By Bill Radford III | Oct 15, 2018
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Automation equipment and custom solutions
Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Automation equipment and custom solutions
Thirty years after Bulgarian immigrant Ilia Petkov launched IP Automation in his garage, the engineering and manufacturing firm is "growing big time," says Banchev.
It's also a time of change for the company. Banchev, who is also from Bulgaria, became president of the company this year; previously he was managing director, overseeing the manufacturing process and day-to-day operations, and before that he was financial controller. Petkov has retired, though he still stops by to check on "his baby," Banchev says. Another change: IPA is splitting its railroad products business into a separate branded division, IP Railworks.
It's essential, Banchev says, to keep evolving, to keep innovating. "The minute you stop innovating, the minute you start dying. Thanks to the engineers that we have here in house, thanks to all the hard work they do, we keep innovating on a daily basis. We innovate our processes, we innovate the technologies we have."
Making the necessary investments is also key, Banchev says. "We never stop spending money for new machines. "Where ideas become reality" is IPA's slogan. The company designs and custom manufactures high performance machines to solve problems for a variety of industries. For the railroad industry, for example, it invented machines to install the clips that hold the rails to the ties. For Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, it created a machine for cutting nuclear waste material.
"Some folks come to us with full-fledged drawings, RFQs that are 30 pages long," says Michael Ward, director of business development, sales, and marketing. "Some of the more interesting and more fun projects have been the ones that are conceived on cocktail napkins and are brought in after hours for brainstorming sessions. In either case, both opportunities yield a product that the customer needs to enhance their own operation, to improve their own bottom line."
IPA also does a substantial amount of contract manufacturing. ConcealFab, a rapidly growing Colorado Springs company. is one of IPA's biggest customers. Longtime customers include UTC Aerospace (formerly BF Goodrich) and Trane, both in Pueblo; a contract with Goodrich helped Petkov get his business off the ground 30 years ago. "We deliver every day down to Pueblo," Banchev says.
The company works with a wide variety of materials, from stainless steel to titanium to plastics and even textiles -- "anything," Banchev says. Annual revenue is just under $10 million.
Challenges: "One of the challenges we’re facing is because we’re growing very fast in workforce, it’s very hard, especially in today’s market, to find good, knowledgeable people," Banchev says. It's particularly tough, he says, to find manual machinists.
Opportunities: IPA is moving into new areas and Banchev sees aerospace and defense as especially ripe territory. "We are looking to target those companies that are in need of advanced and highly automated processes," Ward says.
Overseas markets offer another opportunity. "We ship to Mexico, New Zealand, Brazil, France, England, Germany, you name it," Banchev says. IPA was an exhibitor this spring at Hannover Messe, a giant trade show in Germany with more than 200,000 attendees; IP Automation was one of four companies chosen to represent Colorado.
Needs: Banchev again points to people. Interns from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College are one way to grow the workforce. "We try to give a chance to young people," he says.
Some of IPA's employees have been with the company since almost the start. With new workers typically being younger and less experienced, a focus is put on staff development, Ward says. "Lecture-type dissemination typically doesn’t work," he says, so the emphasis is on "more of a job shadowing approach," with plenty of hands-on training. "By not just watching, but by doing, they’re absorbing a tremendous amount of information."