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Twin brothers Ricky and Ryan Dustman and friend Joey Wickersham have a lot in common. All three are from Malvern and graduated from Malvern High School. They enjoy motor sports as well as manual work involving tools and mechanical know-how.
They also share in common a particularly uncommon achievement: at age 22, they are already co-owners of their own business, and they are already quite practiced in their industry.
The three friends became business partners a year-and-a-half ago when they decided to open their own machine shop, Precision Works Machine LLC, at 6056 Alliance Road in Malvern.
By that time, the guys already had hands-on experience in their proverbial toolboxes.
Joey had worked as a CNC machine operator at Colfor for two years, and Ricky and Ryan had gained work experience at machine shops as part of their two-year course of study in precision machining technologies at R. G. Drage Career Technical Center.
"We were the head students at Drage in the class. We got the opportunity to go on early placement. Half the day we got to find a job at a machine shop," Ricky explained.
The brothers worked at Kuttler Machine in Minerva before Ricky joined another machine shop for more experience.
"We knew the trade," said Ryan.
After reaching the first milestone of establishing their own business, the co-founders moved to the next big step with the purchase of a $30,000 CNC machine of their own.
"We're dedicated, we're young, and we're not afraid of this new technology. We just took it to the next level. And we enjoy doing it," said Ricky.
Machining involves the use of technology to transform various raw materials into objects, such as tools or equipment parts, according to the precise measurements and proportions needed for those objects.
The trade requires not only skilled work with tools but also knowledge of computer software programming and a keenly mathematical mind.
It all sounded good to the three friends as they transitioned from machine shop students to machine shop owners.
"I like the fact that you can start pretty much with nothing, a raw block of steel, and you can turn it into anything you want," said Ricky. "You go anywhere, and you'll see something that's been machined."
"We make something, and the fact that you made it, you can be proud of your own product," added Ryan.
"I've always been fascinated with it," Joey commented. "I like starting with a block of steel and making something out of it. And I'm good at the math. The math kind of 'clicks.'"
In addition to their CNC machine, the three business partners stocked their machine shop with manual Bridgeport-style mills, which carve out objects from various metals or wood; manual engine lathes; welders; and a plasma cutter, which Ricky describes as "a cutting torch on steroids."
Using this equipment and precision measuring tools such as micrometers, calipers, gauge blocks and pins, and dial indicators, the 22-year-olds transform high-grade steels and aluminum into a wide range of parts for agricultural machines, firearms, the oil and gas and mining industries, and heat exchangers, which are heating units used in large industrial applications.
Repair work for agricultural machines is also a mainstay at Precision Works, and the owners said they are ready to take on automotive repair work as well.
"Right now we pretty much take anything. The sky's the limit as far as what can be made," said Ryan.
Ricky, Ryan and Joey said they are already working nearly around the clock to meet the growing demand for Precision Works's output. Four major machine shops have been outsourcing overflow work to the three young men, and local farmers and other local residents have also been putting in orders for the parts they need Precision Works to make.
"Anything industrial we can take on," said Ricky. "We're so busy right now. We come back here and work eight hours at night, three of us, on four different machines," he noted, adding that he, Ryan and Joey all have day jobs.
"The reason this works out is because we all work so well together. We know what each other is thinking, we have the same mindset," Ricky added.
"We're all on the same page," Ryan agreed.
"When we go to other businesses for work, I think they like to see young people like us getting into it," said Ricky.
The star in the co-owners' production strategy is the CNC machine built by Haas Automation. "CNC" stands for Computer Numerically Controlled.
Ryan explained that the machine includes a computer connected to a carbide insert cutter. A CNC machinist receives or creates a blueprint of the object that is needed and uses various codes to program the design of the object into the CNC machine's computer.
The computer program then directs the cutter to form the object out of a given material. Cutters come in many different shapes depending on the type of product being created and the type of material used to create the product.
The CNC machine enables the owners of Precision Works to create objects "with tolerances that are in the tenth of a 1,000," as Ricky put it.
For the machine-uninitiated, this means the CNC machine can create objects using measurements so accurate that to describe them as "extremely precise" would be an understatement.
The CNC machine is also equipped with software called BobCAD, which enables the machine operator to design blueprints on a laptop away from the machine.
"I can sit down inside the house on my laptop and make blueprints and write programs from inside, and then I can send them to the machine," said Ricky.
"That's getting into the latest technology," he added. "We're not afraid to grow and advance in our technology. Right now we can take on anything because we have this machine."
The Dustmans admitted that tackling the purchase of the machine was not easy.
The brothers had to work through all of the paperwork necessary to gain a loan from a local bank before traveling to Michigan to purchase the machine.
They also completed an intensive training program at a Haas Automation site in Twinsburg, Ohio.
"We've never done anything like this before. When they dropped (the machine) off, there's like two semis here, and they couldn't turn around," Ryan said, laughing. "We're all three looking at each other like, 'What the hell did we get ourselves into?'"
"The only reason we are able to do this is because there are three of us that are in it, and we all have the same mindset," Ricky commented. "That's pretty rare to get three 22-year-old kids to be like that."
Owning a business has also turned out to be quite a job for the three friends.
"There's a lot of stuff behind it. Everyone says they want to own a business. There's a lot more to it than you think," Ricky admitted.
"There's a lot of paperwork. When I was just a machinist working for someone, you walked in, you clocked in, and you did what you were supposed to do. When you clocked out, there were no worries.
:Here, there are schedules, and paperwork to be filled out, and dealing with customers. You go to bed thinking about what needs to be done and you wake up thinking the same thing," he remarked.
"Sometimes you're here until 12 at night to get things done," Ryan said.
That said, the three agreed that being their own boss-employees at work feels "really good," as Joey said with a chuckle.
The trio also agreed that the challenges of owning their own business are worth it for them to achieve their goal of efficient and sustainable work.
"Quality is our biggest thing. If a customer wants a part done at a certain date, you know it's going to be at that specific date, and it's going to be right. We're not going to send out parts that aren't to-print," said Ryan.
"I want to be...the small business that everyone knows about and everyone has something good to say about," Ricky stated. "I want to hear positive feedback from the businesses and hopefully go full-time. We want to be the go-to machine shop."
Businesses or individuals who would like to learn more about Precision Works Machine can call 330-316-9147, e-mail PrecisionWorksMachine@gmail.com, or look at the business's Facebook page.