The Inspiring Story of Mike Starting His Own Manufacturing Company at 15 Years Old
Posted by Bert Maes on August 4, 2010
Story and Photos by Richard Berry
At 15 years old, Mike Goetz ran his first successful CNC machine job shop – after school and on weekends – from his parent’s garage.
Goetz Industries, of Lombard, Illinois, is now an “insanely busy,” four-man specialty shop producing high precision aerospace and electronics-industry parts for an enviable troop of Fortune 500 clients. And now, owner/operator/director/programmer/machinist Mike Goetz is a seasoned veteran . . . of 19.
Mike started out as a curious kid. He liked mechanical things, especially bicycles, and “the idea of making stuff.” When the opportunity to sign up for a middle-school shop class came along in 6th-grade, he jumped at it – and was immediately disappointed.
“It was a really sorry class,” he smiles. “The first thing the shop teacher stressed was that we couldn’t use anything ‘dangerous,’ like a saw. So all we got to do was make little balsa wood cars with files, and stuff like that.” Bored and curious, Mike wandered off into a back room one day and discovered what looked like a machine of some sort draped with a big, heavy tarp. “I lifted up a corner, and there it was – something I’d never even imagined.”
Under the cloth was an old-as-the-hills, crank-handle knee mill. It was left over from years before, when the building was home to a vocational high school. “There were still chips on it, and tooling lying around,” Mike remembers. “So I stared, put two and two together, and realized: You can cut sideways with this thing! I understood how it worked, and that this was the basis for machining metal.”
Not surprisingly, the cautious shop teacher would never let Mike use it, “. . . even when I offered to come in after school,” he says. But just the sight of the mill was a turning point. Mike began studying everything he could find on the subject of machining. “Before, I hadn’t a clue how things like my bicycle parts were made. But then it dawned on me – with a mill and a lathe, you could make anything!”
That epiphany started the ball rolling. With his parents’ help, Mike bought a manual hobby machine and set up shop in his basement to learn – and to make his own custom bicycle parts. Completely self-taught, he wore out tooling catalogs, learning what did what, and absorbed machining information off the Internet every night. “I learned there were few hard-and-fast rules for making parts, and I began to realize you can make anything if you have the right equipment.”
This led directly to his discovery of CNC, when he excitedly realized he could control equipment with computers. The idea intrigued him so much that he worked to get a little desktop CNC machine – then worked to master it. When people at a local bicycle shop (where the new teenager had taken a Saturday job) liked what they saw and offered to buy any extra copies of the “cool” parts, Mike found himself in business. With the help of his parents he got a Haas Mini Mill, and set up in the garage.
After a year and a half, feeling the need for more room and more independence, he moved into his present shop space and began adding machines.
“We now do a lot of 3rd- and 4th-axis work,” says Mike. “I have Haas HA5C rotaries on two machines, and that really helps out. We’re doing a ton of 3-D for the cell-phone industry, and a lot of fun, but really challenging, aerospace parts.” Part of the workload is subcontracted – full-4th-axis work other area shops won’t tackle in-house. “It’s really not that hard,” says the confident self-learner. “You just have to sit there and figure it out. The next thing for us will be going full-5th on some parts. I’d like to get a Haas trunnion for one of our machines.”
“One thing I want to do is get more young people into the industry – but I see problems,” explains Mike Goetz, speaking from first-hand experience. “Most of the tech schools around here are still on manual equipment. I know you have to learn that basic stuff: there’s no way you can run one of these modern machines well without first spinning the wheels on an old knee mill. Otherwise, you don’t know what cutting pressures are involved, and you don’t really learn what a mill can do.
“But, they’re missing it by not hooking kids with cool projects and neat machines. They’re having them just mill blocks and drill holes. I think a lot of young people would be a lot more interested if they learned what they could make with modern CNC machines,” says Mike. “A lot of kids have no idea where things come from. I try to explain what I do, and they don’t get it. I tell them, ‘Almost everything starts on a machining center – whether it’s a mold, a prototype or the final product. It’s machined. You start off with a solid block, and you remove material to get what you want!’ But they can’t see it through; it’s just not being taught.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have a serious problem in a few years when all the older people start to retire,” he laments. “There’s going to be a real shortage of people who know what they’re doing. Manufacturing has a lot to do with the way this country is – we’ve got to get more people coming into the industry.”