Accelerating Toward the Future with Firstar Precision Corporation
Firstar Precision Corporation was founded right at the turn of the century in Brunswick, Ohio with a focus of taking on the difficult jobs no one else wanted, and completing them with high quality and excellent customer service.
A lot has changed in the last 23 years. More people and machines now occupy much more square footage at Firstar, but that initial focus is still the same.
We caught up with Jack West, VP of Operations, and Luke Orszag, VP of Finance, to talk about what makes Firstar special, why they still team with Ellison Technologies and where they’re headed in the future.
The Firstar difference
Firstar has a lot of expertise and technology in its 27,000 sq ft facility. When asked what makes their shop different from others in the area, Orszag and West had their answers locked and loaded
“We really position ourselves as an extension of our customers’ operations,” Orszag said. “They’re reaching out to us like they’re reaching out to their own production department. They call, we answer. Something changes, they know immediately. We respond like we’re colleagues. It’s pretty unique in this industry.”
West’s answer? It starts with confidence in their own skill. “We take on the projects the other shops shy away from. Might be material-related, or maybe the tolerance is too tight. A lot of what we make is pretty involved, with multiple internal operations, then heat treating, grinding, testing, plating. So at the end, these parts are pretty high value. Plenty of risk involved, and you have to do it right.”
Their story with Ellison
To trace the origins of the Firstar/Ellison relationship, you really just need to trace the path of Kurt Schaldach, VP at Ellison Technologies Ohio. When Kurt found his way to Ellison, Firstar came with him. West is glad they did. “It’s been a really good experience working with Ellison. I’m a perfectionist, so when we had the opportunity for a robotics project, I wasn’t going to entrust it to just anyone. I wanted high confidence that I’d get exactly what I wanted.”
“I knew I’d be able to get that from Kurt, because I’ve worked with him for 30 years. I have a lot of confidence in his abilities. It’s really because of him that we went with Ellison a decade ago.”
That robotics project, which produces six to eight thousand parts per month from a notoriously tough-to-machine material, was important to get right. Firstar got multiple quotes, but nobody gave the warm and fuzzies like Ellison did.
“The part itself was simple, but the process was dragging out with the other companies we talked to,” Orszag said. “Ellison immediately understood what we were trying to do, and they got us where we needed to be much quicker.”
The new robotic cell: a tedious job done differently
Previously, Firstar was cranking out 1,000 molybdenum parts per month for a defense industry customer. No automation, just operators at the machine. Emphasis on the plural. “It was hard to keep one operator on a tedious job like that. We’d have to cycle people every week because it was driving them crazy,” West said.
So in the spring of 2022, when that customer came to Firstar with a request to significantly increase the volume to up to 8,000 parts per month, they knew they needed a better way. That’s when they talked to Ellison.
Ultimately, they went with a Lynx 2100LB turning center from DN Solutions and paired it with a Doosan Robotics collaborative robot (cobot) cell that included a bowl feeder and conveyor with inspection system. The entire project was up and running by the end of 2022. “It’s worked out really well,” West said. “We’re still dialing things in here and there, but overall, it’s working great. This is our first DN Solutions machine, and we’re running it hard. 22 hours a day on a rough application.”
The future of Firstar
In April 2021, Firstar was acquired by an ESOP holding company. Firstar is now 100% employee owned, and Orszag has noticed a clear difference. “The acquisition started to amplify the culture here. We went from a single owner to being employee owned. It opened up a different way of thinking about the future and what that could mean.”
“Our access to capital is letting us explore different opportunities we wouldn’t have thought about before. We’re being intentional about diversifying our customer base and getting into different industries. We’re on a new trajectory, and it’s exciting to see.”
The Ellison philosophy, proven out
In many ways, Firstar is a textbook customer example for us at Ellison. We’ve always believed in partnering with driven and expert machine shops and putting their success before our own.
We believe it because we’ve seen it play out time and time again. When we properly set up customers to compete and win, that success is passed along to us. So wherever Firstar heads in the future, you can bet we’ll be there to equip, support and cheer them on.