Change isn’t always easy, but just short of three years ago, West Ohio Tool production specialist Austin Thornburg decided it was time to make one. After 15 years of production work in a factory that processes cellulose for the food industry, he decided to join forces with longtime hunting and fishing buddy, West Ohio Tool President Rea King.

I’ve known Rea and his brother for about 20 years,” Austin said. “We used to hunt and fish together, and we’ve never had an argument.”

Thornburg was part of King’s efforts to assemble a team that could move West Ohio Tool forward and into the future, and Austin was looking for work that would challenge him with something more engaging. The match was good, and the time was right; Austin and the company were on the brink of new things.

West Ohio Tool was rapidly transforming from a regional custom tool manufacturer with deep, established roots in the automotive sector to a national player with customers in the aerospace and defense industries. It was also acquiring numerous certifications such as the prestigious Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification and federal Women-owned Small Business (WOSB) that opens doors to additional local and federal contracting opportunities.

With that growth, the company made several capital investments such as the purchase of additional tool grinding machinery with a loader for automation. Austin started slowly but learned quickly. Now he works on several Walter machines grinding drive pins and performing regrinds on customers’ tools and works with the FANUC robot loading systems. He’s also taken the dive into tool design with Tool Studio design software.

“I take a lot of pride in tackling these challenges,” Austin said. “Learning how to troubleshoot robots is actually really nice, and it keeps your mind in your work all day.” Understanding precision and how critical it is to custom tool manufacturing has been an inspiration and motivating element in his new career path, he said.

Austin maintains an active life away from West Ohio Tool when not grinding carbide for customers’ custom tooling or making sure the robots are staying in line. He continues to fish in the spring and bow hunt in season – if nothing more than to get outside. A former softball player, his kids are now the driving force that get him to the ballfields, and he also manages to play in a golf league with West Ohio Tool Production Manager Chad Mahurin.

The move to West Ohio Tool has been a good one for Austin. He says he’s learning new things, tackling new challenges and feels really good about working for a company that is, first and foremost, a problem solver.

“Before, I guess I could take pride that my pallets were neatly stacked, he said. “Now I make a living with my brain, and I can brag about what I do.”