Salt Lake City, Utah
Landing gear components and machined aerospace parts
Ted Block started Bemsco Inc. in 1967 with $2,000 in borrowed money. "He grew it into what it is today," says Dallas, his grandson.
More than a half-century later, the company has parts on the landing gears of about 80 percent of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in existence. "We specialize in hydraulic assemblies, electromechanical components, things of that nature," says Dallas. "We started with more simple parts and made a name for ourselves doing that. As the years came and went, we started to specialize in really complex, tight-tolerance components. We've made everything from missile casings to landing gears."
The AS9100-certified and ITAR-registered Bemsco manufactures at the roughly 40,000-square-foot facility that it's called home for about 50 years. Helicopter landing gears emerged as a focus area relatively early in the company's existence and now represent nearly half of the output. Customers include Sikorsky (owned by Lockheed Martin), Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other aerospace heavyweights.
"We do the main landing gear for the Black Hawk, we do the tail gear, and we work on several other components for the UH-60 Black Hawk. We've also done several different types of actuating systems for ground support."
"Most landing gears are made of either aluminum forging or steel forging," says Dunaway. "I think the critical thing is machining the forgings for these landing gears, because it's a lot more complex than taking a hog out of aluminum and building a housing or piston assembly or any other parts that go in there. Really the trick part of landing gears is the forgings themselves."
Elaborates Dallas: "Forgings come in and they weigh almost 4,000 pounds, 3,800 pounds, and we whittle them down to 800."
He cites "tribal knowledge" of the machining and other manufacturing processes as a big differentiator for the company. "We're able to emulate what the primes are able to do," he says. "It's not uncommon for us to compete with GE to win awards for landing gears."
Bemsco's capabilities with CNC machining and assemblies translate well to other aircraft components. "We're a small shop but we definitely have manufactured some large quantities," says Dallas. Most of the work is build-to-print, he adds, but the company maintains some inventory of stock products as well. "We like to not put too much money on the shelf and have an open order for most of what we do."
The company's longevity is tied to its deep experience in precision manufacturing, he adds. "Our assembly department is top-notch. Our testing department is top-notch. We have some excellent bending and forming capabilities as well as CNC lathe and turn. We have certified welding available."
Bemsco can handle a wide range of part sizes with its fleet of equipment. "Right now, we have about 20 CNC machines -- about 15 mills and five lathes," says Dunaway. "We also have a vertical honing machine that we can do a part that's roughly eight inches in diameter and 60 inches long, so that adds capabilities within our CNC machines. We also have a five-axis vertical mill, which is roughly 120 inches on the X, 30 on the Y, and 30 on the Z, so it's a very long machine."
Bemsco's customers are almost exclusively in aerospace and defense, but the company handles an occasional job from a client in the medical industry.
Sales topped $16 million in 2021, up from about $10.5 million in 2020. Dunaway describes "a hard backlog of about $8 [million] or $9 million" as of early 2022 and potential big orders in the pipeline.
"The growth's been great the last three years," says Dallas. "We've had profitable years all three years and the growth curve is going up."
Challenges: "Supply chain issues have been hard," says Dallas. "All the lead times in almost every aspect are being pushed out. We like what we're able to control -- the machining aspect -- and we're able to attack things as quickly as we can and have direct control over our machining hours, but receiving materials -- forgings, raw stock metals -- all the lead times are being pushed out, and that's tough."
While he has seen some improvement since 2021, he adds, "It's still a battle. We're trying our best to push our suppliers."
Adds Dunaway: "The other issue is the problems with the 737 Max and the 777 that Boeing's had. . . . The trouble that Boeing has had has really affected a lot of shops. We started with the 737 Max, but luckily we didn't get too far into it before they started having trouble with the airplanes."
Opportunities: While aerospace and defense will remain front and center for Bemsco, Dunaway says the reemergence of trade shows in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will offer the company more exposure.
"For the last two years, that's all been virtual," he explains. "We really lost the personal touch for new opportunities with buyers and business development people."
Needs: Talent and capital. "It has a lot to do with employees," says Dallas. "Then capital is always something that's helpful. We've had various times in our experience where we've run into very large contracts and it was just more than we were able to finance."