For being a young man, owner George Serrano of Catalyst Hydraulics Machining (CHM) has spent half his life in machining and grinding. He opened the company in 2017 primarily as a CNC grinding shop to service a need in the local area surrounding LaVerne, Ca. With just a single Supertec OD grinder, some manual support equipment and his nephew in tow George rented a 1600sq.ft. building down the road from his former employer. “My dad is a milling, lathe, and tooling guy,” tells George Serrano. “Right before my senior year in high school he got me a job where I learned the trade and found a passion for grinding. I started entry level, but advanced to department head before starting my own company. My parents, George Sr. & Rebecca, as well as my uncle Juan were instrumental in getting the infrastructure in place to get us up and running as a business. My dad works one day a week here supporting tooling and my nephew Daniel took a chance leaving his job to come work with us too. David and Brent joined shortly after with previous experience in honing and grinding. Even with a pandemic we’ve been growing and expanding.”
Opening a CNC grinding company is not an everyday occurrence. You do what you know, but it also requires the drive of someone who dares to be different. Machine shops are plentiful but standing out of the crowd is something else. “I love that precision CNC grinding is a pointed area of manufacturing,” describes George. “Starting out with a mill and a lathe would be fine, but there’s a lot more competition. By targeting a more niche area I felt it was a better path to success. I called the company Catalyst Hydraulics Machining because almost everything we do is hydraulic spools & sleeves, most of it is for airplanes, with some medical and automotive thrown in for good mix. Maybe I should have grinding in the name, but machining covers a lot of bases, so we are good for future expansion.”
CHM’s growth started off quickly as one Supertec OD CNC grinder turned in to three. George also added a Supertec EGI-150CNC-A ID grinder, centerless grinding and honing into the mix. “We now offer a broad range of grinding and honing services to best serve our aerospace, medical and automotive customers,” explains George. “The original machine I got was a Supertec OD grinder. I had familiarity with the brand from my previous employer, so they were the first place I looked. As a new business owner, I was comfortable with their price point, and confident in their accuracy. Supertec machines really are a value. I don’t know anyone who has a better price for a CNC grinder. I looked at other companies that cost twice to four times as much and just didn’t see the point in spending that kind of money to get started. Maybe, and I say maybe they are worth it on different style parts that are larger, but for what we do in that one-inch diameter arena I couldn’t be happier with my Supertec grinders. Over the years I’ve built a good relationship with the company and find them easy to communicate with so when I added ID grinding, they were my first call. I wasn’t experienced with their ID grinders, so the salesman took me to different shops to get a first-hand feel of the capabilities. We got the Supertec EGI-150CNC-A machine, and it runs like a champ, holding the tolerance we need at a speed we like. A lot of our business comes from the ability to grind more complex parts. There are shops in the area with older manual machines that can do basic geometries, but when you need something that is more intricate and precise, that is where we excel. Our standard tolerance is less than +/- .0005, but we can reach accuracies of +/- .000050 when needed.
CHM’s most recent purchase, a Supertec G20P-50CNC was installed just before the pandemic hit. Like all his Supertec grinders the G20P-50CNC is equipped with Fanuc controls. “Supertec uses a Fanuc control and I really like that,” details George. “Other brands have a conversational control, but with Fanuc you know you are getting the ability to program exactly as you want. There is no compromising how you attack a setup. We have lots of experience on the Fanuc controls and utilize our experience to program a part exactly how we want it. We have unlimited control I guess is a good way to describe it. The simplicity of conversational is fine on basic parts, but our aerospace customers have challenging requirements that require skill and finesse. Fanuc controls offer versatility by programming exactly the path you want. With more customizable macro cycles and custom programs it makes it easier for a skilled grinder to gain efficiency and accuracy. I have a great team and we relish the opportunity to put our expertise to use.”
CHM’s customer’s end users are the biggest names in aerospace so that last few years have been interesting. The pandemic and grounding of the Max program took its toll, but this year has seen almost a return to normal. “I was able to capitalize on my relationships with customers from my old job to generate work when we first opened,” details George. “Maintaining those relationships, and growing new ones was key to pushing through the pandemic. We’ve been fortunate that I’ve never had to do any outside sales and rely on Google and word of mouth to drive business. You search grinding near me, and our website is a top hit. People call with their specs and I’d say yes or no depending on their needs. Our typical run is two pieces to a couple hundred. It all depends.”
The pandemic also changed George’s mind set and goals for future expansion. “Like everyone else we adapted,” explains George. “Even with Covid setbacks we’ve outgrown our current building. Pre covid I wanted more and more grinding, now I see us with additional CNC grinders, CNC milling, CNC turning and probably Swiss turning so we can manufacture parts start to finish. Doubling our manufacturing footprint will be the next step in our continued expansion and my team is ready.” For some the daily grind is a chore, for everyone at Catalyst Hydraulics Machining it’s a welcomed challenge for years to come.