By Eric Peterson | Apr 26, 2015
Precision components for Medical and Aerospace companies
Employees: about 60
Steve Hirsh, Mike's older brother, founded Hirsh Precision Products, Inc. (HPPI), but it wasn't long before it was a multi-sibling company -- Mike joined in early 1981.
Mike worked nights and weekends while attending CU Boulder, but Steve wanted him full-time. "He convinced me to take a semester off school," he says. "I haven't been back."
Steve left the company in Mike's hands and later returned to head up engineering. A third Hirsh brother, Kent, is CFO. And there are as many as eight families that have at least two members on the HPPI team.
The company acquired is first CNC machine that same year and scaled up its production. "We saw lots increase from five to 10 to 25," says Mike. Beforehand, HPPI specialized in "ones and twos" for a wide range of industries, but by the mid-1980s narrowed its focus.
"One of the big turns for us was an intentional effort to get into the medical device industry," says Mike of the pivot. "These people are not concerned about saving a nickel." In medical, he adds, reliability and quality supersede cost.
Medical device work represents two-thirds of HPPI's business today, and lots typically are 25 to 500 units. The finished products include surgical tools and parts for centrifuges.
Clients are largely local, including a major Denver-area company that supplies blood-processing equipment to an international market. Notes Mike: "85 to 90 percent of what we sell we physically deliver to customers right here on the Front Range."
"The sweet spot for us is if we can be involved in the design process as early as possible," Mike says. "We might look at a design and say, 'If you move that decimal point over, it moves it over in the price as well. Do you really need that?'"
To facilitate this, HPPI starts each new project with an hour-long interdepartmental "launch meeting," he adds. "We walk through every step and make sure everybody is on the same page. That's been a big boost to our first-time projects."
HPPI now has about 20 CNC mills and lathes in its 24,000-square-foot facility in northeast Boulder, and everything is synchronized via a "paperless shop floor information system” the company developed in-house about 15 years ago.
"We really developed this to repeat our processes next month, next year, and make it the same as last month, last year," he says. "That's a game changer for our industry."
Every step of every manufacturing process is covered and illustrated in detail. Mike describes it as "everything you could want to know, right at your fingertips."
Instead of sorting through a library of binders, workers interact with the system by way of a tablet, smartphone, or computer. "We've got more PCs than people," notes Mike. "Every work center has a PC."
The result is a more efficient operation. On-time delivery has increased from 84 percent in April 2014 to 96 percent in April 2015.
Access to information is key to the improvement. "People on the floor have the ability to have an impact on the outcome," says Mike. "When people have the ability to move the needle -- big difference."
Another notable difference-maker: HPPI's quality assurance internships. "Everybody who comes to work here spends two weeks to two months working with our QA team," says Mike calling QA "the center of our shop and the center of everything we do."
The attention to detail is paying off in more ways than one, he adds. Employees "don't have an adversarial relationship with the QA team. . . . It's been a boon for us."
HPPI's sales jumped by 23 percent in 2014 to nearly $10 million, up from $2.5 million 10 years earlier. "It is the people," says Mike. "There's no magic in it. Customers say, 'I can't believe how well your team communicates with us.’
Mike sums the HPPI strategy up as constantly throwing a lot of ideas at the wall. "Whatever sticks, we keep," he says. "If it doesn't stick, we're going to throw more up there tomorrow."
Challenges: Documentation. Larger companies demand it, but Mike describes HPPI's processes as "living," noting, "If something needs to change, it changes." That level of fluidity can make documentation difficult. "We don't have a traditional shop," he explains. "Customers love what they see when they walk in here, but they don't know how to report it to their higher-ups."
Opportunities: Aerospace. Mike points to a global uptick in plane-building -- 30,000 new planes are set to take off worldwide in the next twenty years. "That's a big opportunity for us."
Additive manufacturing represents another opportunity, he adds, specifically 3D metal printing. "We've dabbled in it, but it's time to jump in."
Needs: "Continual investment in technology," says Mike. "You have to be on the cutting edge." He plans to invest more in automation in the near term to increase the amount of unattended hours on the CNC machines. Currently, two shifts work 10 hours each, and the machines run unattended for about 3.5 hours a day, but Mike wants to implement an employee-friendly schedule and get that unattended number up by two or three hours a day. "We want to be very deliberate in increasing our unattended operation hours," he says, "so our team is working realistic hours."