In this episode of NYS Manufacturing Now, FuzeHub’s Steve Melito discusses the back-story, the wide range of services offered, as well as some “out of this world” applications with Jim Rager, director of business development for Custom Tool & Model (CTM). A family owned and operated business since 1969, CTM works in the busy markets of aerospace, defense, and robotics, helping other industry leaders to take their parts from prototype to production.
Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today we’re talking to Jim Rager, the director of business development at Custom Tool and Model Corporation or CTM in Frankfort, New York. CTM is a true leader in precision manufacturing with capabilities that include CNC machining, turning and precision laser marking, engraving, and cutting.
That’s not all either. The Mohawk Valley company serves industries like aerospace, defense and robotics, helping other industry leaders to take their parts from prototype to production. Jim Rager, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.
Jim Rager: Thanks for having me this morning, Steve.
Steve Melito: It’s a pleasure. Hey, Jim, CTM has been around since the year I was born, and that’s a long time ago. Can you tell us about the history of the company and why it matters that CTM is a family-owned business?
Jim Rager: Steven’s dad, Steven and Eric are the current owners, their dad, I believe he worked at another big company that left, went either to another country or Mexico or South. He opened up this facility. The importance of it is that when he passed, Steven, who is a design engineer, he went to school for that, and Eric was also a machinist, they kept it on. Now, why is it important? Well, we did a lot of work with Remington when they were here, but now our expertise has moved us into different products, products that fly, products that go to Mars. We had the scoop, which actually scooped up the earth on Mars. That was really cool. Now, it’s nice to talk about that. It’s nothing that we do every day, but it shows you that we had the technology, we had the quality systems, and we had the equipment to be able to manufacture something as high-tech as that. It’s important because we’re the backbone of manufacturing. When they talk about small businesses, CTM is the perfect example of that.
Steve Melito: Great. Jim, during the introduction, I mentioned some of CTM’s capabilities, but you’re adding new equipment such as five axis machining. Can you tell us about that?
Jim Rager: Right. Typically, CTM has always had horizontal milling and vertical milling, but not the combination of horizontal and verticals. The five axis gives you the opportunity to all different kinds of markets, whether it be blades and pillars, and then fancy geometry that some of the customer is really looking for. It can hold close tolerances, very, very close tolerances, which again brings us into these higher tech companies, these businesses where we can be competitive. Look, we want to be competitive with people outside the 75-mile range between the Mohawk Valley and that. Sometimes it’s easier to be competitive with the guy next door or the guy in Little Falls or the guy in Syracuse. We want to bring money from outside the valley and bring it into the valley. And quite frankly, no matter where I’ve been, over the 25 years that I’ve been up here doing this, that’s always been my goal. We’re currently doing that now with Steven and his group.
Steve Melito: Excellent. You have worked on a project for NASA. I think that’s pretty impressive. CTM also works with Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace company that most of our listeners should know, and a robotics company.
Jim Rager: Right. Well, robotics is cool because they’re a company that was on the forefront of these robots. These robots do things like they go into a caustic hazardous situation, they don’t need the PPE like human beings need. They can go right in a fire, maybe carrying something that someone needs that’s inside the building until they get out, whether it be something that saved their life or an air tank. I’ve seen it all when I’ve gone there. And then they have the bigger ones that actually can run, jump, flip over. It’s really cool. Now, Pratt & Whitney, there’s three major jet engine companies in the world and they’re part of the top three. They always have been. I mean, every F-16, F-15 you see flying has got a Pratt & Whitney engine. The new aircraft, Joint Strike Fighter, very big. We have several parts on that that we do for the Joint Strike Fighter, and then legacy. We do a lot of legacy for some folks that support the military products in Syracuse. Let’s say they’re making something for an older A-10. It’s got new design, but it still needs some older product. We can do that because we have the technology. The five axis, that’s been helping us a 1,000%.
Steve Melito: CTM, located in Frankfort, which is a village, I think there’s about 2,500 people here, but you’re working with all these big players. You’re investing in equipment, but you got to have workers. How do you do it? I understand that you employ local graduates and you’re developing the next generation of workforce talent. Can you talk about some of your efforts here.
Jim Rager: That’s important to us. We’re of the opinion to grow your own. We’ve got great technical schools that are all around us, and we have graduates that we have while they’re going to school, we have them work here as technicians and machinists. We work with them on their schedules. Some work 2:00 until 10: 00 at night, then they go to class at 7:00 AM in the morning. We’ve been doing all that, making it plausible for them to be able to work and go to school. Another part of the dynamic where FuzeHub and New York State MEP comes in, which helps us pay for training and all these things, we’ve got a multifaceted number. There’s four of the folks from MVCC through Cory Albrecht’s group that are here right now. One is doing safety training, one is doing continuous improvement, one is actually a manufacturing engineering person. He’s a colleague of mine and he comes in here. He can tell the folks what to do, what not to do. We basically have a group of senior management that the New York State MEP provides to us, and there’s a grant involved. They’re paying X amount of it. It’s not costing us all of it. We’re paying some of it, which we should, but yet it’s helping the young students that are graduating try to come up the scale faster. Now, look, even for what you do, Steve, or what I did, Steve, somebody had to show us, right? We were fortunate. Myself, I cut my teeth at a big aerospace company. I worked there 17 years. What did I learn? I learned a lot of stuff, and I was able to be a vice president of manufacturing and a general manager and all those great titles, but I had to block it and tackle it. What Steven and I and folks like Cory Albrecht and FuzeHub, Everton and them and yourself, Steve, what we’re doing is we’re putting a focus on teaching these folks how to do their thing and how it’s done the right way. They was talking about us a couple of weeks ago when I was at a show, the Montreal Show, and they’re calling us Gray Beards, but what it is that we’re supposed to have wisdom and things that we’ve been through so that they don’t have to make the same error. And then we have to pay them. We have to pay them. That’s why they’re doing that.
Steve Melito: Good. Jim, let’s talk a little bit about the show that you mentioned. Recently, CTM was part of a group of New York State manufacturers that went to Canada for Aeromart Montreal, that’s a trade show and conference for the international aerospace industry. FuzeHub got a grant from Global New York and that helped manufacturers like CTM with the cost of attending. What was the value that you got from Aeromart Montreal?
Jim Rager: Oh, goodness gracious, there was so many new faces and some old faces. Now, again, I’ve been in aerospace for a while and there was folks from Connecticut. There was folks from Massachusetts that came up, other than our I think 12 or whatever we had from our constituents from the valley and then towards the Capitol area as well. It rekindled a lot of things on a personal basis. I mean, I was meeting sons of guys who own big companies outside the valley, right? They’re like, “Oh yeah, really? Yeah, I know that guy. I know that.” It was really good for all that. Plus, we got to meet some people that we went up with and they need our help with different things. Just the networking. Pratt & Whitney and Airbus were up there. Bombardier was up there. They’re big aerospace guys. But sometimes for a small CTM, we need to be a step below that only because we have all the technical data to do it and all the certifications to do it, but they’re looking for a little different. Those people were there as well. It was very good. Yes, you helped with the financial end of it. That was a big deal, but we would definitely go on our own next year to it.
Steve Melito: Good to know. Let’s bring it back home to Herkimer County where you’re located. In a couple of weeks, you and I will be at Herkimer College for a FuzeHub event called Vitality in the Valley. It’s more than a manufacturing trade show because, frankly, it’s an experience. What would you say to people who live outside the Mohawk Valley that are hearing about this? Why should they come up? Why should they come to Herkimer County?
Jim Rager: They’re going to be surprised what they see. Herkimer County, big county, lots of people that work on each side of the county, a lot of them inside the county, but Herkimer County has a lot to offer. I think if they go to this show, the Vitality in the Valley, which is a great show, they get to meet some pretty interesting things. Like last year, what did I learn? Well, there’s a cannabis company that actually is making material to make canvas things.
In the past, this is what I learned, in the past, cotton wasn’t the material of choice to make canvases or to make sails for sail ships. If we go backwards 200 years, that’s what was going on. Someone decided to plant cotton and that was how it went that way. It’s very interesting. There’s a lot of that going on, not just breweries, which is a good thing, but there’s us, machining companies, that do things for robotics.
There’s companies that do the visualization AI stuff that you’re hearing so much about. It’s very interesting, and it’s not huge where you’re overcome. You go to a big show. You go to the SHOT Show, which is in Las Vegas, which is a gun show basically, and there there’s 500 freaking people there. There’s no way you can see it all. It’s interesting. But Vitality in the Valley, you’re going to see what happens in Herkimer.
Steve Melito: Love it. Jim Rager, thanks so much for being on New York State Manufacturing Now.
Jim Rager: Thanks a lot, Steve. Appreciate the opportunity.
Steve Melito: You bet. We’ve been talking to Jim Rager of Custom Tool and Model, or CTM, a leading provider of precision machining services in Frankfort, New York. This is a beautiful time of year to visit the Mohawk Valley, and you have an opportunity to connect with manufacturers like CTM. How do you do it? You registered for a Vitality in the Valley, FuzeHub’s next big event. This manufacturing expo is scheduled for June 6th and 7th at Herkimer College, and we’re looking for exhibitors. What’s in it for you? Well, you get to meet potential buyers and suppliers. You also get to find out about grant and funding opportunities. And as an exhibitor, you will get to network with peers at an amazing pre-event reception with local foods. Sign up at FuzeHub.com/viv2023. I hope to see you there. On behalf of FuzeHub and New York State Manufacturing Now, this is Steve Melito signing off.