By Eric Peterson | May 24, 2020
CNC machining services
Before co-founding IN-X, Cross and Gibbs worked together at Innovative Machining in Wheat Ridge before the operation shuttered in 2005. "Seth was the head programmer and I was the general manager," says Gibbs. "The owner of that company decided to close the doors."
They started the IN-X shop with two CNC mills and made their first hire about three months later. "We were working really long hours," says Gibbs.
IN-X steadily grew its crew, moving into a 5,000-square-foot space as it gained traction, then more than doubled that setting up shop in the current 12,000-square-foot building in 2016. "It just kept evolving with our customer base," says Gibbs. "The majority of our customers, we've had them since almost day one. When the economy's good, we stay pretty busy."
Sales grew as the focus on precision CNC machining of components for medical device, automotive, and instrument industries has remained the same "We do component parts that they assemble into the final product," says Cross. Locally, BAND-IT IDEX is a longtime top customer. "Their products are going all over the world," says Gibbs.
By working with customers on manufacturable parts, IN-X sees growth largely through legacy accounts. Gibbs points to a project for a medical device manufacturer as an example. "We worked with the mechanical engineer on some component parts that went into a camera that's used in the pharmaceutical field now," he says. "Here in the last two years, their usage ramped up. So we took that particular project from prototype to production, and now they can't keep enough of them on the shelf."
Cross points to a particularly complex job manufacturing a part "with multiple angles on it and multiple hole locations on it," and notably tight tolerances. "We just figured out a way we could hold it in place and get everything done," he says. "We're not really engineers, but we do know certain things that could be beneficial to the customer."
Gibbs says that the IN-X emphasis is straightforward: "Quality products delivered on time." He adds, "Our forte is CNC milling and turning. We do some small assembly type of stuff. We work really diligently with our customers on prototypes that end up going into production runs."
Order volumes range from "fives and tens to 500 or 1,000," says Gibbs. "It just depends on what the customer's needs are for the end product."
"Last year was our best year ever," says Gibbs. "We probably had in 2019 a 20 percent increase in orders. A lot of that was the stuff we had worked on throughout the years, helping these customers get these products into production, and a lot of them really started booming for our customers last year.
While IN-X had a backlog of orders going into spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic "slammed the door on a lot of that for right now," he continues. "This year might be the first year we don't grow, depending on the last two quarters."
Gibbs calls his employees the company's main asset. "When I sell the company, I'm selling the guys out on the floor."
Challenges: COVID-19 has made for a serious adjustment. IN-X kept all employees on staff with some reductions in hours and alternating weekly furloughs with the help of a Paycheck Protection Program loan. "Our largest customer came to a screeching halt," says Gibbs. "Nobody really knows what the future looks like. . . . Forecasting right now is really difficult."
Marketing is another challenge. "It's hard for us to do outside sales," says Gibbs. "We're hands-on most days, so it's hard for us to do outside sales. It would be nice to have a better avenue, a better marketing stream to get our name out there. The customers that we do have, they love us. They want to bring their work here. That's something I'm always hearing . . . but it's time for that base to grow."
Opportunities: IN-X was working to update its ISO 9001 certification from 2008 to 2015 standards when the pandemic struck, and Gibbs says he still sees it as a vehicle to grow the company's customer base. "I think it will open a lot of doors for us," he notes.
Aerospace is the prime target, as are diverse industries across the West. "Most of our customers are local," says Gibbs. "There should be a good opportunity to grow outside of Colorado if we can get our name out there."
Needs: Experienced machinists. "The employee pool out there is really slim," says Cross. "It's tough to find good quality people. It's tough to retain them, too. It's like free agency. They're always looking around."