BLOOMINGDALE, IL – Steve Kopinski, Abrasive-Form’s vice president of engineering, is about to start another chapter in his career that began in 1971, when he entered TMA’s mold-making program.
Two years later, Steve became a journeyman and mold maker with Paul Kummer, the founder of Roselle Tool. After apprenticing with Paul from 1973 to 1975, Steve continued as a journeyman at Roselle for six more years.
“Paul Kummer was an engraver and pattern maker,” Kopinski said. “It’s hard to imagine, but then, if you wanted to emboss something, you had to be an artist that could engrave into a metal by hand. That’s a talent that doesn’t exist today.”
Several years later, Paul Kummer’s son Ken purchased Roselle Tool and changed the company’s name to “AbrasiveForm, Inc.” Steve returned as a mold designer, and the business has since grown to nearly 200 employees — the largest shop in North America that does creep-feeding, a high precision linear grinding method used to make jet engine turbine blades.
Creating jet engine parts
Despite the nation’s economic ups and downs, Abrasive-Form’s work creating jet engine parts has the company on the upside, with a very bright future making blades for jet engines used in Rolls Royce, Pratt Whitney, General Electric and Siemens products.
The power created by jet engine turbines, fueled by natural gas, is in demand as more and more power companies turn away from coal and oil energy sources. Developers continue to improve the efficiency of natural gas–fueled jet engine turbines, and with natural gas being plentiful in the United States, more are turning to the cleaner power source.
Abrasive-Form, Inc. continues to grow as they adapt their machines, labor and engineering skills to reflect the latest technology and energy source developments. Improving the efficiency of jet engine turbines is cutting-edge technology, and Abrasive Form is focused on keeping up with the necessary advances.
“It’s all about efficiency now,” Kopinski said.
Kopinski said that while jet engines are powerful and pollutant-free, the developers are working on containing the engine’s sound, but that will come.
The importance of efficiency
When natural gas-powered turbines were first used, the top efficiency was 36 percent. Now, their efficiency is nearing 60 percent.
“It will be a while before it goes any higher than 60 percent,” Kopinski said. “They’re running the jet engines hotter than the melt temperature of the jet engine blades. If the cooling system shuts down now, the turbine blades will melt.”
But while quality is always important in the jet engine business, now companies are requiring quicker turnaround times.
“We work on one stage of turbine blades, and before they get here, a company may have as much as a half million dollars invested before they get to our shop,” Kopinski said. “They want to know how fast can they get their parts from us to get the money they’ve invested back to them.”
In years past, companies would expect their parts in eight to 10 weeks, Kopinski said. Now most want the parts back in four weeks.
So in order to meet customers’ demands, manufacturers like Abrasive-Form invest in machines to make the parts and hire workers to keep the machines productive. There are plenty of jobs in the manufacturing industry, Kopinski said, they just take a little more experience and training than they did in the past.
“There’s no lack of opportunity, but our baseline standards for hiring are higher these days,” Kopinski said. “At one time we took in a body and taught them a job. Now we need to know their backgrounds and their desire to learn. Then we’ll train them.”
It takes a visionary CEO
Privately owned companies like Abrasive-Form will grow and thrive with industry changes if the CEO is a visionary, Kopinski said.
“Working with a company like Abrasive-Form is especially rewarding because the owner respects, welcomes and rewards entrepreneurial thinking,” he says.
Steve is now looking forward to retirement and making a new home in Texas with his wife and near his grandkids. Looking back, Kopinski says his time working with TMA as a student and as a committee and board member were highlight of his career.
“It’s still a great industry, and I think there are good livings to be made on the machine side,” he said. “We will always need people that want to learn and want to succeed. With the help of TMA, I got the education, background and training. The key is a person has to want to learn, grow and commit to something more than just punching a clock.”
Abrasive-Form, Inc. is located at 454 Scott Drive in Bloomingdale, Illinois, or online at: www.abrasive-form.com.
First published in TMA’s June 2015 News Bulletin. By Fran Eaton, Editor.