYC CNC) through social media, his videos, his website, and his “Business of Machining” podcast. He has been through a lot of the same things I have as a new shop owner, and so it is great to be close with someone like that to lean on for advice. If it weren’t for him, I would probably still be struggling setting up the “business” side of the shop.
For those who are thinking about starting a business and opening a new shop with a website, I would recommend Shopify. They made it easy for me to get off the ground and start listing products. There is a bit of a learning curve, but anyone with a decent technical mind can pick it up easily.
QuickBooks and accounting was a little overwhelming at first, but I found a great resource for my accounting needs on a site called UpWork. John Saunders turned me on to that site, and I was able to outsource my accounting needs to a woman in Florida who does a great job for me.
As a small shop owner, what other resources can you recommend to others who are just getting into the world of subtractive manufacturing?
Online forums and social media have been great for me. I don’t know what I would do without the online machining communities that are available. A lot of that comes from the machining evangelists I mentioned who are so great at spreading the noise about this industry and helping those who are currently in it learn more every day.
Through your own channels at Harvey Performance Company, your support through Instagram has been great. I have gotten to know a couple of your team members through social media, and I know that if I have any questions or complaints I can come right to one of your guys and they will figure it out for me. We recently had an Application Engineer from Harvey Performance come into my day job and he has been great as well.
The blog posts you guys generate have also been very informative. I often refer to them as a major resource, and I love getting the newsletter each month as it always has valuable information. From a business perspective, the Featured Customer posts like this have been great reads. I especially enjoyed the posts on Seth at Liberty Machine and Eddie at Nueva Precision, so it is an honor to be next to them with my own post!