Steve Leckband, general manager/owner of Temecula Precision (TP) is a space fan. Not just I make things that going into space and have pride in my work fan, but vacation at space centers watching launches, and buying space shuttle merchandise type of fan. It all started for him as a kid loving science fiction. Many of those science fiction items are no longer fiction and Steve and his team at Temecula Precision love playing their part in the quest for the final frontier.
Steve met his former business partner Frank Flood in the late 80s while both were working at the same company. They opened Temecula Precision together in the fall of 1988 and by February 1989 were lucky enough to have generated their first invoice. “Frank retired in 2007 and that’s when I became sole owner,” tells Steve. “I run TP now with my wife Teri. Our daughter works with us, and our son did for a while too. We’ve come some way since our inception. We began doing business out of a corral on the back of Frank’s property with just the two of us. Little by little we kicked out the horses’ stall by stall.” Today TP has 6500 sq.ft. of manufacturing in lovely Temecula, Ca. and have 22 employees. TP will soon be doubling their manufacturing space as they expand to a second building in 2024.
The last five years have been a turning point for Temecula Precision. Quality has always been above and beyond, but their recent return to aerospace has them shooting for the stars. “Through the 35 years in business we have worked in pretty much every industry including: aerospace, medical, cryogenic, commercial, and tooling for various applications,” tells Steve. “I have customers that were with us in the beginning. They always relied on our quality, and we delivered better than spec parts. Recently we’ve pivoted our scope of work away from commercial and are targeting more high complexity aerospace projects.” Steve’s early days in manufacturing date back to manufacturing parts for the space shuttle program. He had parts on the Challenger mission and that loss still weighs on him. “We’ve always taken quality seriously, but knowing lives depend on us making perfect parts keeps us improving as people and as a company,” continues Steve. “As you know the sophistication and requirements go up exponentially when you compare a standard commercial part to something that is shot into space with lives attached to it. Once we decided to look beyond earth, our son Sam and our operations manager Seancraig May were instrumental in taking our quality program out of this world.”
Steve is admittedly an old school machinist. It took the younger guys with better computer skills to get him to make the leap into ISO and AS certification. “Sam got us “computerized” for lack of a better term,” laughs Steve. “The computerization linked us with outside companies that made information quicker and easier to go back and forth with. I have an engineering team. Something I never thought I would say. We implemented Solid Works and other higher end programs to help us infiltrate these companies and have our engineering department able to work with their engineering squads directly. Once those conversations started to flow the work began to come in. Plus, it gives us a direct channel to help along the manufacturing processes. We’ll save a job because we see something that the engineer didn’t. It is no slight to them lacking CNC experience, but it is hard to beat 35 years of manufacturing expertise. Sometimes it gets us in trouble, but other times it is the “get out of jail free card”. With these types of jobs coming in we needed more young blood around the office, and I hired Seancraig as the office manager. Seancraig had experience in the ISO and AS certification processes, so with him on board we were off to the races. Sam’s life adventures went in a different direction, but I was able to jump in and finish the mission he and Seancraig had started. We are now an ITAR registered, AS9100 Rev. D / ISO 9001:2015 certified manufacturing center. It has been challenging and rewarding all at the same time. Space is our goal. We want to be part of anything going into orbit and beyond. There is a lot of work out there and we are fully equipped to handle it.”
As a commercial shop Steve exceeded quality expectations by having a QC inspector and doing first article inspections. He credits their quality as one of the primary reasons they have survived the ups and downs of the industry. “We’ve always prided ourselves on having a high-quality standard,” explains Steve. “But when I decided to go back into aerospace and lives were at stake, I knew we needed to do better. That’s when I decided to go out and get the best CMM that I could buy, and we decided that was the Zeiss Contura. The Zeiss was implemented 100% for the AS9100 paperwork. First article inspections have always been our foe, but they are less of a problem now. It’s time consuming, and there was a learning curve, but other than that the Contura has really opened our eyes and our minds up to 5th axis manufacturing. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. We were doing 5 axis work on trunnion equipped Haas machines for a few years before getting the Zeiss, but we found that we were not really inspecting them as well as we could have. To keep the human error out of the equation you need to check 5 axis parts on a 5 axis CMM like the Zeiss Contra with the VAST XXT head. I’m already looking ahead and seriously considering implementing a Zeiss optical vision system for 2024. A tool like that can really help speed up some of the process like first article.”
Steve and his team have found that copious quality control comes at a worthwhile cost. “Everybody has the same opportunity to measure,” touts Steve. “Whether or not you are committed to the cost of doing it quickly and accurately is another story. A difference between being a commercial shop and an AS9100 shop is that as a commercial shop you really just passed on quality control as being part of the job. With aerospace you charge for that quality. As a billable item I wanted to give my people the best tool at their disposal and that was the Zeiss. To be honest we looked at a couple other products and it came down to Zeiss delivering on all aspects. Todd Johnson and Zeiss never wavered on pricing, on service, on capabilities. If they told me X, then it was 100% X. Others fell short and Zeiss rose above, so it was a no brainer. It was a big capital investment making a six-figure contribution to the quality lab, but I knew it was the right call based on their reputation in the industry. We’ve been very pleased with our decision.” Most of TP’s 5 axis parts fit will within that standard agreed upon smaller than a bread box unit of measurement. The Contura’s generous table size leaves plenty of room to get all the way around the part for uninterrupted inspection. The Zeiss VAST XXT CMM head is a high-performance, high-precision measurement system and one of the primary selling features for Steve. “The VAST XXT is a fast, versatile, and accurate way to inspect parts,” explains Steve. “When you combine that with the Calypso software it is a very powerful tool. Overall, Zeiss Calypso is an all-inclusive and powerful software solution that is ideal for checking 5 axis parts. It is easy to use, offers a wide range of features, is infinitely expandable, and is backed by a strong support team. Number one for us was the powerful reporting engine. We needed easy to use software with comprehensive documentation capabilities to support our AS9100 documentation needs.”
Like many shops in the 80’s Temecula Precision began with only manual machines. It wasn’t until the barn was full that they got their first CNC lathe. “Once we got into CNC, we really got into it,” tells Steve. “We bought mostly used at that time and didn’t have any brand loyalty, just needed ones that worked and could make us money. Our first big new purchase was a trio of brand-new Haas VF non vector mills in 1998. To this day I believe they were the best machines Haas built. We still have a shop full of different size Haas mills and lathes, but recently we’ve been investing in new Takisawa lathes and YCM mills. I’ve really hit it off with Brad Haugen at North South Machinery and have been buying everything from him. I updated the turning department with a Takisawa NEX-108Y mill-turn a few years back and have since added two new Takisawa LA2000m lathes to the floor. Once the milling department gets the second new 5 axis in place, I will deploy two more twin-spindle Takisawa live tooling mill-turns. We just installed our first true 5 axis milling center a month ago. It is a YCM FX380A and we are running our first job on it today. The learning curve was steeper than expected, but the payoff once we get it dialed in will be worth it. Going from 4 plus 1 to a true 5 axis required new software and a different way to look at the tasks. If all goes as planned Brad can expect us to add another YCM to the quiver by end of year. I’m probably done buying anything less than 5 axis mills and advanced mill-turn lathes. It is a big commitment, but we are literally shooting for the stars, so having the tools to do that makes a big difference.”
The work they do at Temecula Precision is personal. Besides the love of all things space, Steve knows first-hand how important quality parts are. One of his oldest customers is a medical company known today as Guidant Corporation. For decades TP has manufactured tooling for a multitude of their medical programs. After suffering a heart attack two years ago Steve is now equipped with a Guidant inter cardiovascular stent. “You don’t get the choice of what gets put in you,” tells Steve. “But afterwards I did feel pretty good hearing my stent came from a customer. I know the jigs we supplied to make that stent exceeded what the print required. That’s the thing right. We build, we make, and we check everything to the best of our abilities knowing it affects people’s lives. Sometimes it is even our life. QC for a long time was “Steve said it was good”, but now that isn’t good enough. Every part leaves our facility knowing it is fit for space travel or to save the life of someone we love. We’ve transitioned from a business with 50-75 customers a year to a company that really and truly services the hell out of 15. Of those 15, 5 of them have been with us for literally the life of Temecula Precision. I can talk all day about how I think we are making great parts, but the proof is in the clients that have been with us since the early days. They continue to value our experience and our quality, and we love having them as manufacturing partners.”