Innovation with Precision

Talon Innovations
Written by Claire Suttles

Talon Innovations specializes in tough jobs that other companies can’t handle. The CNC machine shop supplies proprietary products and custom machining services to demanding customers requiring ultra-high purity and exacting standards, such as the semiconductor, medical device, biotech and aerospace industries.
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“We do the stuff that other people don’t want to do or can’t do,” says CEO Greg Olson. The business excels at close tolerance machining and finishing of difficult-to-process alloys and plastics as well as non-machining services, providing customers with a dependable, one-stop-shop solution.

Talon’s ability to meet exacting standards is well known, and the company fills orders for top tier customers around the country, and in Silicon Valley in particular. “We are a small company in rural Minnesota and, when I took over Talon, I asked customers why they go to Minnesota to machine parts when they’ve got 100 machine shops within 100 miles of them,” Olson recalls. “Their answer was ‘if we want good parts, we have to come to Minnesota.’ I thought that was very telling. We’ve got that Midwest work ethic that our customers around the world value.”

This work ethic helps the team maintain their commitment to delivering perfect parts. And in the high stakes world of semiconductors and medical devices, parts must be absolutely perfect. “For example, if processes go down in a computer chip factory due to a bad part it can cost them literally $1 million an hour. In the semiconductor world, quality is an unbelievably important factor. And, for our medical customers, it can be even more significant than just dollars; it can be human health or lives at stake. We take that very seriously.”

This commitment to quality has become a core part of the Talon company culture and is strictly enforced. “We make it a point to instill that longstanding culture in new people,” Olson says. “It is a message that everyone understands because it is pretty simple; if we don’t have high quality we won’t exist. I think most people would be shocked at how stringent the [customer] requirements are. We have a whole different standard of what quality means than companies that serve other industries.”

The team’s expertise helps make this extreme level of quality possible. “We have a lot of institutional knowledge and experience in techniques and processes – how to make parts this complex and high quality. We have a tremendous engineering department that really polices that and really drives that. We differentiate ourselves that way.” Talon has over a dozen engineers on staff, from physicists to experts in machine design and assembly. “We have built a strong team,” says Engineering Manager Jesse Miller.

This strong engineering team is able to walk customers through the entire production process, providing careful guidance from beginning to end. “With a lot of our customers, their engineering staff has never seen a CNC machine,” Miller remarks. “So they can model something up, they can design something, but they don’t really know how tight a tolerance a CNC mill can hold; they might be throwing numbers on these drawings and not understand what the true capabilities of these processes are.” As a result, the team jumps in from the project’s earliest stages to ensure that the customer has the best design. “We want to have a production-ready part,” Miller explains. “We work with the customers ahead of time to get [the specifications] clarified.”

This close communication often saves the customer both time and money. “We end up helping them help themselves,” says Olson. “That relationship that Jesse’s team has developed with our customers’ engineers is so valued by our customers. That is another reason that they come back to us time and time again; they know we are going to challenge them on their own designs.”

The team at Talon can also take on the entire design, rather than working in collaboration with the customer. “There are some cases where customers just don’t have the resources for a particular project and they will turn over the complete design to us,” shares Miller. “[We become] an extension of their engineering staff.” This capability truly sets Talon apart. “A lot of other machine shops don’t have the resources and the engineering staff to help out the customer like that. It is definitely something that we leverage on a daily basis.”

Talon’s engineering expertise and commitment to quality has propelled the company to success, while careful planning has ensured steady growth. “We recognized the economic situation and [that] the semiconductor industry was heating up,” Olson remembers. “We knew the business was there for the taking if we could develop the capacity. So really, our growth has been [achieved] through a willingness to invest. We have invested heavily, in millions of dollars worth of equipment, machines, and facilities.” The company has also invested in people, increasing its staff from 85 to 185 people in just 24 months. Last year alone, Talon hired 66 new employees. “The growth was a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality,” Olson explains.

Talon has been able to attract top-notch talent and works hard to keep it. “We are really focusing internally on making Talon a great place to work,” says Michelle Squire, Talon’s Vice President of Human Resources. “We like to think of Talon as not just a job but a career.” The company has developed a competitive benefits package and is committed to career development and training, which benefits both the company and the employees. “We have really been focusing on career development,” Squire explains. Talon received a $275,000 grant about a year ago to fund some of these training efforts. “That has really helped us, especially with all the new people we have added. We have partnered with the college and we have people coming in and helping us get more entry level machinists trained so they can continue in their career.” Other training programs cover topics such as reading blueprints and Six Sigma certification.

Talon appreciates employee feedback and seeks to improve processes by asking for constructive criticism. “We really want to engage our employees,” Squire states. “[We provide] an opportunity for employees to share their ideas.” However, management is already well aware of what it takes to build an organization successfully. “Most of us come from larger companies and are well versed in the processes of a large organization,” says Olson. “We bring that [experience] to this company.”

The team continues to draw on this experience to grow the company to the next level. “We’ve done a lot of process improvements. And Michelle has done a great job making sure that our employee benefits are competitive so we have been able to attract a lot of talent and we have had excellent retention,” says Olson. There has also been a strong focus on increasing visibility, particularly online. “We’ve done a lot of work on our website and on search engine optimization,” he reports. The company is already seeing results and has drawn in a number of new customers from the team’s recent efforts.

Highlights of last year’s impressive growth include the launch of a wholly owned subsidiary in Seoul, South Korea. “We have a lot of end users and OEM customers in Korea, so we created that entity to better serve that location,” Olson explains. “It is an inventory location with some assembly and welding capability.” Talon also opened a second facility in its home base of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. The new site houses raw material and cutting operations, freeing up more space at the original facility for advanced production processes.

The team plans to continue expanding at a rapid pace and is actively seeking acquisitions as a key growth strategy. “We have had significant growth,” Olson points out. “We are going to be bursting at the seams before too long in the Minnesota facility. We are going to have to acquire.” The team is primarily looking to increase diversity and capacity. “We have a very diligent, disciplined process where we are looking at a lot of targets. We’ve got several irons in the fire right now; different targets in different stages of the dance. Bottom line, we expect to fully execute an acquisition in this calendar year and achieve those two primary goals of diversification and added capacity.” The team is very optimistic about the company’s long-term prospects through the planned acquisition, Olson adds. “In a nutshell, build it and they will come.”

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