RKL Technologies Inc. is a contract machine shop in Corona, Ca. supplying precision machined parts for medical, aerospace and general industrial sectors. Opened in 1983, they offer 100 years of manufacturing experience to customers such as: Medtronic Inc, Edwards Lifesciences Inc, The Boeing Company, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and many other well-known medical, aerospace, and defense OEMs. From prototype to production there is not much this ISO13485, AS9100, ISO9001 certified and “Made in California” registered business can’t do.
Co-founders Roy Hornstein and Kerry Von Clark first met at American Medical Optics in 1981, but it wasn’t until a few years later that the engineer and machinist partnered on a garage-based business. “I have a degree in mechanical engineering and am a licensed PE in the state of California,” tells RKL President Roy Hornstein. “As an engineer in the early 80’s I was working on projects that ranged from orange juice and coffee at Proctor and Gamble corporation to contact lenses and implantables at Allergan Inc. Kerry came to me one day and said ‘you’re an engineer and I can make things. I’ve got a mill in my garage so let’s start a business.’ And that’s what we did. Kerry is our VP of Operations and truly is a fantastic machinist.” Roy and Kerry’s initial efforts originally targeted medical devices, the industry they knew best. Soon the garage was too small and they outgrew unit buildings. In 1996 they purchased their current 17,200 sq.ft. manufacturing headquarters in Corona, CA. Today, with 25 employees, two shifts, and through a pandemic, RKL continues to support the industries they know so well.
Nighttime reconnaissance missions didn’t set up Business Development Manager, Kip Sullivan, and Quality Assurance Manager, Torry Lamp, for careers in manufacturing, but it did give them plenty of time to think about their futures. Torry and Kip met in basic training before being shipped off to Iraq together. Long nights on guard duty left them with plenty of time to brainstorm future endeavors. Admittedly, Subway franchise, or fishing charter were the most likely contenders, but after five years in the Army and getting their Bachelors in Marketing from Cal State Fullerton together they knew the opportunity to work in a non-combat environment would present itself. “We’ve been a great team since 2004,” touts Torry. “We bring out the best in each other. I’ve been at RKL now for 3.5 years and Kip came on board shortly after. We always knew we would partner on something; we just didn’t know it would be in manufacturing, and we didn’t know how much job satisfaction was possible in manufacturing.” “I’ve always had a love of math, geometry, and technology,” tells Kip. “When Torry was telling me about everything they were doing over here at RKL I wanted to be a part of it. RKL satisfies the cravings that civilian life mostly lacks. We did nothing with CNC, medical or manufacturing in the Army, but there is still a parallel. As sergeants we had to learn things we’ve never seen before, become experts in it, and teach it to others. That applies directly to what we do here. The thought of learning something new is exciting and challenging and makes us glad to come to work.” “I’ve been doing this longer than these guys have,” adds Roy. “But I too love coming to work. Every day is another opportunity to learn and to make a difference.”
Quality is of the utmost concern for everyone at RKL, it truly is a top priority. “We make sure to do an outstanding job both in manufacturing and inspecting the parts,” explains Roy. “With Medtronic for example, I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a 100% quality rating with them.” “We actually go above and beyond what’s required,” adds Torry. “Unless otherwise specified by the customer, our extensive internal standards exceed most customer’s requirements. With that in mind, we can assure our customers are completely satisfied.” Torry was originally hired for business development, but since day one he had expressed an interest in production. “I came from a completely different career path than most people in my job,” continues Torry. “I was lucky that the retiring QC manager took an interest in training me. Every day he would teach me a few things and everyday I’m still learning things.” It was all new to Torry, and a year after he took over QC, he was tasked with getting RKL their ISO13485 certification. It was a trial by fire but was the best way to absorb as much information as possible into the shortest time frame. “Tag teaming as much as possible with Kip made things go a lot easier,” continues Torry. “I came out of the process a lot more confident and with a whole new skill set. Typically, the business development guy is not lending a hand in QC, but the experience really upped Kip’s game as well.”
As Business Development Manager, Kip’s job is primarily to expand RKL’s customer base. Targeting new business in this industry is a lot different from how he did things in a similar role at a golf country club. Campaigns on social media work differently when you are targeting a hyper-specific group of people. “Not a lot of Facebook groups out there dedicated to medical device mid-level engineers,” jokes Kip. “So, we rely more on intra company and word of mouth referrals to gain business.” “Word of mouth has always been our best sales tool,” adds Roy. “That’s how we grew in the beginning. I was Director of Engineering at AMO and engineers I used to work with, work for, or had working for me moved around from company to company and brought us with them.” RKL still works for companies that started with Roy and Kerry over 30 years ago.
A lot of new business is driven by internal recommendations from RKL’s key customers. Some of the organizations are so large that each department might as well be a separate company. “As an example: we have a relationship with the Heart Valve group in Irvine for the last 3 decades and one of their engineers moves over to new a department within the company” explains Kip. “They rave about us and now we are getting new PO’s for prototype fixtures out of the Colorado group. Having the ISO13485 certification has opened many doors for us in the Medical device industry. Companies contacted us after seeing the certification posted on the website. Having lent a hand in the qualification process gives me an edge when engaging with potential clients.”
RKL has an extensive list of CNC machining centers that range in age and brand depending on the need. With an AQ325 Sodick wire EDM, various brand mills, multiple turning centers and Swiss screw machines, basically, there is a lot they can manufacture. The newest machines are 3 Hyundai WIA lathes, 3 Takisawa LA-200 lathes and a pair of Star SB-20R Type G Swiss turning centers. “The Star SB-20R’s are the newest machining centers and were installed back in August,” tells Torry. “We get most of our new equipment from Kraig Wilson at West Coast CNC. Even though we have extensive experience in Swiss turning, these are the first Star turning centers for us, so we wanted a little training to minimize the learning curve. Even with the pandemic in full effect, Kraig with his Star training team got us going quickly and efficiently.” The pair of Star SB-20R’s were brought online to replace a set of older Citizen machines that have ran a single part nonstop since 1995. “We’ve made almost 9 million units of these parts over the years,” tells Torry. “We are in the process of proving out the new machines on this single part. This newer technology will yield us big production gains. We were able to see a 15% reduction in cycle time right away. We’re estimating with a few more tweaks it will end up even faster. The Citizens will be repurposed for other jobs. They still hold tight tolerances and have earned a little break after so many years of dedicated service.”
“We’ve made a recent commitment to explore additive manufacturing,” explains Roy. “Right now, we are running secondary processes on 3D printed parts for other companies. Being 3D printed the parts require secondary work to meet the customers finish requirements. We see a lot of potential in this area and are evaluating purchasing our own machines in the near future. Pricing has come down a lot, but even so it is a large investment to acquire what we want.” They are weighing the pros and cons now of two systems: HP and GE. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion system for medical grade plastic and GE’s titanium or stainless-steel E-Beam Fusion system. “Pricing is on the high end, but if we can find the market for it, we will invest in the technology.”
Making a difference
Job satisfaction is important to everyone, but sometimes it is difficult to quantify and to witness first-hand results. Knowing the country relies on the parts you manufacture to ensure freedom around the globe can be a tremendous source of pride for any shop. However, it is not that often that living, breathing proof walks into your shop, but that is exactly what happened at RKL a few months back. “It’s interesting to learn the end use of our components and how they are integrated,” tells Kip. “It’s exciting to be a part of an industry that makes a difference in people’s lives. Just the other day a delivery driver for one of our vendors came in and asked about the part he was picking up. This is a part that he has been picking up from RKL for the last 10 years. We explained to him that it is a component of a replacement heart valve. To both our surprise we figured out that he had been walking around this entire time with our component in his chest. All these years he was picking up and delivering a part that helped to keep him alive and didn’t even know it. We showed him how it was created on the machine and all the processes required for it to be ready to ship.” “He was so excited to see it being made,” adds Torry. “It meant a lot to all of us here too. We take quality very seriously but seeing what we make walk in and out of the shop everyday measures quality in a different way than our standard dimensional inspection ever could.” “What we manufacture makes a difference in people’s lives and we take that to heart,” concludes Roy. “From the top down we love what we do here at RKL.”