CompanyWeek's second annual Colorado Manufacturing Awards ceremony is coming up on April 13 at Denver's ART hotel. We spoke with this year's finalists about the innovations that have impacted their operations the most, and the answers were illuminating. In the weeks leading up to the event, look for new insights from all of the finalists here.
Watson Mills & Design
Todd Palmer, owner
"This year I'm investing a lot of effort and energy into our systems and processes," explains Palmer. Watson Mills & Design -- which specializes in the design, fabrication, and installation of custom woodworking -- is introducing an ERP system that will streamline "everything from time collection to job costs to scheduling," says Palmer. "This system will give us better control over all of the things that drive the front-end of the business."
Raw Urth Designs
Amy Sasick, president
Forget big box imports. "There is a movement back toward handcrafted and local -- both in the industry and the broader community," says Sasick. That's good news for Raw Urth, a company built on manufacturing handcrafted architectural elements right here in Colorado. "It's cool that demand is high enough that we could create an entire company specializing solely in old-school craft," Sasick adds.
Gary Heath, managing director
"We manufacture for our clients, and we serve a huge variety of different customers with different technologies," says Heath. As a full-service manufacturer of medical devices, the folks at Evergreen Research are most excited about the rapid growth witnessed in the medical device arena right here in Colorado.
Tim Gordon, president
CBDRx manufactures high-quality, high-purity CBD oils extracted with various methods. When it comes to production, Gordon says, "Our analytic laboratories are state-of-the-art, and that sets us apart." And he adds, "We are doing stuff with our final products that nobody else in the industry is doing."
Ron Lowy, chairman and CEO
Polio vaccine is in short supply. "We just signed a large contract with the World Health Organization to provide our device for injecting polio vaccine," explains Lowy. PharmaJet's unique device is "capable of injecting 60 percent less vaccine and getting the same or even better immune response," he adds. That means millions more kids across the globe can be injected with polio vaccine, expanding the vaccine supply substantially.
Marcia Coulson, VP
"Our big innovation is bringing products to hospitals that are PVC-free," says Coulson. WilMarc's devices aren't just good for patients -- they're safer for the environment, too. Hospitals rely on single-use, disposable devices, and many are trying to be greener, Coulson says, noting that WilMarc Medical's devices can be incinerated at the hospital without emitting harmful chemicals.
Jeff Moe, CEO
Pointing to his booming 3D-printer manufacturer's open-source software, Moe says, "We're deploying a new version of our Enterprise Resource Planning system -- and that's what really drives how our whole company runs." Aleph Objects is also expanding its sales team as it relocates sales, marketing, and customer support services to a new facility. "Our current 17,000-square-foot building in Loveland will remain for manufacturing, production, and research and development," adds Moe.
Mike Shand, CEO
Bron Tapes developed the best double-sided tape on the planet 40 years ago, according to Shand. And the company has been at the forefront of innovation ever since. "In our aerospace division -- Bron Aerotech -- we have a patent-pending innovation that will change the way people manufacture metal body aircraft around the world," Shand says, referring to the Bron Template, which has applications outside of commercial and military aeronautics.
Dave Jungkind, director of business development
The folks at SEAKR Engineering are currently excited about technological advancements in RF digital processing for communication satellites. "By enabling on-board the satellite RF digital processing, the satellite providers who own and operate fleets of geostationary communication satellites will be able increase bandwidth by over 200 to 500 percent," says Jungkind. This inflection point of increased capacity is anticipated to help grow the satellite communication market. "For Colorado, this translates into more jobs and more opportunities for the aerospace market," Jungkind adds.
Integrated Beverage Group
Ari Walker, CEO
At its Denver-based analytical chemistry lab, Ellipse Analytics, Integrated Beverage Group has created "the world's largest database of molecular level information regarding alcohol beverages in general, and wine in particular," says Walker. Integrated Beverage Group uses that information to replicate popular wines. "We can then sell those wines to consumers at a discount of as much as 50 percent," Walker adds. "That technology is called Replica."
Bill Stoufer, COO
In summer 2016, the flour giant opened the doors to the Ardent Mills Innovation Center (AMIC) at its Denver headquarters. "AMIC is a one-of-a-kind space that brings to life our brand essence of nourishing what's next," says Stoufer. With its product development lab and culinary center, Ardent Mills works with customers on new product ideation. "I get excited every time we invite a customer to the AMIC because we demonstrate the great work our mills perform and AMIC allows us to truly innovate with different grains, flavors, and textures alongside our partners."
Paul Lichty, founder and CEO
The global leader in precision nano-coating technology for the manufacture of lithium-ion battery components is "enabling a new generation of advanced materials by applying manufacturing principles at the nano scale," says Lichty. "I am the most excited about the products that we will create that we can't even fathom right now."
Erik Tribelhorn, CEO
For decades, Agri-Inject has been developing and manufacturing injection systems for applying agricultural chemicals and fertilizer through irrigation systems. "Innovation is at our company's heart," says Tribelhorn. "We practically invented chemigation, and we've been re-inventing it ever since." From a product perspective, he and his colleagues are excited about their new line of control technology, dubbed reflex. "This innovation," Tribelhorn adds, "allows our systems to be controlled by water flow, pH, irrigation system position, fertilizer, and chemical prescriptions -- and more."
Garlock Pipeline Technologies
Mike Faulkner, VP and GM
"Our mission is sealing, connecting, and protecting the world's pipelines," explains Faulkner. With that in mind, Garlock Pipeline Technologies is rolling out "a next-generation product that is going to significantly improve on our already best-in-class offerings," says Faulkner, adding that this innovation will help his company deliver on its promise to protect people and the environment.
Alan Hahn, CEO
Creative problem solving is nothing new at this tech-based food company. Hahn and his cohortsat MycoTechnology are pioneering technology that will "reduce sugar naturally in food by 50 percent or greater -- without compromising on taste," says Hahn. Next up is another ingenious product: "a form of non-animal protein made from shiitake mushrooms," Hahn says. "Now we have a sustainable way to produce protein for the world."
Coda Coffee Co.
Tim Thwaites, co-owner
Co-owners Tim and Tommy Thwaites are traveling to Rwanda this summer to work on a project surrounding anaerobic biodigestion. "We're going to take coffee pulp – which is normally a waste product on coffee farms -- and turn it into green energy," explains Tim. Coda Coffee is funding an anaerobic biodigestion test run. "If that works, hopefully we'll get the funding for a large-scale biodigester," he adds.
Alex Cioth, founder and CEO
At Claremont Foods, innovation comes in the form of a company-wide, client-centered, and transparent business model. "Our clients always understand how their products are being made and what each component costs," says Cioth. "This is not typical in the contract food manufacturing industry." The approach "lowers transaction costs for both parties, and allows us to work in a more collaborative way with our clients."
Butch Boucher, president
MOOTS Cycles has been part of the Colorado manufacturing group for over 30 years. "We produce titanium bike frames primarily," says Butch Boucher. Thanks to innovation in anodizing, Boucher says, "We just introduced new finish options to our products. Another thing that we've rolled into production is titanium 3D printing."
Wagner Custom Skis
Pete Wagner, CEO
"Our main competition is large, multinational ski companies," says Wagner. An innovative design development process is what puts Wagner Custom Skis at the forefront. "It takes us about two weeks to go from an initial product concept into having a well executed final product," Wagner says, pointing out that the same process can take other companies up to two years. "We are much more agile and nimble in our industry, and that's where our focus and differentiation lies," he adds.
David Dragoo, president
David Dragoo and his cohorts at Ross Reels are excited about their new one-touch lights-out manufacturing system. "Traditionally, our parts were made in multiple steps with different operations and setups. We've developed processes that allow us to make parts with one setup, in one machine," Dragoo says. Production line innovation "dramatically reduces lead time, and churns out precision parts with fewer mistakes," he notes. "What used to take us three weeks now takes three days."
Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle Co.
Donn Schaible, president
"We've taken the technology of the fishhook to a whole new level," says Schaible, pointing to Eagle Claw's new line of Trokar fishhooks, which brag superior sharpness, strength, and finish. "If you look at the point on this fishhook, it's a three-sided, knife-edged point," says Schaible. "It takes about half of the pressure to penetrate the fish than the nearest competitor's hook."
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
Chad Yakobson, owner and founder
Yakobson's entire brewery was founded on innovation. Historically, brewers have relied on mixed cultures of yeast. "We have taken a yeast -- Brettanomyces -- that wasn't researched at all, and we've used it in so many different ways," says Yakobson. "Almost nine years later, we are still making new discoveries about Brettanomyces yeast and using them in what I find to be very innovative ways, especially within the brewing industry." Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project continues to "rewrite the science of brewing," as Yakobson puts it, by continuing to innovate with new yeasts and new processes.
WeldWerks Brewing Company
Neil Fisher, co-owner and co-founder
"We're working on a lot of new styles that don't have a whole lot of history, information, and data available," says Fisher. Juicy Bits is the hazy IPA that is driving a lot of the growth at WeldWerks, and it's a beer that "flies in the face of traditional brewing," as Fisher puts it. "We introduced it about a year ago, and it has quickly become our fastest selling beer," Fisher says. "We know it's good, and we know people like it -- and we want to bring more merit to the style by understanding it even better."
Jared Jones, COO
"Our new canning system is going to change the entire scheme of craft canning," says Jones. Developed on-site, Codi's system is unique because it's the first to scale down technology that larger companies have been using for decades. "The designs incorporated into the machine provide the consistency of canning quality only usually available to large can makers and fillers," he explains.
Erica Easter, VP
"We are in the process of doing a company-wide Lean implementation," says Easter. As many clients come to Easter-Owens because of its quick turnaround time, she says eliminating waste throughout the company is exciting because "it will create unbelievable efficiencies that allow us to push more product through, ultimately giving us the tools to pursue other innovative projects."
Diversified Machine Systems
Doug Rhoda, CEO
"A lot of innovation happens to address unique customer issues," says Rhoda. DMS continues to innovate its CNC machines and routers as it crafts custom solutions for clients. Lately, though, Rhoda is proud of the unprecedented strides being made in the area of workforce development. "We are embarking on that journey through relationships with University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Colorado State University, and Pikes Peak Community College," he says.
Tag Team Manufacturing
Terry Taggart, CEO
"Our entire industry is innovation-oriented because it is all about producing components faster and better -- and that requires faster equipment, better-made tools, and automation to supplement manpower," says Taggart. For years, larger manufacturers have been automating huge portions of their process with robotics, but companies like Tag Team are now able to leverage advancements in automation. "Small businesses like mine had not been able to afford that kind of technology," Taggart says. "But now we can because costs are being driven down, making it possible for the little guys like me to automate. Even if it's just a beta test, there's something there for us to get excited about and begin implementation on."