“It’s the heart of the machine tool,” is how Ed Zitney describes spindles, those rotating workhorses of modern-day machinery that keep the wheels of productivity spinning.
Once a modest wooden rod that helped spinners turn raw wool into yarn, spindle power has been harnessed through centuries for milling, turning, grinding, drilling, sawing, cutting, and boring. Today, there are countless variations of spindles found in simple objects – like fans or even HVAC systems – to incredibly complex systems like those found in modern machine tools. Zitney works daily with machine tool spindles, critical components of industrial factory machines that turn raw materials into functional objects. “Spindles are in machines that manufacture everything from furniture to spacecraft and anything in between,” he says.
The spindle remanufacturing business is tied to manufacturing which has seen steady growth, hampered by the pandemic but chugging back. According to a report commissioned by California Manufacturing Technology Consulting in 2022, California is the most significant state contributor to national manufacturing GDP, 14.5 %. The state’s manufacturing output has exceeded the national rate by 83% since the late 1990s.
Zitney has been in the spindle remanufacturing business all his life; today, at 59 years old, he’s the owner of MZI Precision in Huntington Beach, a company that services clients in the aerospace, medical, Aftermarket Automotive, military, and many other industries. He’s witnessed how manufacturing industries have capitalized on technological advancements to design computerized machinery – with spindles, of course – that can produce components and perform other tasks at lightning speed and with mouth-dropping pinpoint accuracy. The company works in tolerances from .0001 down to .000050 of an inch.
“My passion is that I am in a highly engineered field,” he explains about the spindles he’s asked to rebuild and upgrade, matching the workmanship of the original item and many times surpassing the OEM quality. “The spindles that we work on are so sophisticated, and the level of precision and quality they’ve been crafted to is off the charts.” He pauses. “These spindles are not bulldozers; although many push them like they are, they’re really more like a very robust Swiss watch.”
Zitney, who grew up in Ohio, finds his business location a surprisingly opportunistic place for manufacturing.
“It’s astronomical how much manufacturing is here,” he says, listing aerospace, military, electronics, medical and more. “Here in Southern California, there’s probably five times the amount of manufacturing that’s going on in Ohio and Michigan.”
Where there is manufacturing, there will be a need for services that Zitney offers. “I’m a stickler for doing things by the book,” he says, noting that presenting a client with a finished spindle that will last longer doesn’t mean less business. “The company I grew up with, Precision Balancing & Analyzing, did high-quality work. And the higher the quality of work you do, the more work you are going to get. Why? Because your reputation will get out there, and everyone will want to send their work to you.”
In ways, Zitney’s venture today is similar to his first experience in the business back when he was 18 years old and ready for a challenge.
A mentor, a trade, a future
Growing up in Mentor, Ohio, Zitney says, “I was very, very handy and very mechanical.” Like so many others not drawn to formal academia, Zitney found an education of another kind by working at a small spindle remanufacturing shop.
Working at Precision Balancing & Analyzing, Zitney learned not only the ins and outs of the trade but a business philosophy that has stuck with him throughout the decades.
“It was a fabulous shop with a great team of people, and the guy I worked for was an entrepreneur who became very successful,” explains Zitney. “He based his company on quality above all else, and I have the same approach. Back then, we treated our customers right. Whatever the quote was – even if it took us more time and effort – that was what it was. He was a man of his word. Those are the same qualities that I have here at my own business.”
While working in the shop, Zitney took night classes in machine trades, drafting, and design to become a machinist. Later, he took courses in Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) programming and AutoCad, enabling him to operate and oversee large factory machines.
“Over the first seven or eight years, I was learning everything about the business,” says Zitney. “I was cleaning parts, taking things apart, balancing, designing and engineering new spindles, writing programs, making parts, and doing grind work.” Zitney eventually ran the facility for the owner, and over his first 10 years, the company expanded and went from employing five people to 35 to keep up with the workload.
After 24 years, Zitney expanded his career by working for SKF Machine Tool Services and later taking on duties as Factory Manager at SKF Solution Factory. As Director of Service Specialist for Setco, he traveled extensively to China, India, and other international locations, bringing his six sigma and process engineering experience to assist in elevating process efficiency and quality.
Still, there was always the desire to be independent. “I had been in the business a long time and for many years wanted to have my own place,” he admits. He got his chance when Covid hit, and Zitney was assigned to close up a Setco shop in Southern California and send all the remanufacturing equipment to Mexico. Zitney offered to purchase the equipment, which became the foundation for his current business. “We have upgraded that foundation in many ways.”
Overall, it’s an exciting time for his work that Zitney finds personally satisfying, even after all these years.
“I like that we are rebuilding spindles and servicing our customers to be as competitive as they can be. he says. “When I’m out, I can point and say, ‘we rebuilt a spindle for them; we had our hands on putting that satellite into space.’ I tell my employees when you’re coming to work every day, yes, you are in a shop, but you are working on something for SpaceX or for Boeing or our military. You are helping them produce a highly precision-engineered part. And so we have a little bit of buy-in to that product. We are connected to it.”