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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Titan Gilroy thinks that American manufacturing can overcome the obstacles — largely because he’s overcome quite a few himself.

As a child, Gilroy’s mother fled with him and his sister to Hawaii to escape an abusive husband, which meant that the family often faced homelessness. Meanwhile, Gilroy would often get into fights at school, and only found refuge when a neighbor stepped in to groom him to become a boxer. But Gilroy’s career derailed after he got into a fight at a nightclub, which led to him spending three years in prison. He briefly re-entered the ring after being released on parole, but ultimately wound up working at Zinola Manufacturing in Northern California, where he operated a CNC machine.

Today, Gilroy owns his own precision machine shop, Titan America MFG. He’s also the star of the new reality show, TITAN—American Built, premiering at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24 on MAVTV. ManufactureThis chatted with Gilroy about the new show and what he hopes it will achieve. 

What do you want people to know about you?

I would say that I am an artist, and a very different one than people may have encountered. Art and creativity runs in my family, and I have been able to do incredible oil paintings since as long as I can remember. People are often surprised when they come into my shop because it is not what they expected. I have my oil paintings hanging up in my office and people are shocked when I tell them I painted them.

I didn’t meet my grandmother until I was in my thirties, well into my career in manufacturing. She gave me pictures of my grandfather who I had never met and never heard anything about while growing up. I was amazed. He was the machine shop foreman at Boeing before he entered the military in the 1940s. While in the Army, one of the things my grandfather did was hand-paint the women on the sides of the bombers. There’s a picture of him panting a plane, hanging in my office today.

I have my grandfather’s eye for color and shape, but with a head for math and solving problems. After getting beaten for years as a child for the color of my skin, I grew to become fearless and aggressive. When you take this breed of craftsmanship and combine it with that fact that I grew up tough on the streets, it is a rare recipe. I made many mistakes growing up, too many to count. I was in prison and was one of the most talented boxers in the United States, even securing a boxing contract from Top Rank Boxing in Vegas while still an amateur.

And what does all of my past have to do with anything? Everything.

Today, I fearlessly run huge $500,000 dollar machines with more intensity and aggression than my competition. Out of my eye for small details, I don;t make mistakes and I am able to push these amazing machines to their limits. In this industry especially, time is money. These machines are very expensive and because of this, people tip-toe around them. I don’t even know how to tip-toe! If you make a single wrong move — BOOM — you destroyed something equivalent to the cost of a large house. Because there is no insurance on these kinds of machines, people are extremely careful in their work. As a result, it is considered the most intricate and most complex form of manufacturing. For us at Titan America MFG, we push the machines to their limits and save our customers money. I have a talent for unlocking each machine’s potential to get the most output in the shortest amount of time. This has built me and our shop a huge reputation. Today, my team makes many of the most difficult parts in America for huge aerospace companies with some of the hardest materials — titanium, inconel, A286, Haynes 188 etc.

My grandfather’s gift of vision, of seeing something that doesn’t yet exist in plain sight, is something that helps me see what people want to create, sometimes even before they do. I am able to solve their problem by explaining an intricate part that will be a solid solution. I have a gift for making technology simple. I just get it, on a super high level, and am able to then visualize it, explain it, and ultimately create it.

For me, it is all art and creativity. And the essence of creativity is problem solving. What I mean is, I create fixtures on our machines for easily manufactured parts, much like special tooling that allows the operator to run 100 pieces at a time without opening the machine doors and stopping production. When you do that, and do it faster than anyone else, you wipe the notion of cheap labor off the table. With this, we don’t need to send work overseas. The U.S. can compete with anyone!

It's called American ingenuity and it is what built this amazing country. This innovation, problem solving, and technology is the key to our future.

How did TITAN-American Built come together, and what can viewers expect when they tune into the show?

Back in 2008, I had 55 employees and was solving huge problems for some very big companies. I was machining parts for 50 percent cheaper than anyone else. I had great relationships with my customers and could hand-pick my work. I felt invincible, until the day came when in the course of a few phone calls, my largest customer canceled $4 million worth of jobs on the spot. They had to let go of 100 employees, canceling all my contracts with them.

At that time, I was making parts for ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles) for the oil industry. I was making thousands of complex parts made out of titanium and I was making them fast. The war on oil hit, and ships being made in other countries were put on hold. Each ship had two ROVs costing $4 million dollars each. The ships were put on hold and thus all my production came to a screeching halt.

I looked for work everywhere but American machinists were willing to work for pennies, if they were lucky. Many of my friends went out of business and all I saw was destruction, devastation, and disappointment. There was no work to be found!

I was lucky enough to jump into the aerospace industry and started solving problems for other huge companies--- BUT--- I had to first make it through the most difficult time in my life. When you have 55 employees dependent on you and you have been successful your whole career, you are not prepared for the grief and turmoil that comes with losing all of your work. It’s even hard to write about today.

I found huge faults in a system that had allowed all of our work to leave American soil, a system that allowed other countries to play by their unfair rules but kept tightening down on ours, a system that favored huge business and stepped over small businesses, a system that told lies about our ability to compete with the rest of the world.

I had a rare talent and understood the new technology coming out. I understood that many companies were going overseas for a mere savings of 15 percen and understood the fact that many manufacturers were only using 10 to 30 percent of the technology that was at their fingertips. The experts were wrong, and I had the answers. But this isn’t all of it.

Seeing is believing and as the episodes move along, they will get to know this amazing trade and will truly understand and believe in our great country’s abilities. MADE IN AMERICA has to mean something more than just a cool slogan. It is the foundation of this amazing country. —Titan Gilroy

In 2011, I was invited by the Federal Parole Department to travel to Pittsburgh. I gave a two hour speech to the state parole workers on serving and had lines of people waiting to talk to me afterward. I was touched. This is what I wanted to do with my life, to touch lives and inspire. I owned a manufacturing business and had this incredible talent, but I felt it was my destiny to help others and to inspire people.

Then the day that I got back, it came to me: You put cameras on me in my element and...BOOM! A few cameras represented millions of people and millions of opportunities to inspire. I knew that doing a show was my destiny and have been working toward it every day since.

Viewers of our show will see real manufacturing stories of real Americans in real places making parts, every week — a different story for a different company with a new problem under incredible deadlines. They will see real people working for real American companies. They will see a normal man who has suffered through incredible difficulties, who has been through incredible trials, who now is blessed to lead a team of machinists on a journey to build and fight for America, one part at a time.

The season will build with bigger jobs and bigger stakes, and after each episode I will call Americans to action. I charge people to do simple things to keep our work here and encourage them: “You just saw an awesome true story about American manufacturing, you’re losing this incredible trade, the trade that built the foundations of this country. Let's come together to support it and support this amazing country so our children have awesome futures!”

Viewers can expect TRUTH!!!

What have you learned from putting the show together? Has anything surprised you?

I have learned that most people do not truly believe that we can get our manufacturing back on U.S. soil. Even those who are fighting the good fight feel that it is almost too far gone, and because the government holds many of the cards, we the people are in a vulnerable state.

But after talking and showing passion and wisdom when it comes to manufacturing and what we must do, I always see their attitudes change and they get excited. You see, that’s the ticket. Americans need to be educated and inspired. I have a unique way of explaining what has to happen and when people hear it, they understand that I am speaking truth. I don't just talk policy but instead, I explain how to run the machines and how to utilize technology. I give them a vision of how to do it and when they do the math in their heads they actually see that it is a quantifiable fact: We can compete and we can do it right now! Many things have to change and we have to embrace education and technology but YES — we can do it right now!

What do you want viewers to take away after watching TITAN-American Built?

I want them to see with their own eyes that we can make all our own parts right here in America. I want them to see that it is possible, that automation and technology is awesome and that if used on a high level, it is an absolute game-changer. Seeing is believing and as the episodes move along, they will get to know this amazing trade and will truly understand and believe in our great country’s abilities. MADE IN AMERICA has to mean something more than just a cool slogan. It is the foundation of this amazing country.

There has never been a series that will show so many different forms of manufacturing and such diverse companies. It is going to be awesome.