With oil and gas in her blood, it’s only natural that Lauren Tipps, Founder and President of Full Throttle Machine Works, has found her calling in gate valve remanufacturing and repair.
The third generation of her family to work in the oil and gas industry, Tipps got her start in procurement, purchasing equipment and products. “But there were always a lot of quality issues and unreliable delivery dates,” she recalls, “and I saw there was a need for a manufacturer that did a good job in a reasonable amount of time. That’s why I started Full Throttle.”
To launch her custom machining and remanufacturing shop, Tipps first had to learn about engineering and the equipment she’d be using. While she began by asking other people in the industry for advice, she quickly found the conflicting opinions frustrating. “Everyone has their own way of doing things,” she says. So, she turned to books about CNC and manual machining, welding, processes, and CAD and CAM software. She also enlisted the help of a couple of mentors.
“It has been a lot of trial and error,” she continues. “A lot of hard work. A lot of learning, figuring out what makes the machines work. I’ve torn down machines and put machines back together. Other shops call me and ask how I do stuff now. I think that’s funny.”
Within her 9,000-square-foot space in Corpus Christi, Tipps and the company’s other four employees work with “a handful” of regular customers “with higher volumes.” They’ve made their niche in gate valve remanufacturing, “and we’re able to put out anywhere from 250 to 400 gate valves annually,” she notes.
Though remanufacturing and repair accounts for 90 percent of Full Throttle Machine Works‘ business, the team still does some custom machining including design and prototyping. While most of their customers are in the oil and gas industry and need larger components — Full Throttle has the capacity to machine 20,000-pound pieces — Tipps is open to working with clients in any industry. “We’ve done a little bit for aerospace and power generation,” she adds.
API 64 and API 16A certified, Tipps says Full Throttle has applied for ISO 9001:2015 certification as well. She believes her shop has also differentiated itself from the local competition because it looks at the industry with fresh eyes and loads of passion.
“A lot of machine shops, especially the ones closer to us, you hear about their dad or grandpa starting the business that they’re now operating,” Tipps explains. “It’s not really uncommon to hear of businesses that are 30 or even 50 years old. But by not having that long of a history in manufacturing, we have a completely different mindset. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears here. I mean, I’ve slept on the shop floor before. We have this constant do or die mentality, and we’re thankful for every opportunity that we get.”
To make sure her customers’ needs are met, Tipps often goes above and beyond. “It’s not uncommon for me to get calls at 2 a.m.,” she says. “And I head to the shop to do whatever it takes.”
She has also spent time streamlining efficiencies. “Technological advancements are definitely my forte,” she continues. “I love re-evaluating how we’re currently doing stuff and finding ways to make things better. I’m less concerned with what people have always done, so I like to see what else is out there.”
The improvements she has made have enabled Full Throttle Machine Works to enjoy steady growth. “Because we’ve gotten more efficient,” Tipps says, “We’re able to do more work with less. We’ve become more profitable, probably about 12 percent more profitable than in our first two years.”
Challenges: Unlike many manufacturers, Tipps says she’s not currently struggling with workforce or supply chain issues. “I’ve always taken care of my employees,” she explains, “and they’ve taken care of me. We also tried to be proactive and did bulk purchases [of materials] before prices started going up. I wouldn’t say we’ve had too many big challenges.”
Opportunities: Tipps says investment in new, horizontal CNC boring mills has “opened up our capacity for larger components. So, we have the opportunity to take on more customers and more work right now.”
Needs: “I’m always shopping for a good deal [on equipment,]” Tipps says. “Since I’ve had to learn how to put machines together, I’m not scared of buying used anymore. If I find a good deal and we get what we need but have to do a little work on it, that’s okay.”