By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Jun 26, 2016
Custom machine parts
After studying at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and MIT, Titcomb worked as an engineer for General Electric and Digital Equipment before starting DevTek, a contract engineering firm, in Colorado Springs in the early 1990s "to manufacture some of the test equipment that was being developed," he says.
DevTek grew to 10 employees as it worked for clients in data storage and other industries, then overseas competition disrupted its market. Titcomb and his colleagues sold it to a company that had a similar facility in Colorado Springs in the early 2000s. "They shut it down," says Titcomb, "so I was looking for a job."
He created one for himslef when he bought DevTek's equipment from the new owner and continued with the same business model under a new name, Kineo, while also developing automation for the cosmetics industry and clean rooms.
Titcomb continued investing in the company. "Kineo purchased better CNC equipment and started to see a significant uptick in revenue," he says. The operation moved to a bigger facility in 2007 and "started to shift to more of a classic job shop," moving away from automation to "put 100 percent of our effort into the CNC side of things."
The company earned its ISO 9001:2008 certification to pursue "higher-value work” for medical, oil and gas, and industrial manufacturers.
"We had three CNC machines when Kineo started and we now have 14 CNC machines," says Titcomb. "Our ratio of machines is flipped from the industry norm -- we have 10 lathes and four mills."
Over the years, Kineo found a niche, he adds. "We have an emphasis in round parts. It evolved based on customer demand."
The company also counts versatility as one of its strong suits. "We've been innovative in terms of working with different materials," says Titcomb. "We've been working with very hard materials that we're machining . . . and also very, very soft materials" -- like "squishy" polymers that the company's engineers have developed special processes to handle.
But quality is ultimately king at Kineo, he adds. "We put a huge emphasis on metrology and measuring our parts, and making sure only quality parts go out the door. It's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing to actually do it." That equates to two employees "poring over the parts" before they're shipped. "We inspect I think at a higher rate than other people," contends Titcomb. "We spend a lot of money on quality."
The next strategic move is diversification. "We're trying to broaden our customer base and go after some industries we haven't pursued yet," explains Titcomb, citing the automotive aftermarket as one target. He has a bit of an ulterior motive: "My son and I race automobiles." They compete in autocross, which involves a course full of cones and "lots of turning and braking."
Challenges: Location is a big one. "Getting in front of customers is a challenge," says Titcomb. "We're in Colorado Springs -- we don't have a lot of demand for machined parts in Colorado Springs." He says the solution lies in developing effective marketing methods for multiple industries, from websites to memberships in trade groups.
Insurance is another, he adds. "Getting the right insurance is a real challenge. They wall off different industries. . . . It's not cheap, either."
Opportunities: New markets and technologies. "We want to get involved with 5-axis machining," says Titcomb. "We think our measurement can keep up with it."
Needs: "Employees," answers Titcomb. "We need to train people who are interested in learning advanced manufacturing methods." But the pieces are in place, with several younger employees (including his sons, Bill and Nathan), many of whom interface on a daily basis with other staffers "who are very comfortable programming equipment," he adds. "We're trying to transition a lot of knowledge to the younger people. Right now, we've got more young than old."