From Fixtures to Forceps

Herb Homeyer can still remember the first job that his company, Homeyer Tool and Die, handled back in May 1990 when it was just getting off the ground.

“It was a fixture for the Binkley Company, which is now SAF Holland,” Homeyer recalled.

Sitting at his desk in the company’s Marthasville location, Homeyer held up one of the products Homeyer Tool and Die makes today, 20 years later.

“These are forceps for cauterizing blood vessels during neurosurgery,” he said.

Homeyer Tool and Die offers concept to assembly work in precision machining, tool and die, specialty machines, EDM (electronic discharge machine) and engineering between its two facilities, in Marthasville and Union.

“The majority of our work is job shop,” said Homeyer. “The customers design it and come to us to produce it. In some cases we are part of the design team.”

In addition to the forceps mentioned earlier, the company also makes products like the framework that holds the magnets for double MRI machines, pump heads for lasers, parts for rocket launchers . . . the list includes thousands of items – many things you have probablyÊ never thought about or would recognize, but are necessary to our everyday lives.

“We work with the automotive industry, medical industry, semiconductors industry, newspaper industry, military and weapons industries,” said Homeyer.

“I do get a sense of pride from the work we do. All of us do.”

Over the years, the products Homeyer Tool and Die produces have become more sophisticated, and so too has the process of making them. The company uses the newest machinery and technology. Homeyer sees that as his company’s edge over the competition.

“We focus on keeping up on cutting edge technology here,” he remarked. “There used to be a saying that to compete, you needed reduced labor. Now the saying is you need zero labor.”

In other words, he explained, to compete companies need machines that do more than one job or that can be set up to do a job and left alone, even as long as an entire weekend.

About a year and a half ago, Homeyer Tool and Die installed a new Okuma Multis B400-W seven-axis mill/turn center. Homeyer describes it as a multi-tasker.

“It was needed to increase capacity and to expand the lights-out operation capacity,” a May 2009 article by Mid-America Commerce & Industry stated, noting that “. . . the Okuma features a 40-tool changer.”

It’s not the only machine helping to save time and reduce error at Homeyer. The company also has a tool presetting machine that electronically transfers all of the information on a tool needed for a specific job from the setup area to the machine where it will be used. The Zoller Presetter can measure tools to two-thousandths of a millimeter.

“So in setup, the data is all there. You don’t have to put it in,” Homeyer said. “That saves time and reduces opportunities for error.”

Also giving Homeyer an edge over competition is its use of THINC (The Intelligent Numeric Control) technology, which allows its machines to communicate seamlessly with each other.

“It used to be you bought a machine tool and then you had to buy these M codes to run external drives,” said Homeyer. “With THINC, it’s plug and play.”

Good Time to Start a Business

Homeyer grew up in Washington, the son of August and Lucille Homeyer. His father worked as a salesman.

After graduating Washington High School, Homeyer went to trade school and then found work in job shops around the area. His first job was with DACA in the early 1970s.

Later Homeyer went to work for a company in the St. Charles/St. Peters area and stayed there 15 years. He was working there as a tool designer in middle management when he decided to start his own company in 1990.

He chose Marthasville, where he and his wife, Lisa, had made a home.

Thinking back to May 1990, Homeyer remembers the economy as being “down a bit,” still it was a good time to launch a small business. “I could be competitive,” he remarked.

In the early days, Homeyer was the company’s only employee, although he relied on the help of family to get the business off the ground. His wife, Lisa, who was a teacher at Washington High School, took care of the books; his father, who was retired, helped in the shop deburring and drilling holes, and his son helped where he could too.

Ê”We started in a 4,200-square-foot metal frame structure about four miles north of here (in Marthasville),” Homeyer said, noting today the company has 36,000 square feet between its two locations. “We were a 100 percent tool and die shop.”

Customers included local companies like Motor Appliance and Washington Metal Fabricators.

Business was good that first year, Homeyer said. By the fall he was able to hire a second employee, John Westhoff, who is still with the company today. It wasn’t long before he also added a few office employees.

“My goal was to have five employees,” Homeyer recalled.

The company continued to grow, adding more employees and in 2004 even adding a second location. Homeyer Tool and Die purchased Norm’s N/C (numeric control) Center in Union.

Today Homeyer Tool and Die employs 47 people, 30 percent of whom are designers or in management. Up until the recession hit in fall 2008, the company had as many as 67 employees.

The global recession hit the company hard, Homeyer admits. “We dropped about 30 percent, like everybody else,” he remarked.

While the majority of Homeyer’s customers are in the St. Louis metro area, the company does have customers all over the country and one down in Mexico.

“You have to be globally minded these days,” Homeyer said.

“Virtually all of our business is done electronically,” he added. “That can be both good and bad.” You get the information you want instantly, but customers expect faster turnaround, he commented.

“I can remember the days when we had only five-day mail,” said Homeyer. “Then we had overnight faxes . . . now we’re competing with companies around the world.”

Today Homeyer’s role at the company is focused on research, staying informed on the newest technology. He’s a member of the National Tool Machine Association and attends its two major conferences each year to network with other company owners from all over the country.

20th Anniversary

Earlier this month, Homeyer Tool and Die celebrated its 20th anniversary with an open house for its customers.

Looking ahead, Homeyer’s future goals for his company are to sustain the growth it’s had the last two decades and stay on the leading edge of technology.

“We’ve become nationally known for our technology,” he said, proudly, noting Homeyer Tool and Die is ISO-9001:2000 certified and AS9100:2004 Rev. B certified.

Looking back over the last 20 years, Homeyer said he’s proud of how far the company has come. “I’m surprised at how quickly it went by,” he said, with a smile.

He hopes the company will be around another 20 years, he just doesn’t want to be there.

“I hope to be retired,” he said, laughing.


Categories: News