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From Termination to Innovation: Curtis & Rick’s Ecotech Machine Tool Story

  • Brand Name: The Robbi Group

By Jason Scott Montoya

For over 15 years, Jason has been working with Ecotech on their website and marketing campaigns.

In this article, he shares tidbits from his conversation with them about the evolution of the business, the industry, and the change in ownership of Ecotech Machine Tool.

A year into the pandemic and the writing on the wall for Curtis Gibbs — Now President and Richard “Rick” Bembas — Now Vice President was an inevitable ending for the company they’d been with for decades.

Curtis joined Ecotech Machinery in 1989, five years after it was created. Curtis has been in the grinding world since he graduated high school, falling in love with the trade. He’s a machinist at heart.

In 2006, Curtis hired Rick to join this Chinese-based company that sold and delivered manual cylindrical grinders to the American market. After his time in the Navy, Rick landed a machine shop job learning the ins and outs of grinder installations, CNC precision machining, high-production manufacturing, and industrial machine troubleshooting.

These two machinists were the primary hands and faces of Ecotech Machinery to their clients throughout the last four decades. In 2021, that journey would come to an end.

In the wake of the Trump administration, the Chinese owners found it too difficult to get Visas for their employees, and the tariffs were slowing down new business. The difficulties of business became too much on the American side, especially with rising tensions between Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese-produced machines.

ecotech machine tool machines

After three years of waffling about keeping the company open or shutting it down, the pandemic culture clash finally put the final nail in the coffin for the company and Rick and Curtis received their, metaphorically speaking, termination papers. But the end of this company was also a brand new opportunity. Now Curtis and Rick started thinking ahead and what they wanted to do vocationally. After asking what they want to be when they grow up, the two answered in Jest.

Curtis Gibbs

“I want to be a fireman.”

Quipped Curtis Gibbs.

Richard Bembas

“I want to be president [of America].”

Rick Bembas chimed in.

With a serious shift in tone, Rick continued.

Richard Bembas

“It just popped into our brain that hey, you know what, we're the ones that have been doing this machine work, basically running the company for the past several decades, why not just continue the process and make it official?”

Curtis expanded.

Curtis Gibbs

“We were still getting orders while the Chinese owners were pulling out of the business. So we leaned into the entrepreneurial opportunity.”

Ecotech Machine Tool, the new company name, didn’t have any ill will towards the Chinese owners, or their country of origin, but they did see an opportunity to keep the business going. Starting over, Rick and Curtis would negotiate with the Chinese owners to take care of the customers who already received their machines before the shutdown. The new duo of American founders would retain the brand, slightly modified, going forward. The old number is still answered happily by Curtis or Rick.

Curtis has been working with Chinese machines for years. And while it's tough to beat the price, they were resistant to change. It requires a lot of hoop-jumping to adapt a Chinese machine to a particular customer’s needs. They lack the innovative spirit of the West and are making the same machines they did decades ago. Often, they skimp on the type of small details that make a difference with precision and maintenance. That’s when Ecotech decided to explore the European manufacturing space, to find industrial machines that excel on the quality and innovation front.

robbi grinding machines logo

In the concluding years of the former company, Rick and Curtis had been growing a relationship with the Italian-based cylindrical grinder manufacturing company Robbi. The Robbi Group is a family-owned, technologically innovative, quality manufacturer with a strong focus on customer support. Ecotech is an exclusive broker. Robbi’s products include Cylindrical Grinders (conventional, semi-auto, and CNC), Crankshaft Grinders (for large crankshafts), Roll Grinders, and ID grinding machines. Their advanced technology allows three types of spindles with b-axis rotation. Nothing else on the market beats them. And, Robbi has been around since 1936. 

Partnered with Ecotech Machine Tool, they are now bringing these stellar machines to the American market. With people and companies steering away from Chinese-made machines and seeking more advanced easy-to-use machine products, Robbi, with its long-standing global history, was a perfect choice.

Richard Bembas

“Unfortunately, the quality of the workforce in America has diminished. For companies to produce at the quality and quantity necessary requires machines to be smarter and easier to operate.”

These words from Rick sync up with the type of machines Robbi offers. And Ecotech Machine Tool was able to sell and configure one of these quality machines recently for Pro Tool. This North Carolina machine shop received the Robbi Omicron cylindrical grinder.

Rick shared their feedback...

Richard Bembas

“They are loving the whole process and the machine. Their brand-new machine means they no longer have to farm out their cylindrical grinding. They’ll now make their own precision parts and can even offer more grinding services as they expand their business. The power they’ve been given through this industrial machine is the control over the work they do.”

While Ecotech still continues to offer their SMTW manual cylindrical grinders, the inclusion of Robbi, Alpa (surface grinders), Aurora Seiki (turning and milling centers), and Mitsui (precision surface grinders) allow for a portfolio of options for its customers that have different production values and requirements for their projects. While Ecotech has Robbi machines in their Atlanta-based showroom (more on that in a moment) Aurora Seiki has a showroom located near Louisville Kentucky. Curtis had a fun suggestion for prospective customers.

Curtis Gibbs

“If we need to show a customer one of these Aurora Seiki turning or milling centers, we can stop by the Kentucky Derby and enjoy a few Mint Julep as we talk machines”

Speaking of showrooms, the latest expansion of the business now houses four industrial Robbi grinding machines (cylindrical, CNC, OD, & Universal)) for repeat and prospective customers of Ecotech to see them in action. You can also find shelves of inventoried parts on machines they service. This new showroom is also an opportunity for customers to receive their hands-on training program with the machines directly — for those who already have a foundation grinding skillset. As this fledgling company continues to grow, and its partnership with Robbi expands, expect to see that showroom increase in size.

robbi omicron 600 et7

Whether you need a time study done to demonstrate the value of buying a machine, the parts to keep your machine running smoothly, the service to keep it running precisely, or the machine itself, Ecotech Machine Tool is the go-to broker for the grinding industry. They also have a network of deals, adding more as the business expands, across the USA. 

While it’s been an unexpected journey over the last decades, there are still lessons to be learned as Curtis noted in his desire to grow the business. 

Curtis Gibbs

“With two founders there were challenges transitioning the business and now running the company at the level of excellence to which we’re committed. We always need a little bit more than what we have.”

While Ecotech Machine Tool kept the business name similar, they’re aiming to take it to levels it couldn’t reach before, particularly as they add employees and build out their network of country-wide contractors.

As founders, they have complementary sets of skills and personalities each filling different business and customer roles that suit their background and decades of working together. With their unique experience in the industry, strong partners like Robbi, in the industrial machine manufacturing world, and a great team of people, they’ll continue to grind away with precision as they grow Ecotech Machine Tool.

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Dealers

  • Brand Name: The Robbi Group
For Potential Dealers

Grinding & Turning Machine Dealer Reseller Opportunity

Are you seeking to expand your existing business or customer base? Are you qualified to start or expand a machine tool business?


Ecotech Machinery is currently receiving applications from qualified people or businesses that wish to expand in, or become involved with, the machine tool industry. There exists a tremendous opportunity in the U.S.A. and the world for businesses that specialize in various aspects of the machine tool industry. Those that establish themselves now will be in a great position to ride the wave of new growth in this industry.

Our dealer program is tailored to fit any size of business. Whether you are adding this as a new division of an existing company, gradually easing into a full-time career-related to machine tools, or looking for a new career opportunity, we can help guide and support you. Many local agencies may offer start-up financing and guidance for new entrepreneurs. Agencies exist to offer workforce retraining especially due to closures of a major employer in your area.

We want to clarify that managing a machine tool dealership is not intended to be a hobby or back burner endeavor. New dealers are expected to have a specific basic business plan and the skills to carry it out successfully.

Here are some of the dealer benefits:

  • Inventory: We maintain a large inventory in our warehouse in Atlanta, GA. We also have shipping agreements with companies across the nation.
  • Accurate and reliable product delivery: Our goal is 100% accuracy on orders and delivery schedules. Our electronic services automatically inform you of the status of your shipment.
  • Non-competition commitment: We do not compete against our dealers! We will work with you to ensure a successful contract award, no matter how large the project.
  • Competitive pricing: We regularly and carefully review our pricing to ensure it is competitive.
  • Quality products: Our product lines have been carefully selected and evaluated according to strict performance criteria. We carry only top-quality products that live up to their claims.
  • System design and engineering services: Our highly skilled staff is here to help you determine the best solutions for your customers.
  • Website Integration: Dealers who wish to have a strong web presence can link into our product database for product information.
  • Tradeshows: Our professionally designed tradeshow booth is available to dealers. Depending on the location and scope of the show, we may be able to assist with staffing and/or manufacturer representation. We can help you with planning, literature and information, sales tools, and lots of tradeshow tips and tricks.
  • Marketing assistance: We can help you refine and polish your marketing plan. Our graphic design team can create eye-catching print ads, signs, banners, websites, etc.

If you are qualified and are interested in pursuing a dealership, please submit the online form here or belowPlease note Dealer applications are being accepted at this time.

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Contact

  • Brand Name: The Robbi Group

Contact Us

716 Morning Glory Way NE Atlanta, Georgia 30324

We're here to serve and answer your industrial machine questions.

Fill out the form on this page and let's talk about what you need.

Call Us at 770-279-2001

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Parts

  • Brand Name: The Robbi Group

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Services

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Repair &
Support
Services

Machine Maintenance Service

We want to ensure you get the most life out of your grinders, lathes, and other industrial machines. Whether it is preventative maintenance, service calls, or remote support, the Ecotech Machine Tool team is here to serve you and your machine maintenance needs.

Our Machine Support Services

  • Preventative Maintenance Program

    Semi-Annual or Annual

    Proactively protect your machine investment with an annual or semi-annual inspection. Upon review, we'll advise and address any issues that will improve the machine's operations and extend its life. Keep your industrial machines running and we'll supply the parts.

  • Machine Testing & Tune-Up

    Keep Your Machine In Tip Top Shape

    Every machine with numerous moving parts requires ongoing maintenance to keep it running well and extend its lifetime. As part of our service offering, we'll check and address key elements of your machines. This includes checking the level, seals, bearings, oils, hydraulics, spindle oil levels, possible leaks, filters, easily worn parts, and loose bolts. We'll also check your finished machine parts for accuracy. While there is an extra fee for releasing a stuck table, it's not worth messing with thousands of pounds of a machine to fix it yourself.

  • Machine Re-Leveling

    No More Crooked Machines

    Industrial machines used over long periods of time with intense activity will often get unleveled. Strong enough earthquakes can also break a machine's equilibrium. With an unlevel machine, you can expect finished parts to incorrectly come out and flawed barreling and taper effects on your pieces. In bad cases, the surface can chatter even with anchor bolts in place.

    But, we'll relevel your machine to get you back on the high production track. Our technical support team using a professional machinist level, wedges, specialized adjusters, and other unique tools ensure your machine's front-to-back and right-to-left levels are right. 

  • Support Service

    On-site and Remote

    Tap into our service support team and we'll work with you to resolve your machine problems remotely by phone or video conferencing. Especially for older machines, we can work with you via video to review and resolve situations.

    If it's more serious or hazardous, we can rule out solving it remotely and we'll send a technician to your location to resolve with parts in hand (when we know what might be wrong).

Additional Industrial Machine Services

Delivering The Service You Need When It Matters Most
  • Tailstock & alignment services
  • Resolving dings and deep scrapes in table surfaces
  • Matching surfaces
  • Line pressure & spindles (including hydro-static spindles)
  • Tightening & lubricating moving machine components
  • Remote & on-site training
  • Release stuck tables

With a strong and excellent team of mechanical, programming, and electrical technicians, our thoroughly trained specialists are here to serve your installation and service needs. Translators are even available if needed.

Contact Ecotech Machine Tool

Machine Service Available

Email us using the following form or give us a call at 770-279-2001.

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