Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: Machining and assembly services
Founder Nick Preece has turned his obsession with precision machining into a new job shop, and he's nabbing accounts from much larger competitors.
At 23, Preece is perhaps the youngest machine shop owner in Colorado.
He's also studying electrical engineering at University of Colorado, Boulder. Between running a growing startup and hitting the books, Preece is a pretty busy guy. "I'm swamped," he says.
The seeds for Preece Machining & Assembly took root in 2014 when Preece bought his first metalworking mill. Before launching his namesake business in early 2018, he was working in construction, and woodworking gave way to metalworking.
"I started getting some shop tools in my garage and learned how to use them," says Preece. "I was so fascinated by cutting metal. The tolerances you could hold, and learning about metrology tools. It turned into an obsession."
He taught himself the skills to machine a wide range of parts. "Making things really, really precise turned into 'How am I going to make that?'" he explains. "It's not that big of a hobby, but I just really ran with it."
After beginning with a small mill-lathe combo, Preece has since added two Milltronics mills, CNC lathes, and a surface grinder to his stock of machinery.
"I started getting bigger tools and eventually they don't fit in the garage," says Preece, who moved his operation to a 1,200-square-foot industrial space in a screenprinting shop on the east side of Boulder in July 2018.
With the growing inventory of equipment, Preece Machining & Assembly has landed more and more work in its first year of operations, making clamps for BayWatch Car Wash Doors in Denver and parts for epoxy mixers from St. Louis-based Triplematic Dispensers.
Preece says he's able to offer competitive pricing that has brought in some business that was otherwise going to multinational suppliers like MSC.
"I'd like to replace some of those huge manufacturing companies," he says. "If we can compete with huge companies like that, we can bring manufacturing back home."
Challenges: A software upgrade is in the works. "We're a little behind on the technology," says Preece. He's looking to transition from Mastercam 9 to Fusion and SolidWorks.
Marketing is another one. "That's something I need a little help with," Preece adds.
Opportunities: "To keep doing what we're doing and keep doing the best we can," says Preece. "If we keep our customers happy, they keep coming back."
But the ultimate goal is to not only bolster repeat customers, but to also add new ones. "We are getting more and more customers," he says. "We want to find those niches where we can compete."
Preece says a stock product line might also be in the works: "Rather than job-shopping, I'd like to start manufacturing products and getting them in the hands of people who can use them."
Needs: With the software upgrade, the shop also needs a hardware refresh. "Our machines are a little older," says Preece, noting that the company typically buys machines through brokers. "We'd love to get some newer machines. One of them is just now switching over from floppy drives."
Another approaching need on the horizon: more labor. "We're at the point where we're looking at [hiring] another guy," he says. "I don't want to jump the gun. . . . We just want to be sure we can keep them on."