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Fabrication Start-Up Shop Talk With Aaron Saltsman: MFGMonkey Episode 5

MFG Monkey | Fabrication Startup


Growing up, Aaron Saltsman has always had a mechanical mind. He can tear things apart, put them back together, and understand how they function. Years later, Aaron started his own mechanical shop after leaving the corporate world. Today, he joins Dustin McMillan to talk about his fabrication startup, starting a new business endeavor, and their hopes for future companies.

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Fabrication Start-Up Shop Talk With Aaron Saltsman: MFGMonkey Episode 5

It’s been a long time since you and I have hung out. I think it’s going to be cool to sit down and BS on a show. We’ll see how many people we can offend before they kick us out of the hotel during the Coronavirus social distancing here.

We’re pretty close. We’ve been doing all right. It’s a little bit different time than our normal meetings. New stuff is happening.

A lot of new stuff is happening. That’s one of the reasons that I came up besides to hang out. Why don’t you tell us about what you got going on?

Kristina Harris and I are starting up a new shop based on the fabrication throughput process. It’s a design-to-part model. You are doing cutting, bending, and welding. That’s a little old dude. We’ll design, we can bring in a part that a supplier has already designed, or we can do our designs and go through the whole process.

What’s the name of your shop?

Fenitial Fabrications. No website yet, Facebook and Instagram, We’re getting started up. Everything is set in the background, doing some small jobs on the side to keep things moving a little bit as we bring equipment to the shop, prove it out, and keep on going from there. We got a whole plan on how we’re going to set it up. We’re working through it right now. It’s been a pain in the ass and everything is throwing curve balls at us left and right. People want to get sick and whatever else is happening around here.

You have Instagram. How do they find you on Instagram?

You can find us on Instagram @Fenitial_Fabrications. We also have a Facebook page. I would call it slim at the moment, but we’re starting to gather some media up.

Nobody cares about Facebook anyway. The big things are Instagram and LinkedIn right now.

We want to get our presence up on LinkedIn too. We’re in the process of content gathering, not to the point where we can flood it and have stuff for you every day. It’s awesome stuff but I think even as the first few machines are coming into the building here, and especially as we get started on what will be our first production type, production intent part run. It’s pretty exciting stuff and I think we’ll be moving along fine.

It’s super exciting. I’m glad that I got to come up and see the beginning of it all. A little later, we’ll turn some stuff on and see if it’ll bend and cut. The basics, right?

Pretty much. You have to get power in the building before you can make parts.

That’s what you did until 04:00 this morning.

It was about 07:30.

I was still sleeping. I was not. I was up.

That’s the fourth time this week. I’m a little loopy on here. Forgive me. I’m probably running on about six hours of sleep.

That’s the fun thing. We started this show with a funny name, MFG Monkey. We want some humor at it, nothing too awfully serious. The people that we have coming on all have good personalities and humor. We can talk about some serious stuff and not-so-serious stuff. There are enough super serious podcasts out there.

What’s life if you’re going to be out there being serious all the time in the manufacturing world? That would be boring, wouldn’t it?

If I can fire this thing up and get it to record right off the bat, I’ll come into it not frustrated, hopefully in the future. I miss my guys who could come over and help me turn it on when I smash the record button and it doesn’t work.

It’s always nice to have support from people.

We don’t have Dan with us now. Usually, he keeps me on track because I have ADD like no one’s business. You and I have known each other for quite a while now. I can’t even remember how long. We’ve always talked about doing something together. This is our first go at it.

I’m super excited. I always wanted to get back into manufacturing and engineering based on my background. I always wanted to do it for myself, then create a business and bring in people that are close to me and people that want to have a good future, and enjoy life a little differently without the greed thing. I was fed up with the whole corporate world. I don’t want to treat people like someone people get treated out there. I’d rather build a nice team, build some badass stuff, have cool things, and everybody’s happy.

Starting The Shop

Let’s talk about that some more because every person I find is motivated differently. Some people are motivated strictly by money. Some people think that they’re motivated by money, and then they start their company and they realize that can’t be your driver because you’ll fail. What motivated you guys to start your shop?

I don’t even know where to start. The motivation, I always enjoyed building my components. Even when I had a corporate job, I was doing aftermarket, no turbo system kits. My background is based on engine design and development. I used to work for Cummins and Mercury Marine when I did turbo systems there and then base engine work and stuff like that.

It was all a lot of fun doing that. I did that and brought some of my engineering knowledge into the aftermarket. It turns out that you can set apart the best from the rest when you start applying some knowledge. That’s where it picked up. I always wanted to get back into that and have an automotive-based performance parts company where we designed components specifically for what anybody was doing for their application. That’s one of the things in my whole career that was instilled in me being in different types of curriculums. We’ll call it commercial versus automotive versus marine.

All are engine-based but the difference is those platforms apply and tell you, “You have to understand your application. If you don’t understand your application, you can’t design shit for it.” I think that is what started it. We might have a team of a couple of engineers that have a super good idea, super good design, and know that it would work the first time but it would be more expensive off to start.

You’d always have the struggle where there would be too much overhead for the bean counters. Bring it back, but then we got to spend more money to get ourselves out of the shit hole we created because we didn’t do it right the first time. I want to get away from that and be able to work on a purely product-driven solution.

This is what it takes to do it the best. Is it anywhere within anybody’s range? What do we need to do to change it or how do we meet a customer’s target and dial something in? That’s what we’re focused on there. After I got out of the corporate world, I met up with Kristina in a previous job. She came in as a fabricator.

Working on a purely product-driven solution is what it takes to do it best. Share on X

She used to do pipe welding for Local 400. She came in and started to do some fabrication work and then I started working with her on more of the automotive fab because she was always used to the big, heavy industrial stuff, big pipes. Once you get into the automotive side with the smaller exhaust tubes and stuff fitting in some weird places, it’s a different situation.

She worked with me on that for a couple of months and she took off. It didn’t take me more than one time to tell her anything, and then the next time I came over, it was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Long story short, that whole thing didn’t pan out. I made a change and I left where I was at, which was Wisconsin. I went back and was driven to try to build my own business.

We stayed in touch. Over the next couple of years, I created another business doing trucking. I went from engineering and then did some manual labor to get my head straight. What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? How do I want to do this? How can I do this? I had a property in Ohio. I thought, “Let’s start there.”

We went back and cleared a ton of land, 7 acres of land. I had my buddies come over. Luckily, I know people who have equipment companies and paving companies and stuff like that. I had big excavators coming over and a couple of buddies. We had a plan and we went over there. We were taking out 50 massive trees a day. We did it in 5 or 6 days. It turned out nice, but it was not going to be worth it.

I had to move way too much earth to build what I wanted to build. It was another setback, you know. I was looking at how much it costs to get my equipment to move all this earth. I was like, “I’m still working for myself.” I’m going to build things. I’ve always built things for myself. I know that in the future, I’ll use this. Let’s go out and make some money.

I went out, made some money, and learned how to do this. Kristina and I got back in touch while I was out on the road. I so happened to not be invested in anybody at the time. We reconnected and she realized, because when I met her at first, I was. We were good at not showing interest in any. We were very professional around each other. I didn’t ever have that feeling or idea around her. We had a professional working relationship.

Once we hooked back up and she found out that I was single the first thing she said was, “I like your butt.” She said the goofiest thing on the planet to me, but it was hilarious. It made me laugh, and then we started talking. I’m not kidding you. We have not missed a single day. She’s the only person I’ve ever been with. I’ve talked to her every single day and wanted to talk to her every single day.

We decided to have some conversations about this and went straight into it. After looking for a couple of months, we found a nice brand-new building that we could rent out. It had a good enough space to build a decent machining center-type floor plan. She was a go and I was a go. We’ve been hauling ass for the last five months, throwing this place together and getting equipment.

It’s been a trip, but we’re having a lot of positive reinforcement from a lot of people in the industry. Things are starting to change, and starting to look good. You came back in and then we reconnected and said, “It’s time. Let’s do it.” We finally got something I can work with you and you can work with me. We’ve always wanted to do that. That’s the long short of how the hell we got here.

Having a lot of positive reinforcement from people in the industry can help things change and start to look good. Share on X

I think it’s awesome. I’ve seen you guys work together over the last couple of days. It’s pretty unique for me because it’s usually one or the other person crushing it until the wee hours of the morning. The other person’s at home bored and pissed off. You guys are side by side and working together. That’s awesome.

It is, especially under the level of stress we are and there are so many variables. We keep it together every day. There’s something to be said about that.

Creating Revenue And Cashflow

I completely agree. I think that your guys’ business plan is great where you’re taking on some projects that are not as sexy as the automotive world that you’d to be doing, but you have to do what you need to do to create some revenue and some cashflow. That’ll help support your passion and not many people connect those two things. I see a lot of people who are motivated gearheads. They want to build a shop and that’s it.

They don’t want to take on oil changes or anything else to create revenue. Folks that are successful with it that I see do the things that they don’t have a passion for doing, some pieces and parts that aren’t cool or sexy like changing oil, changing brakes, or changing tires to create revenue. They get to do what their passion is. You guys got that right out of the gate. You got the one side that’s going to be production driven that you can do all the cool shit for cars that come into the bay. You can have some products going for to make a living to feed yourselves.

That’s pretty much what it is. We’re setting up and especially this job that you have when it’s reoccurring stuff like that. Reoccurring income. It’s another job, the same job every month. That sets you up on a good point. If you start stacking those up and using your time, it’s, “All the bills are paid. Now we’re making some money. Let’s design some new shit.”

Low overhead and income are a good combo. There are a lot of companies with the product that you’re doing. For us, some of these folks have such high overhead that they have to charge $100 or $200 an hour shop rate where there are a lot of products out there. There’s a lot of work that doesn’t demand a $200-an-hour shop rate.

You can’t deliver it at that. It won’t happen. You have to get into a shop and that’s where we’ll shine right now. That’s what we can do. At the end of the day, I see the next year us being at a five-employee level. I think with five employees in that shop, that’s going to be plentiful. I don’t see us having any issues keeping all those machines busy and bumping out some nice work and it’s all quality driven.

We’re not super cost-driven. The corporate world smashed the greed right out of me. You see what’s going on up there. You could do so much more or so much better stuff with that money, grow other businesses, and relate to the things that you enjoy. That’s how you would use it instead of buying things for yourself.

The corporate world smashed the greed right out of me. I saw what's going on up there, and I know I could do so much more and so much better stuff with that money and grow other businesses related to the things I enjoy. Share on X

The corporates have additional expenses that you don’t need. You don’t need an HR person that you pay $90,000 or $100,000 a year. You don’t need compliance people at this point. You don’t have the push for the overhead to cover those things. You don’t have all the IT people and QA people and all those things that push that. You have a big advantage over it. Geographically, you’re in a great position. You’re out in a country where you can grow, but you’re within 2.5 to 3 hours from Chicago.

Not far from Chicago. Not far from Milwaukee.

An hour away from Milwaukee or so. Green Bay is up the river.

A lot of manufacturing going on around here. A lot of random parts. It’s nice to have local work. Of course, it is because you drive down the road and drop it off. Nowadays, if you can make the part that somebody wants and somebody knows you can make it, that’s what it’s about.

We have a great machine shop that we deal with in Augusta, Wisconsin, that I turned you on to. Matt is a wonderful guy. Augusta, Wisconsin, where the hell is that? They have 20,000 people.

I can’t and will never consider myself a Wisconsin native. You guys are lucky to have me temporarily.

Location Doesn’t Matter

They do an amazing job and they do business all over the world because they have quality. You’re right. It doesn’t matter where you’re located. It helps in the beginning.

I’m sorry to anybody. That was no offense towards Wisconsin. It’s just that I’m not a flat lander. This is flat land to me. I need some roads, curves, hills, and terrain. I love your state. It’s beautiful for about one month and then I’m tired of it. Unless you want to go ice racing or play around out in some dirt stuff like that. It’s a lot of fun but if you’d like to go dirt biking or shoot up to Marquette, that’s pretty cool. I’m a big fan of auto racing and motorcycle racing. I grew up on windy, twisty, nightmarish back roads that I love. I always want to have them around here. It sucks when I can’t ride the way I want to ride.

I think I remember a story from when you and I first met. I don’t know why this popped into my head, but you were infatuated with trains. I remember that. I was curious if that kicked off your interest in the auto world where that sucked you in or what started it.

No, I’ve always been a mechanical mind. There are certain types of people in this world. I’ve always had a mechanical mind. I’ve always had the ability to tear things apart and put them back together. I understand how they function, and then dive into how they function. I started that. I’d probably put that on my parents for sure, getting me into dirt biking. That was where I first started playing with things that mattered. I’d torn lawnmowers apart or drills, the things that you hear everybody talk about. Their grandmas were like, “My God, my grandson took a drill apart. Put it back together.” That’s good. Can you do Legos too?

I was the person who could tear this stuff apart and not get it back together. I was good at tearing it down. Putting it back together, not so much. You do. You have a photographic memory. I was blown away yesterday watching you do the wiring. I’m like, “How the hell did you know how to do this?” You’re like, “I read a book 37 times and memorized it.” Okay, I’ll be in here sending emails.

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration. It was 32. If you guys are looking for a good read, roll yourself right on down through the NEC Electrical Code.

It takes a special person to read that once. Let alone read it over and over and memorize it.

By the way, it’s 800 pages long. You have to refer to section 1 from section 20. You’ll say, “Come on, I got to scroll down 600 pages to get to this answer.” I think the mechanical side of things, I’ve always liked trains. They were big and heavy and made loud noises and puffed smoke. When I was a kid, I was in awe over that stuff. You could hear it. The trains ran down in the valleys and we lived up on top of the hill. There were six stops or six railroad crossings in a range between these two roads. Depending on which way it was coming from, if you heard the horn at one side, you could shoot down the other direction and catch the train and vice versa.

My dad, being the awesome guy that he was, knew I loved trains. He’d be clear down over the hill. He’d hear one and he’d yell out to me, “Train.” I’d respond, “Let’s go.” I’d jump in the truck and he’d take me down and we’d sit on top of the bridge and watch these old steam locomotives come barreling down through the valleys. I am always fascinated with that stuff.

I got into the dirt bikes and I started tearing them apart. I started making them faster. I started trying to figure out how to make them faster, better, or outside of the standard bolt-on type stuff. It took off from there. I got into cars and I couldn’t leave any car that I ever had. I didn’t care what it was. I couldn’t leave it alone and truck. Nothing I’ve ever owned has not been touched. It’s the way I’ve always been.

I have to hire you or somebody like you to do it because my mechanical ability ends up changing oil or brakes and putting air in a tire.

At least you got that going for you.

Little self-deprecation here but it is what it is at this point in my life.

Not everybody can do everything. There are plenty of things I can’t do. That’s for sure. There are plenty of handoffs. I’ll tell you one right now, writing code. You could be good at designing and modeling. You could be good at coming up to do whatever you want by writing code pretty much. I hate it and I’ve said that. I will never be that guy that becomes this overnight sensation or rich or anything because I developed some badass app or because I’ve done something in the technology world from that perspective. That is not what my brain wants to look at ever.

I’d like to look at material things and that’s just that. I know my skillsets and my functionalities and I can focus on that. I understand what people are doing with a lot of things, but I don’t want to do them. I don’t want to learn the intricate details of exactly making all that stuff function perfectly. That’s why there are other people out there who can do it.

That’s the cool part about building a team because you put people around you who are good at the things that you’re not, which for me, it’s almost everything. I have a good idea but I have to have somebody else execute those ideas. I’m like, “This is awesome. All right, I don’t know how to do it.” Who do I know that can do it,” and try and find them. That’s the fun part for me. It’s building teams like you’re doing right now, which is finding people who are good at other things that you’re not.

The fun part of building teams is finding people who are good at the things you're not. When all that comes together, it's starts to function. Share on X

When all that comes together, it starts clicking and everyone’s having fun. People have cracked on me in the 4 or 5 episodes that we’ve done because I’ll say awesome or fun a lot, but it is. I’m a pretty simple person. I don’t know any other acronyms or synonyms for fun and awesome. I’m going to use the hell out of them.

I think mine that I use a lot, I don’t understand where that word came from, but it’s there now.

As you guys grow, we will be supporting you and pushing out what I think we have touched. Over the decade, we have 15,000 people on our database that we’ve done something for them, even if it’s a quote, we’ve talked to them, they’ve reached out to us, or we’ve met them at a trade show. That’s what we bring to the table for manufacturers. It is our database and networking and doing shows like this.

This started as an unnecessary evil because I hate writing and nobody wants to blog. I don’t want to blog. I can talk. Not real well, but I can talk and we can do this all day and I’m sure we’ll get together again or jump on a phone call and do something, get some updates. Later, we’re going to go back and you’re going to work on bending some parts and cutting some metal. We’ll get some cool videos with Luke from CCAD, Columbus College of Art and Design, one of our interns.

He crushes it and he’s a different breed of an animal being at an art institute. He reminds me of a country boy at an art institute type of dude. He’s like my daughter. She’ll go to CCAD. She’s the typical artist that you see at an art institute. She’s that stereotype and then you look at Luke, boots and jeans, and a holy t-shirt, “Shouldn’t you be at a rodeo?” He’s crazy smart and has done some awesome videos for us. We’ll take some pictures.

I’m excited to see how this turns out too. We have a pretty good relationship and things are fun. We can do whatever get along and then what the capabilities are. That’s what’s cool about what you do. You’re going to keep track as my capabilities expand. 1) It is going to open up your mind to the stuff you already have, and then 2) It’s going to maybe open up your mind to something that you shouldn’t do before. Having you in the background to bring things in like that for the longer-term projects is what’s going to help us sustain. I’m thankful that you’re working with me and not throwing us our first production job. Hopefully, that baby turns out right on the money for spec.

It's the longer-term projects that are really going to help us sustain ourselves. Share on X

Three Patents

You’re going to do great things. One thing that I learned about yesterday is you have three patents. You don’t talk about this. Who the hell has patents and doesn’t talk about it?

I don’t talk about it. I don’t care. I probably should have fifteen more if I made any effort to make them go through, but it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to me anymore unless it was something major. It was so expensive.

What I think it is worth is people see what you’re capable of. There are so many people. I have a buddy who’s been a customer for years and he’s a mechanical engineer and he has fifteen patents. I said, “Perry, you don’t talk about this.” His response was your response. It doesn’t matter. Who cares? It’s the coolest freaking thing I’ve ever heard of. You have a patent. A lot of people struggle to have one patent, let alone multiple patents. It gives you a quick vision, into somebody’s brain and how they operate when they can function at that level to not only come up with an idea but to execute it. For you to be at Mercury Marine and have patents there is unbelievable to me. I’m surprised you kept that from me.

Sorry about that. I got to get the other plaques. I’ve still got to follow up with this. That is how much I didn’t care. I submitted I think four. One of them was too close to a previous IP. The other two went through, one I got the plaque, one I didn’t care about, and the third one, I never even followed up with. It is fully submitted in the system. I was there. I made some stuff and at the end of the day, it’s theirs. I can’t do anything with it, except I got a little bit of a payment. Bragging rights for you. You’re the only person that said anything about it.

It will surprise me with everything that we’ve talked about over the last couple of days, ideas that you have for cars and to make them faster, better, stronger, outside of the stuff that you’re going to do to make a living. Once those things come to light, you’ll have more. That’ll be the fun part for me. It is being involved in those things too.

That’ll be the fun part for me too because one thing I’ve noticed going through all of everything that we’ve been doing is if you let it, how much you can expand on going different directions or thoughts. When we get through this startup part. We start generating some income and then it doesn’t feel nearly as tight.

When you get through the startup part and start generating some income, you can expand and go in different directions. Share on X

I’m excited to see how both of us even grow better after that and start putting some ideas to the pavement. I have myself, probably fifteen different components that have been sitting in my computer right now that have been waiting for machines to pump these things out and get them out on vehicles or improve them out and show off or whatever.

That’s the only time I’m any good at showing off if I have a throttle either to my hand or under my foot. Otherwise, I make an absolute ass out of myself somehow. I’m excited to see where this rolls. I’m excited to work through this. Hopefully, in the next episode, I’ll maybe ease up a little bit. I’ll be such a tightwad and you guys will have a little bit more fun on the other side of this mic.

Do you have anything else that you want to touch on or do you want to go cut some shit up?

I think we should go cut some shit up and follow up on another episode as we make it a little deeper into this industry and see what the hell happens here.

I think it’s going to be great. Let’s wrap it up and remind everyone where they can follow you on Instagram.

@Fenitial_Fab. It’s all elements.

We’ll get you up on our Instagram, LinkedIn, and all of our social media, and have some links on our podcast on Apple and everywhere else that everyone can find us. You can simply google MacmillanCo. There are only two companies out there to pop up, an electric company and us. We’re not an electric company. Search MFG Monkey on podcasts and give us a follow. Call us, we always ask people to give us feedback. Go to our website,, and email us. Reach out and tell us what you want to hear about next. Ask questions for Aaron and we can forward those on and give us some talking points for next time.

That sounds awesome. The next time, we’ll have some more information for you guys to share as far as getting everything set up. We’re not to the point where it matters to have a website. It’s one of those things. It’s not there yet.

Not that it matters at all. That’s the cool part about growing and expanding. I think too many people go out and launch a website and try to get all this capability out, and then they start getting jobs and they fail. It gives them a big black eye in the market.

The way that we’re trying to approach it in all honesty was to do as much as we can to keep the bills paid, keep the equipment coming into the building, and spend the setup time. We spend the setup time right now, even if you’re wasting a little bit of money because when you’re set up and those jobs roll in, it’s going to be so much nicer. There is nothing worse than being behind the eight-ball trying to catch up.

I’ve seen it way too many times. People over-promise and under-deliver.

I hope I will never be that person for you. I don’t think that’ll be the case.

I wouldn’t have driven eight hours here if I thought it was the case.

I don’t think it would have either.

We’re going to have a lot of fun together. People are going to crack on me because I’ve said fun 57 times. Maybe there’ll be a drinking game about fun and awesome. It’s good to have you on and we will talk to you soon.


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