Kathryn Oppio says she never thought she would be interested in machines or what’s involved in operating a tool and die company. But life changed dramatically for the former separate school teacher when her husband Ivo founder of Classic Tool and Die Co. in 1978 and she became a partner. “I never thought I’d be interested in machines, but I really can get excited about them today,” Kathy said.  And as vice-president of the Windsor-based firm, Kathy feels she has a special reason to be excited these days because of a new addition to the family business. This addition is what’s known in the tool and die industry as a Wire Cut EDM, a high-technology machine which implements the latest in CAD/CAM (computer-aided-design/computer-aided –manufacturing).


“IT CAN CUT through an eight inch (20-cm) piece of steel like a hot knife through butter,” says Kathy. Ivo, who is president of Classic Tool and Die Co., feels the major capital expenditure for the machine and computer-related hardware will assure the company of future expansion. And Ivo speaks from experience because he came to Canada in 1969 from a small farming community in Northern Italy when he was 19. He had received his skilled training in Italy and worked nine years with Valiant Machine and Tool Inc., Windsor.


“BUT IVO always wanted his own business so together we opened up.  In the beginning there was the two of us with two broken down machines in a small building across the street,” Kathy said. Today the company has 12 employees and is heavily involved in producing dies, molds, guages and templates for the auto industry.  Actually the company manufactures the dies or molds required either by the Big Three or their suppliers for stamping of parts. “Until now we’ve had to farm out work to companies in Detroit, Stratford or Toronto that had a Wire Cut EDM, but now we have the capability of doing it in house,” Ivo said.


HE SAID the machine which employs a copper wire to cut metal “will enable us to get into different type of work.”  In fact, Ivo is confident his firm will begin bringing in work from Detroit because “we’re very competitive.” The copper wire has an electronic discharge.  “It can cut through and metal that is conductive,” Kathy said. Manufactured in Japan and marketed in North America by Elox EDM Systems based in North Carolina, the machine is fully computer operated.  Classic is the only firm in Windsor to employ the machine although there’s one operating at General Motors of Canada’s Windsor Transmission Plant. “With this machine we will get different type of work than what we’ve been doing.  This is much more than just a cutting tool, it is very precise and accurate, “Kathy said.


WHILE HER main job is keeping the company’s books, Kathy also echoes her husband’s feeling on what the new machine will mean to the operations. Both Ivo and Kathy stress that without CAD/CAM there’s little if any future for company’s in the tool and die industry. Manufactures, especially auto companies, are demanding higher quality, increased productivity and just-in0time delivery.  All these demands are related to CAD/CAM. Ivo said the new machine is capable of adapting to computer systems used by other companies or will work from a tape or disc containing the information required for a specific job.


AFTER THE job is programmed into the computer with all specifications the copper wire will form the die required.  “Even in the case of an electrical failure the machine has a memory which enables it to retain the program and continue working after power is restored,” Kathy said. The machine has the capability of storing 95 of the most frequently used jobs, but Ivo said hundreds of discs can be employed covering a wide variety of programs. “It has unlimited versatility,“ Ivo said.  While he has trained in the operation of the new system, the company has employed a worker experienced in computer programming. He said with the addition of the machine and computer programs, the company can substantially reduce time required to produce dies or other equipment.


KATHY SAID that before the recession the company was strictly automotive, but it now has diversified even though the bulk of its business is still automotive-related. “Even the kids look upon the company as theirs.  They come into the shop and say that my crane of that’s my machine,” Kathy said of her two sons aged four and seven. She said Ivo’s ambition to own his own plant has come true.”  He’s come a long way since he arrived from Italy with a $20 bill in his pocket,” Kathy said. And Kathy, the one-time school teacher, can talk the tool and die business with anybody.  “I’m the bookkeeper, but I guess I’m really involved and Ivo has shown me how to drill steel and other operations in the shop,” she said. The company’s current building was purchased last year.