A Call To Destiny

A Call To Destiny

Story and shop photos by Scott Rathburn
History photos courtesy Titan Gilroy
 
Check out the full video, Titan Gilroy – The Art of Manufacturing!

For some people, a name is just a name. For others, it’s a mandate – a call to destiny.

When Titan Gilroy was growing up, he had no clue about the origins of his name. It was just the name his mother had given him at birth. To his friends, he was Ty, and he didn’t think much beyond that. It wasn’t until he saw the movie Clash of the Titans that he realized there might be more to it. But even then, he just joked with his mom that she had named him after a monster.

Quite the contrary. The Titans of Greek mythology were a powerful race of gods descended from Earth (Gaia) and Heaven (Uranus). They were giants of incredible strength and knowledge, who ruled the world during the legendary Golden Age of men. 

In modern parlance, a titan is a person or thing of great strength, intellect, or importance. In our solar system, Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. And the element titanium, a metal known for its high strength, is named for the mythical Greek Titans.

Notice a theme here? 

Today, Titan Gilroy owns and operates Titan America MFG in Central California, one of the most successful machine shops in the U.S. The company specializes in machining complex components out of difficult materials for NASA and the burgeoning private aerospace sector, as well as the subsea, defense, automotive, and medical industries. 

Not only is Titan the personification of his name – strong, aggressive, knowledgeable, larger than life – but he also machines titanium for a living. How’s that for a cosmic twist of karmic synchronicity? And if that’s not enough to prove the point, he also has created his own reality TV series about machining!

Getting to his current station in life, however, has been an arduous journey, fraught with challenges and pitfalls. But every time Titan has been knocked down by adversity, he’s gotten back up stronger. “I go through hardship,” he says, “but then crazy doors keep opening up. But I gotta suffer for awhile each time before it happens.”

Born in Fort Bragg, California, in 1969, Titan spent his early years on a ranch with his parents and sister, Athena. They had a good life, but alcohol abuse sent his father “down the wrong road,” Titan recounts. “He started abusing and beating my mom, and taking it out on his entire family. So my mom took it upon herself to take us away.”

They moved from place to place for several years, trying to stay under his dad’s radar, until an offer of a place to live and a new life took them to the island of Maui. “But shortly after we got there,” Titan says, “the people who had the house actually got evicted, and we basically had nowhere to go. So we went to the beach, and we were living in a tent. It was a tough life, but my mom was a strong woman. She started working, and walking miles to go clean houses that were under construction.”  

Discovering their plight, the owner of one of the construction companies his mom worked for “let us park the tent behind the house where he was living,” says Titan. “It was cool. We were off the beach. But now, I’m the only white kid, in a very poor neighborhood, with Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Filipinos, you name it . . .”

Titan found himself singled out and picked on. “I was in third or fourth grade, and on a daily basis, I was getting dragged behind places and beaten down,” he says. 

A neighbor, tired of seeing Titan get beaten every day, took it upon himself to start training him to fight back. “He arranged to have me come to his house every day after school, so he could teach me how to train, teach me how to fight.” 

Soon, Titan was winning his battles. Street fighting became a way of life, a means of acceptance. “When I started winning my street fights,” he says, “I started getting praised, and kids started looking up to me for my ability to fight. After being picked on for so long, it felt good to be looked up to. I started hitting the bag, and going to the gym, and actually becoming a very good fighter.”

But there was another side to Titan. His mom was a talented artist, and he followed in her footsteps, seeking refuge from the streets through drawing and painting. “I didn’t have toys and the things that normal kids have,” he says, “so I would sit there for hours, just getting into my drawings and paintings. It was almost like I had two different lives – one where I was out trying to gain people’s attention and get that respect, and another one where I was just by myself, working on my art.”

Unfortunately, Titan’s fight for acceptance led him down a destructive path. “When I was 12,” he says, “a kid who used to beat me up asked me to spend the day with him. We went to the hotels, and he stole $780.00 from a hotel restaurant. I did not want to, but he threatened me if I left, so I waited a block away while he did it, and when he came running at me, we both ran. We both got in trouble and spent time in a juvenile facility.”

Things just got worse from there.

“When I went to high school,” Titan explains, “the kids I’d met 2 years earlier in the juvenile facility were at the same school. They were happy to see me, and they got into trouble a lot. I started getting into a lot of fights, and started liking the reputation that I was getting. We started skipping class, and breaking into empty houses to ‘chill,’ while the owners were working and we were supposed to be in school. We never saw home owners, just entered when they were gone.” 

During one of the group’s exploits, “one kid found a rifle and pistol and started carrying them around,” Titan says. “It was pretty innocent. But then one day, we all got caught, and he had the guns. We all got charged with 21 counts of armed robbery. I was 14 years old.”

Titan’s penchant for trouble carried over into the classroom, and soon he was not only kicked out of high school, but also kicked out of the entire school district. His only alternative was a private Roman Catholic high school. “The teachers new my reputation as a troubled kid, and they took it upon themselves to help me,” he says. School officials gave him reduced tuition, and arranged a job for him to pay the remainder. Grateful for the opportunity, Titan dedicated himself to his job and studies. 

But trouble still found him. During his senior year, Titan explains, “I got into a street fight where I actually got mobbed by a couple big guys, and I took care of business, and some people got hurt. I ended up going to a jury trial.” Just 18 years old and facing prison time, Titan went before the court and was found not guilty.

Despite his checkered history, Titan’s fighting skills had caught the eye of a local boxing trainer with connections to Dick Sadler in Oakland, who had trained George Foreman and other boxing greats. 

“One of Dick’s head trainers had actually seen me train, and seen me fight,” Titan says. “He went back and told Dick that, there’s this kid, he’s just a great fighter, and you need to take a look at him.”

Titan’s defense lawyer and an associate also saw something in the young boxer – an intensity and desire that impressed them. 

“They could see there were two sides of me,” Titan explains. “They talked to Dick [Sadler], and actually sponsored me for a boxing contract. They sent me over to Hayward, California, where I started fighting out of Oakland. And that was it. I was a fighter. I was going to be the next heavyweight champion of the world.

“I just started training, winning a lot of championships all throughout the West Coast, going to the nationals, and stuff. I finally got picked up by Top Rank Boxing [one of the country’s top fight promoters], went to Vegas, and everything was just going awesome.”

Titan was on his way up, winning 35 of 38 amateur bouts and several Golden Gloves tournaments. But it all came crashing down when he took things outside the ring during a return trip to Maui. “I drank when I shouldn’t have, and I was out at a nightclub when I shouldn’t have been there,” he says. “I ended up hitting two people and hurting them really bad.”

Titan was charged with three counts of assault for breaking one man’s jaw, and causing brain damage to another. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

“Everybody had believed in me, and loved me, and they supported me, they put money into me . . . and they had lost everything,” Titan says. “I had failed at everything.”

In prison, Titan used the “leadership skills” he’d gained on the street to negative effect, and ended up in lockdown for 6 months. “I was sitting in a locked down cell, for 6 months, by myself, just wanting to be dead, thinking my whole life was over. I was 22 years old.”

Despite being in lockdown, Titan eventually ended up with a cellmate, due to overcrowding at the prison – a lifer who was in for murder. “I was just happy to have someone to talk to,” Titan says.

“One day, he wouldn’t talk to me, and I was actually kind of offended, you know, that this guy’s not going to talk to me. We went to bed that night, and all I remember is guards coming in. I looked down, and I’m lying in a pool of blood, just blood everywhere. He had slit his wrists and bled out right next to me.

“The next couple days,” Titan says, “I went absolutely crazy, calling out the entire prison, just going nuts. I just wanted to be dead. I was slamming my head against the walls, slamming my head against the door, just doing everything I could think of to get people to come in and, like, take care of business, you know. They would just shut the lights down, leave me alone. It was the worst time of my life.

“Eventually, I just started doing my time. They started giving me some books, and I just started relaxing. I ended up going to a maximum-security prison, and then I made it down to medium security. I was able to have pencils and drawing equipment, and some friends brought me some paintbrushes and stuff.”

Once again, Titan sought refuge in art. “Instead of going out and doing stupid things with the inmates,” he says, “I just started painting and drawing. My love for art just started picking up again. I’d make beautiful cards and sell them to inmates who had wives and kids – birthday cards, and stuff.”

He also took a computer class, where he learned desktop publishing and marketing. “The class really gave me something to focus on,” Titan explains. “Being able to learn computers, learn different software, and do my drawing and painting . . . it just opened my mind, and started getting me to be creative, and think maybe there could be a future.”

But Titan was only 2 years into his sentence, and the possibility of parole was still many years away. He found out about a work program called the “pine” line, and asked to be part of it. The local pineapple plantations often used prisoners to harvest the fruit. It was hard, backbreaking work, but also a temporary escape from the prison walls.

“You’re bending over all day long in the hot sun,” Titan recounts, “with chaps and piles of clothes on. You’re walking, and you have to keep up with this boom [a conveyor that carries the picked pineapple to an infield harvester]. Eighteen guys walking in a line, all day long, and either you’re bending over, or you’re breaking through these big plants that are like knives coming at you. It was a tough job.

“They paid me $14 an hour. Half of that went toward our incarceration – we actually paid for our incarceration so the taxpayers wouldn’t have to do it – the other half went into a bank account for when we got out.

“I just started working that program. I started training, fighting again, and working out. And I started working on my art. After about a year in that program, when everybody else failed – a lot of guys couldn’t make it through a whole year – they took another year off my sentence for good behavior,” Titan says. “And then Top Rank Boxing in Las Vegas actually contacted the parole board, and said: ‘This kid has a future. We’re going to give him a boxing contract. We’re going to set him on course, and we’re going to help him out – if you let him out right now.’”

Titan was released on parole, and went straight to Las Vegas. “I had a couple fights – a tune up – and I was right there to turn pro, and do it big. I had the whole world opening up to me. I had one opportunity to do something with my life. It’s what I’m good at. I’m winning. I’m training with the best trainers, the best fighters in the world, and dominating, and everything’s going really good.”

Then the other shoe drops . . . again. “A neighbor who is doing drugs and getting crazy starts threatening my wife, starts threatening me,” Titan says. “We called the cops, and these guys just gave me an incident report number, basically knowing that the guy had been threatening me. We went through this period over two weeks where we called the cops, trying to do the right thing. I’m on parole. One wrong move, and I can go right back [to prison] and do a lot of years.

“I kept asking the cops, What am I supposed to do? This guy is going to come after me. And basically the only thing they could say was: ‘You just gotta take care of your family, protect yourself.’

“And a couple days later, when this guy came at me, I took care of it. One punch. He went back – just like the guy when I went to prison – hit his head on the concrete, and it was a bad situation. The cops came, but I ended up not getting in trouble. I was free, everything was good, but that was it. I was done with fighting.

“It didn’t matter if that was the only chance I had to do something with my life, I just could not hit anybody anymore, and I walked away. We got a U-Haul that day, packed it up, and came to California.”

Upon reaching California, Titan scoured the local papers for work. “I got a job at a place called Campbell Tool and Metal that had these huge saws that cut material for machine shops,” he recalls. “I’d never seen anything like it. But I saw these awesome big machines cutting these big plates, and they hired me for nine bucks an hour, and it was on.” 

Quite a cut in pay from professional boxing, but it didn’t matter, Titan says. “I had a normal job, and a chance to do something here, and within 6 months, I was able to program every single saw in the whole place.” 

That was Titan’s introduction to the metalworking industry, and it wasn’t long before he graduated from sawing raw material to machining parts. 

“I didn’t even know what an endmill was,” Titan says. But the owner of a local machine shop, Zinola Manufacturing, was looking for someone young to teach the trade to, and Titan fit the bill. 

When Titan saw the CNC machines in action, he was hooked. “I looked at the owner and said: I will be the best worker here in a year, if you give me the opportunity. I will be here early, I will work late, I will take books home . . . I will do everything to master this thing, if you give me an opportunity.”

And master it, he did. Within a year, Titan went from making $11 an hour to making $28 an hour. He became the foreman of the entire shop, and was doing all the programming. To him, it was art – an opportunity to challenge himself and be creative.

One of Titan’s favorite challenges was cutting cycle times. “I’d look at these cool parts,” he explains, “and I’d look at the cycle time, and it would say 7 minutes. Nobody would be around, so I would jack up the spindle speed, and jack up the feedrate, and see if the tool would break. And it wouldn’t break. And all of a sudden, I’d look at the cycle time, and it would be down to 5 minutes.

“I’d say to Kevin (the owner): That’s 2 minutes per part, times 1000 parts, divided by 60 minutes, times the hourly shop rate . . . we just saved a bunch of money!” And he’s like, ‘That’s awesome!’ 

“And more and more, I just kept pushing it, kept pushing it. And then, boom, the tool would break, and I’d learn something.”

What Titan learned is that, as long as he stayed within the limits of the tools and the machines, he could push hard and fast to save time and make money. 

“We started doing more and more difficult parts,” he says, “and the challenge was to do hard materials, do them fast, and make some money. I wasn’t thinking about making money for myself; it was so awesome making money for my boss.”

That attitude kept Titan moving up in the company. He continued pushing hard, and scouring books and the Internet to increase his knowledge of machining. “I would try to put my hands on anything I could to learn the trade,” he says. “I didn’t have the years of experience, but what I lacked there, my enthusiasm and my passion made up for.”

After 4 years of working in the Bay Area, though, Titan was ready for a change. His enthusiasm for machining had not wavered, but his enthusiasm for city living had. “I just kind of got tired of it,” he says. “I decided to move up to Auburn, California, and get a different perspective. Working for Zinola was an incredible opportunity,” Titan says, “and leaving was a hard decision.” But it was time to move on.

Located just northeast of Sacramento, Auburn offered a more rural lifestyle, yet still boasted a large contingent of machine shops where Titan could ply his new trade.

But his aggressive approach to machining was not well received. “I had a rude awakening,” Titan explains. “I went from shop to shop, and I couldn’t find my place. People thought I was dangerous, that I ran the machines too fast. I would program stuff and drop the times in half, and then when the night shift came on – to these big companies – they’d ask me to put it back how it was, because it was too aggressive, and they thought somebody might get hurt.

“I’m like, What are you thinking? I’m saving you all this money, you know?

“I worked for a lot of different shops and got a lot of experience. I programmed for some huge companies, and it opened my eyes to what was out there. But through all of it, I just found that I was so different from everybody . . . not saying anything negative, just that I had a certain way of doing things. I was very aggressive, I was creative, and people just didn’t really understand it.

“I was all about running fast and hard, and saving people money, but they were comfortable in their present place, and didn’t want to push the limits. And I just couldn’t live like that.”

Titan found some modicum of freedom at Nagy Precision Manufacturing in Colfax, California. 

“When I walked in,” Titan explains, “they had just gotten their first Haas CNC machine, and it was just sitting there. They had no clue what to do with it, because they were a manual shop. They asked if knew how to run it, and I’m like, absolutely!”

Within a few years, Titan turned the struggling manual machine shop into a thriving CNC operation, with seven Haas machines. “I did all the programming, and ran multiple machines,” he says. 

To work the night shift, Titan hired Jeff Weaver, a journeyman machinist who had owned his own shop, and the two became fast friends.

“He’d be cranking handles on a Prototrac, making manual parts,” Titan explains, “and I’d be running four or five machines by myself, and have them all humming. I’d be looking at him and talking smack, and he always thought it was the greatest thing.”

“I was very impressed with Titan,” says Weaver, now retired in Texas. “I have always been just a manual machinist, but I’ve worked at a lot of CNC shops, and I’ve seen some very good CNC machinists. Titan was just the best I’d ever seen or worked with at production CNC machining. He just had a gift for it.

“Anybody can just push a machine to go fast, but what happens is you break the tool or the machine. The skill, the talent, is how to get the most out of the machine without destroying it.”

Titan worked at Nagy for four years, and was set to take over the company when the owner retired. But the owner decided to sell the company instead, despite their agreement, and Titan walked out. “I walked away with nothing,” he says.

Titan realized the only way he’d ever be able to control his own destiny – and run the machines the way he wanted to – was to start his own shop. 

He contacted the local Haas Factory Outlet and quoted four new Haas machines – two VF-2SS super speed VMCs and two SL-10 turning centers – along with the tooling he’d need to get started. He also started lining up customers who were familiar with his talent and knew his capabilities. “Everybody was super happy that I was going to get my own shop,” he says. “I had racked up 25 customers, people who wanted to give me work – but nobody wanted to back me financially.”

Aware of Titan’s plight, Weaver offered him $50,000 – the inheritance from his parents’ recent passing – to help fund his new shop. “I knew that Titan was interested in having his own shop,” Weaver says. “We had been talking about what his plans were, and I had mentioned to him that, if he decided to start his own place, and needed more backing, I would be interested in investing in that.”

Titan was reluctant to take his friend’s money, but with no alternatives, he accepted – with the understanding that he would triple Jeff’s investment in 2 years, and give him a 25-percent ownership in the company. “It was a handshake deal,” says Weaver.

Things were starting to come together, until the financing for Titan’s machines got denied. “I had no money,” he says. “I had been in prison. I was paying huge child support. There was no way I was going to get my machines and start my company.” 

As with his boxing career, though, providence intervened. Bill Selway, owner of the local Haas Factory Outlet (HFO), recognized Titan’s name while reviewing a stack of denied finance applications. He’d heard good things from his staff about Titan and what he was doing with Haas machines.

HFO Sales Executive Keith Granno knew Titan and knew his skills. “I have been selling Haas machines for a long time, and he compares to nobody I have ever seen,” Granno says. “Titan was doing difficult parts, and running the machines very aggressively, much faster than anything I’d ever seen in a standard job shop.”

After hearing Granno’s praise and speaking with Titan, Selway was convinced. “He called me and wanted to know my business plan, and what my goals were,” Titan says. “I told him about all the customers I’d been contacting, and all the new people that had been coming to me. He basically said, ‘Titan, we are going to take a chance on you. We’re going to guarantee your loan for your machines. We’re going to make this happen for you.’”

“Boom! So then I had to get a building,” Titan says. “Jeff and I realized I wasn’t going to get money from anyone else, so he refinanced his house – against his family’s wishes – and took out another $75,000.”

“It was a really frightening move for me,” Weaver recalls, “because we basically put everything we had in Titan’s hands. But I really felt I could trust him, and I had a lot of confidence in him. He was really driven, and really good.”

Titan found a building and worked a deal with the landlord. He offered customers discounted rates to get their work, and they agreed to pay him early to help him out. 

“There was a lot stacked against us,” Weaver says, “but Titan really just threw himself into it, and he had a lot of confidence in himself, and determination that he was going to make it work. With customer after customer, he would get a chance just to get his foot in the door, and then he would manage to show them that he really was extraordinary. There was no question of what the shop was going to be. It was his dream and his vision.”

“I was all about running fast and hard, and saving people money,” Titan says. “And finally, I had my own company. I started with nothing, and we got our first four Haas machines, and I just started running the way I always wanted to run, without anybody telling me what to do. And it was awesome!”

Titan is quick to credit those who helped him get started, though. “If they hadn’t taken a chance on me, then I would not be where I am today. And that’s why I tell everybody, this great industry is about relationships. It’s about doing what you say, keeping your word, making sure that you take care of your customers. If you don’t take care of your customers, somebody else will.”

Titan Precision Engineering opened its doors in 2005 – with three employees and four Haas machines – and within a year, the company had generated $1 million in revenue. 

One of Titan’s biggest customers that first year was SECO, a major manufacturer of surveying and global positioning equipment accessories. “They were probably about 40 percent of our business,” Titan says. “We were doing their parts in two or three minutes that other people would do in 10 minutes. We were doing parts in 10 minutes that other people would take 40 minutes. I had double vises – as many vises as I could get in the machines – running as many parts as possible, and doing them in minutes.”

He also proved his worth with Spectra Watermakers, a company that manufactures water desalinization pumps. “They had another company making all their parts, and scrapping 30 percent of them,” Titan says. “Their prices were skyrocketing, and they came to me and asked if I could do the parts. I said, absolutely, and we started making the parts, literally, at half the price, with 100 percent success rate. 

“They were complicated parts, but what people didn’t understand was, it’s plastic. They were going slow. And when they couldn’t hit the plus 1/minus zero tolerances, they would slow it down, actually heating up the material. But I pushed the envelope. I got in and out. I did it fast, and kept the heat out of the plastic. We made the parts way faster, and the tolerances were perfect.”

Spectra was so pleased with the results, “they started throwing more parts at me,” Titan says. But he didn’t have the capacity; his machines were booked. “So they actually went out and bought me two Haas machines, put them on my floor, and said: ‘Titan, run our parts.’ And that got me from four machines to six machines. And I just started making all their parts.

“It’s about the relationships,” Titan says. “Customers just started coming. I’d work 24 hours a day. I’d wake up at 2 in the morning and go into the shop. I’d get in my truck and deliver parts across the state. I would do whatever it takes to take care of my customers, and I was running hard and I was running fast.”

Titan’s Haas Super Speed VMCs played a key role in his success. “I truly was in love with them,” he says. “They could go 833 inches a per minute, and I just got it into my head that, every time I run anything, it’s going to be at 833 inches a minute. Not 800, but 833. All the tool guys, sales guys, and different people would come into the shop, and they would just stand in awe, and look at the programs. It just became the way we did things. I got a team of workers around me, they all learned this style, and that is who we became.”

When one of his customer’s decided to take their business overseas, however, Titan lost roughly 40 percent of his shop’s business almost overnight.

It was a major setback, but Titan’s reputation for fast, high-quality work was already opening new doors. The very next day, he received a call from Schilling Robotics, a company in Davis, California, that manufactures remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and manipulator arms for the subsea oil and gas industry. “I didn’t even know who they were,” he says. “They weren’t on my radar.”

But he was on their radar, and they wanted to talk. “So I went down, and they showed me these huge, $4 million ROVs that drop to the bottom of the ocean,” Titan says, “with all these robotic arms. And I was like, man, this is amazing. All these cameras and parts and robotic arms are made out of titanium.”

They gave Titan a shot, and he did not disappoint. “The parts I delivered were crazy good,” he says, “and I was doing them at half the price.” In short order, Titan was doing 80 percent of the parts for Schilling’s latest ROV, and he had guaranteed contracts for several years.

It was time to expand. In 2008, Titan moved to a 35,000-square-foot facility near the Auburn airport, added more machines, and hired more employees. In 3 years, Titan Precision Manufacturing grew from 4 Haas machines and 3 employees, to 20 Haas machines and 55 employees, with revenue expected to hit $6 million by the end of 2008. He was running three shifts a day, seven days a week.

[In case you were wondering, Titan also made good on his promise to triple Jeff Weaver’s investment in the company, paying him $620,000 for his original $125,000 and 25-percent share, along with a generous monthly stipend that continues to this day. Weaver’s wife, who threatened Jeff for risking their entire life savings on the venture, now counts Titan as a close friend and family hero.]

Titan’s success with titanium on the subsea parts soon caught the attention of the aerospace sector. “All of a sudden,” he says, “I started having engineers from the biggest private companies in aerospace coming to me to ask: Hey Titan, is this possible? Hey Titan, how can we design this in a way that will make it so it’s easy to manufacture, and that we can run it in production?

“People started seeing me as an artist, as a creator who designed these amazing fixture plates and tombstones and double vises and soft jaws and all these different things,” Titan says.

“So now, I was making aerospace parts. I was making subsea parts. I was making, basically, from the bottom of the ocean to space, and everything in between. These are CNC machines, and we could make anything and everything. All types of materials: carbon fiber, Inconel®, titanium. I gained a reputation. People were loving me, giving me work. My team was excelling. We were making incredible parts. Thin parts, thick parts, big, small, you name it. If it was tough, and it was a tough metal, I was going after it. If somebody said it couldn’t be done, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to show people that it could be done.”

The client list grew quickly, bringing with it more challenging work. Materials like 6AL-4V titanium, Inconel®, ToughMet®, Nitronic® 60, A286, and 15-5 stainless were the norm, with aircraft-grade aluminum alloys, carbon fiber, G10 glass-reinforced epoxy, Vespel®, and Delrin® thrown in to keep things interesting.

But not everyone was a believer. Titan Precision Engineering is, and always has been, an all Haas shop, and some people doubted the machines’ capabilities. “And it really started to bother me,” Titan says, “when people would come into the shop and say: How do you machine titanium [on a Haas]? How do you do Inconel? How do you do A286? It can’t be done.”

Before he had his own shop, Titan “ran every machine that there is,“ he says. “I ran a lot of Japanese machines. I ran American machines. I spent half a million dollars on horizontals . . .

“I’ve been running Haas machines for about 15 years, now. The machines are awesome, and all the controls are exactly the same. I love the fact that one guy can be trained on one machine, and basically walk throughout my entire shop, and not have to be retrained. That’s important to me.

“They’re easy to program,” he adds, “and it’s all about the talent in the programming. You just need to know how to approach it and how to program it. We are operators and programmers; we tell the machines what to do. You have to be cautious. Every material has a tool, and you just have to understand feedrates. You have to understand the art of approaching any particular part, taking the pressure out of the part, out of the tool, and just making it cut like butter. If it’s aluminum, you run it a certain way, and if it’s titanium or Inconel, you run it a certain way.”

Impressed by what Titan was doing with his Haas machines, the salesmen from the local Haas Factory Outlet often brought customers to his shop to see things firsthand. “I’d be running a 14"-diameter piece of Inconel in my SL-20, taking up the entire work envelope,” he says, “and it would just blow their minds. And I would just get excited. I’d be like, you know, it’s this tool, and it’s this feedrate, and it’s this chip load. Don’t take huge cuts. Take a smaller radial cut, but use the entire length of the tool flute. The same amount of material is coming off, but with less pressure. Now, jack up your parameters in all areas. Take the same amount of material, but do it faster. Cut it like butter. And I just started teaching people.

“But it got real frustrating,” he says, “because a lot of people just couldn’t get it. They couldn’t wrap their heads around running difficult parts and difficult materials.” 

Many shop owners are very secretive about their machining processes, guarding them closely to prevent competition from other shops. But Titan wanted to share his knowledge for the greater good, to help other shops become more efficient, so the work would stay in America instead of going offshore. 

“I was doing the work at half price, yet I was still making a 30-percent profit,” Titan says. “I had 55 employees, and we were rolling. I was doing a million [dollars] a month . . .” 

Then the world economy went ino a downward spiral. “In one single day,” Titan says, “my primary customer put everything on hold – every PO, 4 million dollars in one day. And a week later, they laid off 100 employees in one shot. Boom! And I knew I was in bad trouble.

“In 2009, 2010, I literally went through the toughest times in my life,“ Titan says. “I had some big customers stop work across my floor. Work gone. Things going overseas. Jobs stopped. We were at the top of our game, saving people huge money, yet the jobs were just put on hold. People weren’t running a thousand pieces, they were running five. People weren’t even giving out work. They were just holding on, and waiting for the economy to come back.”

Over the next year and a half, Titan had to lay off 40 of his employees, and relocate to his former facility in Grass Valley. “I had to do whatever I could,” he says. “I had 55 employees, and when you have mouths to feed, you have people relying on the decisions that you’re making, and the work is leaving . . . I can’t even tell you how emotional, how devastating, that time period was.”

Knocked down, but not out, Titan continued to fight.

“I made it out . . . barely,” he says. “I ended up reforming my company, keeping my best machinists – a smaller group of guys – and taking the work to an elite status. I was fortunate to get some new customers, do even harder parts, more extreme parts, and just kept going after parts that wouldn’t go overseas.”

But something had changed for Titan. 

“It wasn’t about building a huge company anymore,” he says.“ It wasn’t about making a bunch of money, and eating at the biggest restaurants, and travelling, and just having a huge reputation. I looked back at the devastation, at the people who were working for 10 bucks an hour that used to own their own machine shops, at my friends who had lost their jobs because of all the work that was gone . . .

“At the same time,” he says, “I was having people ask me to talk to kids, and go to prisons and tell my story. And people were getting touched by it. And I was like, this is what I want to do with my life. I want to help people, and touch people. I just knew it was going to be my calling.”

A man of strong faith, Titan believes that everything happens for a reason. When a lawyer giving him advice on how to save his company appeared in a class at Titan’s church, he took it as a sign. When an eagle shadowed him on his way down the hill from work, he took it as a sign. When he told his wife he wanted to change the name and logo of the company, and she suggested he should make it an eagle, he took it as a sign. And when he checked online to see when the eagle became the symbol of our nation, and it just happened to be June 20th, his birthday, he knew a higher power was looking out for him.

Confident it was the right thing to do, Titan changed the company’s name to Titan America MFG – an American job shop – with the eagle as his new logo. He dedicated himself to not only being the best he could be, but also helping others be the best they could be. And he made it his personal mission “to put American manufacturing back on top of the world.”

Having suffered firsthand the effects of clients taking their work offshore, and seen the devastation wreaked upon machine shops throughout America by the economic meltdown, Titan had a clear vision of what needed to be done. 

“I’m not saying that I have all the answers,” Titan says, “but people are taking American work to other countries for 10, 20, 30 percent savings. Yet, most companies are only running at 10 to 30 percent of their machines’ capabilities. If we push a little bit harder; if we change our mindset, and start really getting to know these machines; if we stop fearing them, and start pushing them the way they’re capable of being pushed, using the right tools, and doing all the right things, we could actually start competing, keeping these jobs here.

It’s a philosophy Titan lives by every day. His business has continued to grow by taking on the difficult jobs that other shops couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do. Titan America currently boasts 13 Haas machines, including a brand-new UMC-750 5-axis universal machining center, and recently relocated to a larger, 20,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled facility in Rocklin, about 25 miles south of the company’s Grass Valley location.

“We’re taking everything to a higher level,” Titan says. “We still have the amazing parts and the amazing customers, and the machines are running non-stop every day.” 

It’s exciting stuff. But what Titan is most excited about is his new reality TV series – TITAN: American Built – which airs weekly on the MAVTV cable network.

“This is the first high-end manufacturing show to hit prime time,” Titan explains. “Every week, we’re doing challenging parts for different American industries. It’s against all odds to get it done. We’re showcasing CNC machining, delivering the parts in the nick of time, showing them getting assembled, and then showing the payoff.

“It’s not just about having a TV show,” he says. “It’s about making a difference. It’s about having a platform to educate the public. I think a lot of people look at machining, and they think about oily floors and grease, and they don’t even want to step in the door. Today’s machine shop is a lot different. It’s clean, the machines are awesome, and each piece, literally, is like a work of art.

“When I look at the show, I see a platform to – in a non-threatening way – educate America about this amazing, very high-tech trade that is literally the foundation of this great country, a great country that is going to be in trouble if we don’t pick our manufacturing base back up, and revive it.

“This is real life. A hundred thousand companies have gone out of business. Not because Americans don’t know how to work, or because we don’t have the machines, but because we haven’t truly embraced the technology.

“We need to run hard. We need to run fast. We need to save people money. We need to solve problems,” he says. “We need to teach our youth about this great industry, and raise them up to move forward and take this trade to another level. Together we can bring about change.

“I’m not here to solve every problem. My team is not here to solve every problem. We’re just going to showcase great projects, great companies, and we’re going to show American manufacturing and CNC machining like it’s never been shown before. 

“I just want to open people’s eyes to the truth. America can do it faster, better, and cheaper than anyone. We need to believe, and embrace advanced technologies. Because that is our future.

“BOOM!”

  • 19 February, 2015