By Eric Peterson | Apr 11, 2022
Cessna interiors and aircraft components; contract composites and aluminum manufacturing
Cole and his father and co-founder, Chris Miller, have a passion for flying. "Me and my dad have both been in aviation for a while now," says Cole. "He started flying when he was 16 in small planes, and I did the same."
That shared love of aviation led to manufacturing. The Millers started by making a carbon-fiber interior for their own Cessna. "It was all cracked and no good anymore," says Cole. "It just wasn't holding up."
"We were both interested in composites manufacturing, so we said, 'Let's just make one for ourselves. Let's just do it for fun. Worst-case scenario, we have a cool interior for our plane."
Then they realized they might be onto something and officially launched Aerospace Industries. Collectible planes needed a support network of manufacturers to make parts that were otherwise unavailable. "For the interiors, we're really the only company working with carbon fiber on these kinds of planes," says Cole. "We found a bunch of outdated planes that people are putting crazy amounts of money into restoring them, but people don't support them anymore. Cessna doesn't make parts for them anymore. There's a couple companies making parts for them, but they're pretty much all plastics. So we tried to come out with new support, better-fitting parts, and better-quality parts."
The market immediately reacted positively and got the company rolling. "People started getting super-interested in it, so it turned into a full-on manufacturing company," says Cole. "The first year was spent learning," says Cole. "Once we started getting really proficient with us, we started taking on more contract jobs."
Aerospace Industries, as its name suggests, is focused squarely on aerospace -- and currently working towards AS9100 certification -- but has also taken on work in automotive and other industries and made more than 100 different components for "dozens" of customers. "It's all composites and aluminum," says Cole. "Right now, 85 to 90 percent of it is carbon fiber."
The company's turnkey approach is a differentiator. "We're 100 percent in-house," says Cole, citing capabilities of CNC machining, thermoforming and 3D printing. "We work with our customers on every stage of the process, from design to manufacturing, machining molds, painting. We have 3D-scanning technology, so a lot of the time, we'll scan a prototype of something we're trying to build a part around, and then based on that, we'll do all the design work in-house, we'll machine the molds for the parts in-house, we'll manufacture them in-house, and we've got a professional paint booth so we can do all the finish work in-house. We're pretty much a one-stop shop from idea to finished product."
The strategy is paying off. "We've been doubling every year," says Cole, noting that contract manufacturing has overtaken catalog sales. He forecasts another year of 100 percent revenue growth in 2022 -- "if not more."
Challenges: "Supply chain is obviously an issue," says Cole, noting that the majority of composites raw materials are produced overseas. Aerospace Industries currently imports most of its raw composites from the United Kingdom. "It's been much quicker actually to get it here," he says.
Opportunities: Cole sees opportunities in contract manufacturing and wants to continue to expand the company's capabilities, including metal additive manufacturing. "The composites manufacturing industry has been growing like crazy," he says. "Right now, there's more demand for the manufacturers in this than there are actual manufacturers. There's a lot of demand for it."
He also highlights reshoring: "What we've been seeing a lot of -- with COVID especially -- is companies trying from overseas to the United States. Before, there were a lot of composites being made in Asia. Now, with shipping times and costs, a lot of people have been coming to the United States for that stuff."
Needs: Beyond an autoclave and other equipment, Aerospace Industries needs more space. The company is currently based out of a pair of separate 3,500-square-foot facilities in Broomfield, but Cole says it could use a third space of about the same size to accommodate new equipment.