When a fortuitous opportunity falls into your lap, you don’t want to let it slip by, especially when it means becoming the owner of a highly experienced, well-tuned gear job shop in Rochester, New York.
That’s what happened to Rochester Gear’s president, Tony Fedor, who recalls a successful turn of events for a once-static gear manufacturing business. And it wouldn’t have happened without Vice President Scott Caccamise’s drive to lure Fedor out of retirement. Caccamise and Fedor had been longtime friends prior to their decision to purchase Rochester Gear in 2007.
“I spent about 30 years at Kodak as a chemical engineer and retired in 1999,” Fedor said. “I had a perfect retirement on the lake here in Webster and a home down in Naples, Florida, but I became bored with retirement. One day, Scott called me up and said, ‘I’m thinking of buying this business, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘well, send me the P&L, the balance sheet.’ I was down in Florida at the time, and I looked it over and thought, wow, this is pretty good. I bounced it off a couple friends I know who ran small businesses, and they said, ‘yeah, looks good.’”
So after many hours of talking about what they could do together with this business opportunity, Caccamise and Fedor decided to buy the company.
“Scott reeled me right in, out of retirement,” Fedor said. “And we’ve been at it for nine years.”
Caccamise started working for Rochester Gear in 1987, which began as a machine shop in 1925 and started making gears in the 1940s, and the previous owner decided to retire.
“It had a high-quality reputation, a good diverse customer base, no huge customers, but a lot of small ones, making commercial gears for tools, yet the previous owner wasn’t buying new equipment; he wasn’t growing the business,” Fedor said. “But he was very sensitive to his employees, and he wanted to make sure the new owners would take care of them. And he comes back and visits from time to time.”
Soon after purchasing Rochester Gear, Caccamise and Fedor realized they needed to make some necessary adjustments in order to meet the needs of the industry.
“It was obvious that we needed to change the strategy,” Fedor said. “We needed to buy a gear analyzer, become ISO 90001:2000 accredited, and buy Gleason equipment for spur, helical, and bevel gears.”
Fedor said the company spent about $2.5 million in equipment over a period of four years.
“We spent all our money on gear cutting,” Fedor said. “The business has grown, not doubled, but almost, since we bought it.”
Rochester Gear was able to expand its in-house precision grinding resources with Gleason’s P90G machine, which features three different machining capabilities in one: horizontal hobbing, threaded wheel grinding, and profile grinding, coupled with on-board dressing and automatic stock division. It’s an economical solution for the small job shop, which can now cost-efficiently produce a finished gear with high quality.
With about 14 gear hobbers, seven gear shapers, 19 bevel gear-cutting equipment, five machines for gear finishing, and six grinders, the company has the capability to produce both cylindrical and bevel gears with the required AGMA quality grade for each type. They can cut spur and helical gears from 0.125 inches in diameter to 22 inches in diameter; straight and spiral bevel gears from 0.125 inches to 8.5 inches; worm gears from 0.375 inches to 6 inches; and worm wheels from 0.500 inches to 22 inches.
Rochester Gear’s parts are made for a wide variety of industries. In its early days, its gears helped launch the production of printer copiers by Xerox, which also started in Rochester. It also produces gears for handheld power tools, portable mixers, off-road vehicles, meat-processing equipment, and agricultural equipment. For the medical industry, it supplies gears to companies that make blood analyzing machines as well as the sample holding rings, and it has produced gears for surgical instruments and X-ray machines. For the aerospace industry, it supplies gears to a company that provides airplane cargo equipment. It has also produced gears for the Abrams Tank and robots used in military and law enforcement organizations. For the automotive industry, it produces parts for production as well as prototyping.
And with a closed-loop system for the design, production, and inspection of bevel gears, a reconditioned Phoenix 175HC bevel gear cutting machine, and Gleason CAGE and G-AGE software suite, combined with Gleason Metrology Systems’ GMM inspection system, Rochester Gear can do prototyping even faster.
“Customers are asking for not only a high-quality gear, but also to reduce lead times, especially on prototype work,” Fedor said. “One of our customers came to us and said that they can’t get their prototype work done because their existing supplier was only going to give it to them in 14 weeks. So Scott went down there, made a presentation, and said we can give prototype parts in six weeks. And we got the business.”
Fedor and Caccamise have turned their focus on investing in turning and milling machines, so Rochester Gear can do more upfront work faster and continue to make sure it has the equipment to provide customers with shorter lead times.
“Once we get the turned part, it usually goes through gear-cutting pretty well with all the new equipment,” Fedor said. “Our next steps will be to keep reducing our setups and improve our testing capability. Customers are asking for more tests and more confirmation that the part meets the print.”
Making process improvements also wouldn’t be possible without a well-trained, dedicated team of employees. Rochester Gear has 40 employees including an engineering staff that has up to 40 years with the company.
“What’s unusual about Rochester Gear is that we have 144 years of combined gear-cutting experience with just four people within our staff: Jim Horan, Walter Steele, Rob Eckelberger, and Scott [Caccamise],” Fedor said. “With that vast experience, we have also hired two mechanical engineers from RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) — one about three years ago, and the other just last summer. They are awesome engineers.”
The experienced employees work with the young engineers to create and maintain a strong, balanced team with a diverse skillset within the company.
“I was very fortunate to hook up with Scott, a high-energy guy,” Fedor said. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He has a great knowledge of gear technology, especially with bevel gears. Along with his technical skills, he communicates extremely well with customers.”
For the future, Rochester Gear aims to keep reducing its lead times and setup times, developing a more efficient inspection strategy, and purchasing more equipment, including another bevel gear machine, the Gleason Phoenix 175. What’s also important to Fedor and Caccamise is strengthening Rochester Gear’s success by hiring young engineers to ensure continued growth for the company’s legacy.
“At my experience at Kodak and here, not only do you have to have good equipment and make sure you are running your equipment effectively, but the people are just as important,” Fedor said. “We try to work as hard on the equipment side as much as the people side.”
MORE INFO www.rochestergear.com.