Before his freshman year had even begun, Robert Tarantino ’90 had embarked on more professional ventures than many people do in a lifetime: computer systems manager, programmer, journeyman tool and die maker and software developer.
But in founding his high-tech start-up, New Jersey Precision Technologies (NJPT), a company built around novel software programmed to automate manufacturing processes, Tarantino drew upon all of the skills he’d acquired in his brief, but energetic work life.
“The idea was to let a computer program decide how best to manufacture parts – and to do it more precisely, economically and quickly,” he says. The software works in part by “extracting a design’s geometry, as well as the notes and labels, from a computer-assisted design (CAD) program without human intervention.”
And that’s where his now three-decades long relationship with NJIT began.
While attending night classes in pursuit of a degree in mechanical engineering technology, Tarantino jumped at the chance to join the university’s recently founded small business incubator, now known as VentureLink. As one of the first five tenants in the building, he had access to university resources ranging from testing instruments and machinery, to student interns, to office basics.
“When starting a business part time, just having a fax machine and a receptionist answering the phone made us look like a ‘real’ company,” he recalls. He also acquired his first customer, a computer manufacturing company that was grappling with a faulty part, through a lead from a professor.
“We found out that during a 20-foot drop test, the battery pack enclosure was cracking. I went back to NJIT to look for equipment to test the hardness of the metal and was given full access to the metrology lab. I found a Shore scleroscope (a device that measures rebound hardness) that I didn’t have, and probably couldn’t afford,” he recounts. “The equipment allowed us to verify our suspicions that the material was too hard and brittle and the inside corner radii were too small. I offered a proposal to build test prototypes in different material tempers and with larger radii. The company approved the proposal and we started building the prototypes – and they worked. This led to orders for hundreds of battery pack enclosures, and then thousands!”
While launching his company, Tarantino continued to hold down a full-time job. He’d often head over to the incubator at 5 in the evening and work until 3 in the morning, breaking only for his night classes.
Today, his Mountainside, N.J.-based company is a high-technology contract manufacturer that produces parts for the medical device, pharmaceutical, aerospace, energy, optics, instrumentation, semiconductor, packaging and tooling industries. The engineering staff uses solids modeling software to design tools and develop programs necessary to produce customer parts, while the manufacturing staff applies lean manufacturing techniques to reduce waste and streamline processes.
Some of his first employees, who are still with the company, joined NJPT with paid internships while they were students at NJIT.
“Not many people know how much NJIT has nurtured and helped develop the business community over the years,” said Tarantino, speaking at Newark College of Engineering’s annual Salute to Engineering Excellence, where he received the NCE Outstanding Industry Partnership Award.
“I think of NJIT much like my family that is always there in my life, helping us to get started in the early days, teaching us things that are necessary to succeed, doing things together, collaborating and growing together. And unconditionally, NJIT has been there, ready to help, still offering assistance and truly caring about our successes.”
That relationship continues today, both on campus – where Tarantino serves as a member of the NJIT Industrial Advisory Board for the Department of Engineering Technology – and off. NJPT works with NJIT students, sponsoring original research and advising on engineering school projects, such as an automated plastic extrusion tooling design program and a parametric design database for NJPT’s engineering department.
Tarantino continues to recruit engineers and technicians, including on the NJIT campus, through a program whereby NJPT pays school tuition through a 100 percent reimbursement program.
“This hiring practice, coupled with our training program, is our secret sauce for how we find and attract very smart and engaged talent to learn to run and program our high-tech equipment.”