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SEP TEMBER 26 - OCTOBER 3, 2013 • VOL. 28, NO. 9 • W W W.NE W TIMESSLO.COM • SA N LUIS OBISPO COUNT Y’S NE WS A ND ENTERTA INMENT WEEK LY

Made in the

USA

(SLO, to be specific) Get a photographer’s eye view of Really Right Stuff’s photography equipment manufacturing process [18]

Wow us—and the Central Coast—with your submissons to our annual Winning Images contest. The entry form’s on page 38.

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER


Making

really

right stuff

in SLO A local photography equipment manufacturing company opens its doors to New Times STORY AND PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER

MILLING METAL Workers use a Haas 4-axis vertical milling machine to prototype parts at the Really Right Stuff headquarters. CAD (Computer Aided Design) is done upstairs, and then the 3D model is sent to Tres Clements, who programs the mill to create the final prototype, which is the CAM (computer aided manufacturing) aspect of his work.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL Every product that leaves the Really Right Stuff shipping facility is meticulously inspected and cleaned before being sent to the customer.


F

rustrated by ill-fitting generic quick-release plates that allow a camera to attach to a tripod head, Brian Geyer, an ex semi-conductor marketing professional, decided to start manufacturing his own plates in Los Osos in 1990. With help from local, world-famous professional photographer George Lepp, Geyer produced a catalog to showcase the prototype designs, and Really Right Stuff was born. For 12 years, the business grew slowly but surely, all based on expansion that was financed solely by cash flow from sales. The plan was for Geyer to sell out before the age of 70, which didn’t happen, but at age 71 he was approached by longtime customer and aficionado Joe Johnson, who wanted to leave his 14-plus years’ worth of employment for a major food company operating in various locations in Asia—including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Shanghai. Johnson had been inspired by a photograph of Geyer on the Really Right Stuff website, and correctly predicted that the man was probably ready to retire. Six months after initially calling Geyer to ask about selling Really Right Stuff, Johnson, his wife Joan, and their family moved to

MULTIPLE STEPS Throughout the day New Times was visiting Really Right Stuff, manufacturing engineer Tres Clements kept tabs on the creation of the fluid head housing prototype while it was inside the mill.

RRS PHOTOS continued page 20 RRS STORY continued page 21

PIXEL TO METAL Tres Clements (manufacturing engineer, left) and Joe Johnson (owner, right) recently looked at a 3D model of a part to be used in Really Right Stuff’s new video fluid head.

BUBBLES EVERYWHERE Large, precisely leveled, granite-topped tables are used as a base to install small bubble levels on quick-release clamps. John Cabot (whose hand is pictured) is responsible for making sure the bubble levels are perfectly installed.

SHIPPING LINEUP A two-sided, large, wooden workbench displays various products lined up by Shadoe Valenzuela in preparation for shipment to customers. The morning that New Times visited, the stack of orders was in excess of 250 invoices.

LEARN BY DOING Sam Kaplan, an extremely knowledgeable engineering intern from Cal Poly, was in charge of running the Haas vertical milling machine as he walked through multiple steps in creating the fluid head housing prototype.


RRS PHOTOS from page 19

METAL TO CAMERA Just delivered that day from Canon, a 70D camera was fitted with a quick release plate by design engineer Verent Chan as owner Joe Johnson looked on. Camera manufacturers Canon and Nikon send cameras to Really Right Stuff in advance of their products reaching the public so that the various camera plates can be available shortly after the camera’s launch. BEHIND PASS-CODED DOORS Two massive Mori Seiki horizontal milling centers sit in a locked room at one of Mainland Machine’s manufacturing facilities. These machines hold more than 250 different tools, and after they’re loaded with parts to be milled, they run their programs without human intervention.

PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER

FINISHING WORK After parts are taken from either the milling centers or turning centers, they’re put into one of two vibratory deburring machines that use small double wedgedesign pieces of plastic embedded with aluminum oxide particles to smooth out all of the surfaces of the various parts before they’re shipped to an anodizing facility in Southern California. When the parts are returned, they’ll be inspected and then laser engraved in a different area of the facility.


RRS STORY from page 19

Los Osos to take over the operation. They began by working out of Johnson’s garage for about a year with all of the machine work being handled by the original machining company Brian had collaborated with, Mainland Machine in San Luis Obispo. Eventually, Really Right Stuff expanded to a larger commercial space in Los Osos. Growth was so fast, the company moved to a larger location in San Luis Obispo on South Higuera Street, brought on board another machine shop called Top Precision, and kept working hard for six more years before moving to its current location across from the airport in San Luis Obispo. Now they have enough room to expand their facilities up to 90,000 square feet. As of 2013, Really Right Stuff boasts about 1,000 items in its product catalog, including tripods and tripod heads, quick-release plates and levers, flash brackets, iPhone cases, and much, much more. There are 22 employees at corporate headquarters, and they indirectly provide employment to approximately 120 people at three machine shops in San Luis Obispo (Snyder Precision was just recently added to the roster), which manufacture all of Really Right

FEW STEPS REMAIN Various parts for Really Right Stuff products that have been created by Mainland Machine’s turning centers (which run 24 hours a day) waited to be sent to the deburring machine, located elsewhere on the property.

ALUMINUM GLORY The final prototype fluid head housing piece made from the solid block of aluminum (pictured on the cover) awaited a test to make sure its fit and design were proper.

Stuff’s products (with the exception of carbon fiber tripod legs made at a facility in Utah). When New Times asked Johnson why he didn’t use his extensive knowledge of Asian markets and manufacturing centers (he speaks both Japanese and Mandarin), he replied: “The idea that all of America’s manufacturing is getting outsourced outside of America is not a good thing for our country, I believe. There’s no reason why we can’t produce the very, very best of anything in the world if we decide that’s what we want to do, and that’s what Really Right Stuff is all about.” Everything Really Right Stuff sells is designed in house and manufactured and assembled in San Luis Obispo (again, with the exception of the tripod legs). The only part of the complete product creation process not done in the county is the anodizing of the aluminum parts, which is completed in Southern California. Johnson acknowledges that his products are more expensive than his competitors’, but he maintains that his company’s products are also noticeably better than others. ∆ Steve E. Miller is New Times’ staff photographer. Direct comments to semiller@newtimesslo.com. SCI-FI LIKE The last step for many products manufactured at Mainland Machine is the laser-engraving process, which produces logos and, in some circumstances, scales that help the photographer accurately line up a camera on a tripod head.



Really Right Stuff - New TImes, Sept. 26, 2013