Fred Ricci Tool Company
Providence Journal 5/28/1998
Making It Work The Lessons of Youth and Wisdom
BYLINE: RUSSELL GARLAND Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
PUBLICATION: Providence Journal Company
SECTION: Newspapers & Newswires
Frank T. Ricci learned the jewelry tool making trade in his father's basement shop, methodically hand-filing dies the way his great-uncles had taught his dad.
But after graduating from electronics school and working briefly for a big defense contractor, Ricci knew there were things he could teach his father.
He knew there were machines that could do the work much faster, and he wanted to buy one.
His father, Fred Ricci, knew about the machines too - the technology had been around for awhile - and he wasn't impressed by anything except their price.
The younger Ricci prevailed, although his father remained skeptical. When the $30,000-piece of equipment arrived at their shop, then in Providence, in 1991, Fred Ricci told his son, "If it doesn't do what you say it will do, start running down Charles Street." Frank stayed put.
"I had tears in my eyes, that's how good it ran," said his dad, who still has the first cutting. "That machine launched this business into the 21st century."
At a time when the jewelry industry in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts is in decline, the Fred Ricci Tool Co. has expanded. In January 1997, it moved to an industrial building in Cranston, where it occupies 7,000 square feet of space. It has nine employees, including president Frank Ricci and his father, and five "Electrical Discharge Machining" machines.
Four of them are state-of-the-art wire EDM machines that cost about $100,000 apiece. The computer-controlled machines - which are made in Japan - use an electrically charged strand of brass wire that slices through hardened steel to make trim dies and punches. These tools are used to produce everything from service medals to Christmas ornaments.
Large jewelry manufacturers have such machines, but small shops cannot afford them. That is where Fred Ricci Tool comes in. The company makes tools to their specifications. Frank Ricci said his company can make tools quickly and accurately so that small jewelry makers can compete against overseas manufacturers. The company can provide one-day service if required.
Said Ted Dion of E.A. Dion Inc. in Attleboro, Mass., a customer of Fred Ricci Tool, "Quality and speed are the only advantages we have left."
Despite the healthy Massachusetts and Rhode Island economies, jewelry layoffs and plant closings continue with depressing regularity. In Rhode Island, there were 23,200 jewelry manufacturing jobs in 1987, according to the state Department of Labor and Training. Last year, there were only 13,300, a decline of nearly 43 percent.
When Fred Ricci, 55, was growing up, Providence was the jewelry capital of the world. He had three uncles in the jewelry business who taught him the trade. He eventually wound up working for Fulford Manufacturing. After work, he would do small jobs in his basement shop.
"I got so busy," said the elder Ricci, "I had to make a decision on whether to quit my job or curtail my business. So I quit my job."
When his son was 6 or 7, Ricci taught him how to file dies. One day, the child, hunched over the bench with a man-size set of magnifying glasses on his head, was working so intently that he jabbed the file into his cheek. Father and son chuckled over the incident during a recent interview in the company's small office just off the shop floor.
Frank Ricci, 31, graduated from the former Rhode Island School of Electronics, now part of Johnson & Wales University. He then commuted to work at Raytheon in Marlboro, Mass. That lasted six months. "I didn't like working for someone," said the younger Ricci.
He went back to work with his father, but one of his requirements was that the company acquire some advanced technology. They borrowed the money to buy their first EDM machine from the older Ricci's mother. The company has another family connection: the younger Ricci's wife, Debra, quit her job in a doctor's office to handle the clerical work.
Fred Ricci Tool fills a niche in a business that is a blend of technology and craftsmanship. Its products include dies that Joe Anthony at Aries Inc. in Providence uses to trim excess metal from the die-struck emblems he makes for pen companies. Ricci dies are used in making many armed forces medals, including the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Medal.
One recent job involved replacing a sunburst die that had broken into three pieces. Filing the original had probably taken at least a couple of days. Cutting a replacement took about four hours. The image of the old piece was scanned into a computer, which controlled the cutting machine. "It still takes a lot of preparation," Frank Ricci said. "What we've decreased is the cutting time."
Besides the four high-tech, wire EDM machines, the company also has another, less expensive type of EDM machine that can duplicate original dies, such as those used to stamp badges and medals. The original still has to be done by an artist.
The company no longer has the first EDM machine it acquired. Frank Ricci said he works hard to ensure that his company keeps up to date. He also said he sees that his employees get trained to run a new machine before it arrives in the shop.
Frank Ricci declined to disclose his company's sales, but said he is confident that they can continue to grow. The company has diversified and does work for the automotive industry as well.
They have made a good team, the father with his years of experience in an exacting craft and the son with the ability to translate the old ways into the computer age. Frank Ricci said he can see himself eventually spending all day in an office running the company, but that his father will always want to be in the shop. "He's happy out here," the son said, "and this is where he's going to stay."
Fred Ricci Tool Company
APC Helps Fred Ricci Tool Company Carve Out Success "With the clean power and non-fluctuating voltage, cutting speeds are a constant .200 inches per minute. The savings are about an hour and a half per day of productivity."
Fred Ricci Tool Co.
"Fred Ricci Tool Co. is based in Cranston, Rhode Island, where we build
high quality stamping tools, dies and molds to make insignias, lapel pins,
military medals, medallions, badges, jewelry, and trophies. We are located
in a building consisting of 10 units. We're Unit #10; the last one on the
totem pole. The main power feed is about 200 feet away with only 600 amps
(3-phase) for the entire building. I use about 175-200 amps. The rest is
divided among the other nine units. Needless to say, there is a serious
power drain before I get my power.
"The type of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinery we use is called
Wire EDM (electrical discharge machining). The process uses brass wire .010
thousands of an inch in diameter, which is about 2 times the thickness of
the hair on your head. An electrical charge flows through the brass wire and
discharges the electrical pulse at high frequencies, cutting hardened steel
from .250 of an inch to 7 inches thick. The wire follows a tool path created
by our CAD/CAM systems and is fed through a start hole in the center of the
steel. It erodes the material away as it follows the tool path to create the
desired design with accuracies of .0002 tenths of an inch; incredible
Power Supply Can't Keep Up
"When we first moved to this location 2 years ago, the machinery was running
at peak performance. As time went on, we expanded, added more equipment, and
the entire industrial area grew. I noticed the cutting speeds of our
machinery slowing and we tried everything to correct it, including replacing
all the wiring and the recalibration of the inner power supplies. The
voltage was varying but within the 5 percent parameter. At this point, I
knew I had done everything I could to my machinery.
"I contacted APC Global Services. They sent in a highly skilled electrical
and electronic engineer, and we hooked up a real-time monitor to the main
input at the machine and within a few seconds we knew what was happening. My
power supply was a mess. The sine waves were inverting, voltage spikes were
occurring, the sine wave was crossing over zero twice in one cycle and every
time a person turned on a machine, the top of the wave flattened. Mystery
solved: I needed to clean up my power.
APC Global Services Provides a Solution "APC Global Services suggested APC's new Silcon® DP300E unit, which offered the highest efficiency and lowest operating costs, for our Wire EDM machines. It has only been in our shop for a month and has functioned far beyond my expectations. The Silcon DP300E brought us back to 100 percent
efficiency. Our machinery cuts at a speed calculated by inches per minute. The average cutting speed of the machinery not using the Silcon was .150 inches per minute. With the clean power and non-fluctuating voltage, cutting
speeds are a constant .200 inches per minute. The savings are about an hourand a half per day of productivity.
APC Provides Bridge to New Technology "System availability is mission-critical for us. Since we are 100 percent computer dependent, we require constant uptime or else nothing gets done. When my dad, Alfred Ricci, was in the trade, all he needed was a 100-watt light bulb, a good set of hand files, a hammer and chisel to make cutter dies and punches. Today, without the new technology, our company would not exist. APC gives us clean power and enough battery time to safely shut down all of the computers in case of a power failure or surges.
"When our Solid Modeling designers spend 8-10 hours drawing a 2-D or 3-D model on very expensive workstations, the last thing they need to worry about are the computers failing due to power outages or spikes. Not only
would the designer lose the drawing and have to do the job twice, but incidents like that are expensive and lower the employee morale.
Additional Cost Savings "APC has saved the day for us many times. Recently, we had a power outage and the lights flickered 3 or 4 times until the power went completely out.
Our Silcon was running at 75 to 80 percent capacity and the Wire EDM machine was running full power, and it didn't even flutter. According to the display, I had about fifteen minutes of full power available just running off the batteries, more than enough time to shut down and not lose the
machine home position. Then the lights began flickering again, the power came back on and the machine continued cutting at full power. It was like the power never went out. If we had lost the machine zero point, the part would have been scraped costing us $1,500 to replace, not to mention upsetting the customer with delays in shipment.
"On another occasion, we suffered a total outage and a severe voltage spike when a truck hit a utility pole. This cost us $5,000 for new power supply boards and two days of downtime, costing approximately $3,500 of unproductive time. When our CNC equipment loses power, the machine becomes mis-aligned requiring an average of 1/2 to 1 hour per machine to re-align, costing us another $500 of unproductive time.
The Value of an APC Relationship "APC has always been a part of our business. I have an electronics degree and always knew what a voltage spike and outage could do to electronic
equipment. Before the power problem that brought us the Silcon, APC protected all of our CAD/CAM workstations, telephone system, accounting server, and our high precision scanning equipment. Every unit has its own Smart-UPS®, ranging from a 200 for the telephone system to 700 for the
"I have only called tech support once in 5 years, and I feel this speaks for itself as far as the quality and the reliability of APC products. Our company is 100 percent committed to APC for its dependability to protect our electronic equipment. Now, nothing is plugged in unless APC is protecting it."