President and CEO Terry Taggart and Senior VP and Plant Manager Charlie Dittrick are taking big strides with robotic automation -- and the world's best billiards rack.
Taggart bought the company in 2000 after serving as Colorado president of Commercial Federal Bank. "They wanted to consolidate and bring me back to Omaha," he says. "It was about a five-second conversation at the dinner table. The kids said, 'No way, dad.'"
So Taggart started shopping for a Front Range company with the help of a dozen business brokers and spent a year kicking the tires on "dot-com businesses and electrical businesses and a T-shirt business," he says. "I got excited about a screw machine shop in Englewood."
Then he stumbled upon RJD Machining, a machine shop in Parker that wasn't even on the market at the time, negotiated a deal to buy it, and renamed it Tag Team Manufacturing.
"My friends were like, 'Gosh, Terry, what do you know about this?'" he laughs. "I knew if I had the right people, I could do anything."
Case in point: Dittrick joined the company as a machinist in 2001. "After a year and getting Charlie on board, we scrapped the original vision and took it in a different direction," says Taggart. Soon after joining Tag Team, Dittrick "knocked on my door and said, 'You ever think of getting an optical comparator?' I said, 'What's that?'"
Dittrick's helped shape a strategy focused on short runs of small, high-value parts with tight tolerances, largely for aerospace, medical, and data storage manufacturers. "We saw a big opportunity for clients who needed quality in very small, precise parts," says Taggart. "Eighty percent of our business is from multi-billion-dollar, multinational companies."
Dittrick implemented Lean processes and quality control while spearheading a technology upgrade. Tag Team has grown from a one-computer shop to a 20-computer shop in 15 years. "Charlie's been the catalyst for a lot of growth," says Taggart.
Taggart and Dittrick have tripled sales while only adding a handful of employees in 15 years. 2014 and 2015 were record years, and Taggart says, "We're going to set another record this year."
Taggart says Shoptech's E2 Shop System software, installed at Tag Team in 2013, has been a big difference maker. "It's changed everything for us because it's real time. We can tell our client where their jobs are at and where their inventory is. They can even check on their own. . . . It's amazing software."
And Sawyer, a new robot from Boston-based Rethink Robotics, is allowing them to move into significantly bigger volumes while maintaining the same high level of precision. "We actually ended up with one of the first prototypes in the country," says Taggart.
The company acquired the robot in spring 2016 for about $50,000, and installation required another $50,000. But now instead of orders for 500 or 1,000 parts, Tag Team can now fill orders in the tens of thousands of units. "It lets us compete with the world now," Taggart says. "We're making money while we're sleeping, seven days a week."
"It's our first foray into lights-out manufacturing," says Dittrick, noting that the buy was predicated by an order for 20,000 pieces from a medical manufacturer. "They didn't give us any notice."
"We could have done this without the robot but we didn't want to," adds Taggart, touting Sawyer's flexibility. "We can move it to another machine or even put it in the shipping room."
So Dittrick programmed Sawyer to load blanks into the CNC machine 24/7, "a mundane, over-and-over-again type of job," he says. "Employees were pretty positive. Taking away the boring stuff lets them focus on the exciting stuff."
He adds, "Now that we've learned how to do it, we'd like to have four or five of them."
In 2007, Tag Team launched an in-house lifestyle brand in Delta-13 and started making patented aluminum billiards racks, applying the same high level of precision as it would to an aerospace job. In fact, QC measures them to within a hundredth of an inch and ship a report certifying its precision.
Unsurprisingly, the professional billiards associations often use Delta-13 racks. "We promote it as a performance rack, and we prove it with our inspection equipment," says Dittrick. "We didn't know how good of a rack we were making until we made it."
In many cases, the racks are more precisely manufactured than billiards balls. "If you can get all of the balls touching each other, that is called the perfect rack," says Taggart. "A Delta-13 rack is so perfect you can tell when a ball's too small for its rack."
Another benefit: While the polyurethane finish eventually wears off a wooden rack, leading to minute splinters tearing up a pool table's felt, and plastic has burrs, Delta-13 racks don't deteriorate and have a lifetime warranty.
Coming soon (after a Kickstarter campaign): world's first design anodized metal rack, as the company works with a partner to embellish the racks.
Taggart says handling Delta-13's "whole nine yards" of marketing to manufacturing to shipping helped Tag Team "better support our existing clients."
It also allows the company to navigate "peaks and valleys" by better utilizing capacity, he adds. "When we have valleys, we make these and put them on the shelf."
Challenges: The crew at Tag Team loves a good challenge. "We like hard stuff," says Taggart. "If they're having failures from other vendors where they're scrapping parts or not getting close enough tolerances, that's where we like to step in."
But there are hurdles. He points to the manufacturing workforce as the main one. "It's especially tough because we're not in a manufacturing region like Englewood or Arvada. We're pretty particular, too."
Opportunities: Larger production runs with Sawyer, and new markets. "About the only two markets we aren't in are automotive and oil and gas, but we're working to get into oil and gas," says Dittrick.
Needs: Possibly a few more Sawyer robots, and a new horizontal mill. "We've already gotten some quotes on it," says Taggart of the latter. But the former is fresh enough that he can't help see its potential to revolutionize the shop. "We've got tunnel vision because we're so excited about this thing."