By Eric Peterson | Jul 31, 2017
Industry: Industrial & Contract
Products: Manufacturing automation systems
Before getting into manufacturing automation, LeFevre worked in aerospace and airbag engineering, the latter for B-10 Systems in Arvada. After B-10 shuttered in the mid-2000s, LeFevre launched Colorado Automation & Design (CAD) as an engineering firm, but soon expanded into manufacturing. "We started building machines in 2008," he says.
The company shared space with a machine shop in Arvada until contracts for some larger automation systems with 20 to 30 high-speed robots necessitated a larger facility in 2014, when it moved into a 6,500-square-foot space in Aurora. CAD has since moved into a 15,500-square-foot space in the same development.
The company's market spans numerous industries, with products ranging from laser-welding robotics to sheet metal handling systems. "We do some medical, we do some airbag manufacturers, material-handling systems, and some packaging lines," says LeFevre. The client list includes multinational manufacturers like Nestlé and Autoliv, as the company has machines in more than 20 states.
"We just bring a long-term commitment to building quality equipment," LeFevre says of CAD's recipe for success. "We stick with it. Even if a project has challenges that need to be overcome, we won't give up. We don't quit."
CAD also supplies automation robotics a pair of OEMs in pharmaceutical packaging and conveyance systems, as well as incubating a brewing equipment startup. The latter, Twin Monkeys Beverage Systems, has since grown from two employees -- LeFevre and co-founder Josh Van Riper -- and is on the cusp of moving into its own space. "CAD helped get them up and running," says LeFevre.
Since 2011, CAD has partnered with Concept Systems for automation controls. CAD also rents space to the Oregon-based company for its Colorado location with seven employees. "We do the brawn and they do the brains," says Lefevre.
Working with Concept allows LeFevre and company to focus exclusively on automation -- and innovation. "We were issued a patent on some packaging technology," he says. "It saved the customer 90 percent of their labor cost."
LeFevre says that many projects end up with a sub-six-month payback. With that kind of ROI, he adds, "We know we're doing something right."
CAD's broad market acts as a catalyst for innovation. "We cross-pollinate between industries," says LeFevre. "We don't look at a problem and say, 'Your industry does it this way.'" He says the company once leveraged its experience in pharma for a project for a client in consumer packaging.
The staff includes two mechanical engineers, two administrative employees, and 10 technicians. CAD is in the process of upgrading its in-house machining capabilities with a pair of new CNC machines.
Custom projects account for a little more than half of CAD's sales, with OEM work accounting for the remainder. "It's been a very steady growth curve," says LeFevre. The staff has increased by five employees since 2014 as revenues grew to about $5 million.
Challenges: "Managing cash flow and project management," says LeFevre. "Finding the right vendors."
He says he strives to keep the business cash-positive through terms of the contracts, but because of the multiple target markets, project management requires a multidisciplinarian. "The project manager has to wear a lot of hats. It can't just be someone focused on one industry."
Opportunities: "We're pushing towards more mail-order and fulfillment-center subsystems," says LeFevre.
LeFevre wants to follow up Twin Monkeys by incubating another specialized startup. "My goal with the company when I started it was three paths: OEM work, custom work, and a product line. With Twin Monkeys, we're growing so fast we've had to break it off."
Needs: "We're expecting a multimillion-dollar order in the next couple months," says LeFevre. "That means we'll need to bring on new people." He expects to make five to eight hires by the end of 2017.
And, even with Twin Monkeys soon opening its own facility, CAD needs more space. LeFevre targets "a two-year horizon" for the current facility. "Our 15,000 [square feet] might have to be closer to 25 or 30 [thousand]."