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Manufacturing is in Entrepreneur’s DNA

Using a Systematic Approach, Tooling Flaw is Turned into Profits—and Six Patents

Manufacturing is in John Stoneback’s DNA. His grandfather was a machine operator set-up man for Bailey Meter (now Bailey Controls), an industrial controls manufacturer. He also had a small shop in the basement of his home, where he made bushings for Rolls-Royce aircraft engines during World War II. His father sold machinery, so he learned more about the industry and how it helped build the country.

“During the war, my grandfather’s shop ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Stoneback said. “So anytime I went down in the basement I would make believe I was working on a machine making parts.”

His interest continued after high school when he began working for a job shop that made machine parts. Stoneback had started an apprenticeship with the International Die Sinkers Union when he started working again with his grandfather, making parts for the machines that make Christmas bulb lights for General Electric. Eventually, he gave up his training to work with his grandfather full-time.

In 1964, Stoneback opened his own manufacturing job shop facility, primarily making industrial controls parts and torpedo parts for Gould Ocean Systems. His business kept expanding, and he outgrew his manufacturing space twice before building an 18,600-sq.-ft. facility in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. Today, JM Performance Products Inc. makes more than 600 styles of retention knobs.

Stoneback’s six patents came after a friend called him up eight years ago to say that Boeing was having problems with bulging on a toolholder using a retention knob JM had manufactured. “We always had a tremendous quality record,” he said. “We were making retention knobs to a standard design for about 35 years. But I never talked to any of the large end users that did technical testing on the toolholders; I never knew there was a problem with them.”

Four days later, he woke up at 3 a.m. and drew a test fixture on the back of his wife’s shopping list. The company made the prototype within two weeks and began using it to test retention knobs and toolholders from many different manufacturers. This testing revealed a problem with the metal heat-treating of the toolholder itself and expansion caused by the retention knob.

“It was a complex problem; we went through about 22 different iterations before we hit on the right design,” Stoneback said. “I used the test fixture to design our High-Torque retention knob. And because there are different-sized toolholders, each one requires a different torque to tighten it down. So, I designed a torque chart. Now I own six patents and they're all based around the spindle of a milling machine.”

He believes modern manufacturing is misunderstood today and wants to ensure that JM Performance Products does its part to get the next generations excited about manufacturing careers.

“Our plant is open for school kids to come and tour the plant,” Stoneback said. “I think we have to welcome people into our companies to show them what a manufacturing career could be. A lot of people would like a house, a car, and a fairly decent life. In manufacturing, that's all attainable, and it doesn't mean you have to be an A student.”