The Happy Captives

Two Vietnamese Refugees Come to America and Succeed Beyond Their Wildest Dreams.

At age 16, Tony Nguyen (Nuyen) - cofounder of Fullerton, CA's SoCal Precision Machining, Inc. - was one of the approximately 500,000 Vietnamese boat people who escaped communist Vietnam by way of Indonesia and eventually immigrated to the United States.

"I arrived in the U. S. in 1986," Nguyen recalls. "My partner, Danny Lai, arrived in 1979. We didn't know each other back then, but we eventually met and became fast friends, even closer than brothers, when we were both working as machinists for a large electronic connector manufacturer."

Nguyen, too young to work full time when he arrived in the U.S., attended high school for one year, then went to work.

"I worked for a variety of companies over the next few years," he says, "and I attended college for a while. I met Danny at a machining job shop. Then I went to work at a large connector company, and Danny joined me there. While I was there, I learned about connector manufacturing, CNC machining, programming, quoting and production planning." The American Dream Strikes Again

Nguyen and Lai worked together for years until 1997, and then the business bug bit Nguyen.

"I loved machining and metal working, so as soon as I had a chance, I made the decision to go for it," Nguyen says. "I talked to Danny about starting our own business, and he agreed."

Like most entrepreneurs, the two friends put everything on the table.

"We started on a shoestring and had no credit," says Nguyen. "It was a struggle, but we did it. We started out with two used and two new machines. We had a Mori Seiki mill and lathe, one Haas and one Mazak. We moved into a 1200-square-foot shop in Garden Grove, California."

During his long career, Nguyen had met and become friends with many of his customers. That and the partners' determination and hard work paid off.

"We were commercial connector specialists," he says. "That's all we did. So, some of those customers came to us and gave us business. We often worked thirty-six hours straight through to finish the parts on time, then drove to deliver them. The good thing is, two years later, we had to add another 1200-square-foot unit at the same location." Happy Captives

From 1997 to 2001, the partners gained numerous pretty good customers, which kept them busy and paid the bills, but they still weren't satisfied.

In 2001 Glenair, Inc., one of their customers, came to them with a startling proposal.

"They wanted us to stop working for everyone else and work exclusively for them," Nguyen recalls. "They said that if we agreed, they would give us all the business we could handle. The idea was frightening at first, because everyone told us it was too dangerous to put all our eggs in one basket. Finally, after some hard thinking and soul searching, we agreed to do it. As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to us."

With the Glenair agreement in place, the partners realized they needed more room to handle the increasing production.

"In 2002 we moved to our current location, which is almost 19,000 square feet," Nguyen says, "and then we leased another 21,000 square-foot building next door, so we currently have 40,000 square feet and have 156 employees. We now have more than a hundred machines, including 88 Mazaks. Both buildings are full of machines, and we're running out of space again. Glenair has been very helpful and supportive whenever we have a business need."

How helpful?

"Well, they treat us like family," Nguyen explains. "When we need equipment, they provide the financing. When we need technical support, they provide that as well. Glenair's sales have increased amazingly in the past ten years, and they've brought us right along with them. We machine about 80,000 to 120,000 connector shells a month, mostly aluminum and 300 series stainless, for such applications as military flak jackets and communication devices. Then, at one point they asked us to do assembly for them. It took us about 6 months to get set up, but now it's all working very well. They supply many parts for assembly. We have 46 people working in assembly, which is about 20% of our business." Workholding Bottleneck

With rapid growth driven by Glenair demand, Nguyen ran into a troublesome workholding problem.

"We were having a problem because we do a lot of thin wall rectangular connectors, and our old workholding solution depended mostly on operator skill," Nguyen explains. "Too much pressure, and you ruin the part. Not enough pressure and the part flies out. With the volume we have, we had to find a solution that didn't depend on the worker's ability."

After years of trying other solutions, a friend finally recommended that Nguyen give a Samchully torque vise a try.

"That was about a year ago," Nguyen says. "We gave Bill Bowen at Industrial Workholding Solutions a call, and said we'd like to give Samchully a try."

Nguyen tested the Samchully PCV-100 standard power vise.

"It was a perfect solution for us," he says. "It totally elimiantes human error. Once you set the torque on the device, you crank the handle, and it stops at the right holding force every time. Once it's set, you can't over torque it. Literally no more error, no more ruined parts, plus it is much faster for us to set up. That has helped our productivity considerably. We do high-volume runs, so we bought one Samchully for each of our mills. We like them a lot." Life as a Captive Shop

So, after almost 11 years as a captive shop, how does Nguyen and Danny Lai feel about their decision to accept being a captive shop as a way of life?

"Actually, it has been an amazing experience," Nguyen says. "It's been ten or eleven years now, and we haven't seen our growth stop. Glenair keeps growing, and so do we. We're actually in the process of leasing another building in this complex. Both Danny's wife, Thoa, and my wife, Vanessa, work here now, so we're a family business, and we're all happy with our lives here in America. It's true we're a captive shop, but how could anyone hate a captivity like this? We love it!"

As Appeared in CNC West


About Mazak Corporation

Mazak Corporation is a leader in the design and manufacture of productive machine tool solutions. Committed to being a partner to customers with innovative technology, its world-class facility in Florence, Kentucky, produces over 100 models of turning centers, Multi-Tasking machines and vertical machining centers, including 5- axis models. Continuously investing in manufacturing technology allows the Kentucky Mazak iSMART Factory™ to be the most advanced and efficient in the industry, providing high-quality and reliable products through its “Production-On-Demand” practice. Mazak maintains eight Technology Centers across North America to provide local hands-on applications, service and sales support to customers. For more information on Mazak's products and solutions, visit www.mazakusa.com or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.