By Eric Peterson | Mar 22, 2021
Contract CNC machining services
At age 23 in 2018, Preece took his CNC hobby to the next level when he started his namesake machine shop.
The company started with a few jobs making parts for car washes and epoxy mixers before an intriguing opportunity emerged. "We got kind of a lucky break," says Preece. "We got one customer no one else would really help."
The project? A chainless bike prototype from Denmark-based CeramicSpeed, which has a testing lab in Boulder. "We did all of those parts, and apparently no one else wanted to touch it," says Preece. "This was totally a gamble. I had no idea if we were going to be able to make it work."
But it worked. "We took off from there," says Preece. "That opened up the door."
Preece has since invested in two new CNC machines and expanded the shop from 1,200 square feet to 3,000 square feet (with structural and electrical upgrades and a CMM-enabled inspection lab), as the company took the same ethos to the broader market. "We were able to buy new machines, and just sold all of the old machines," says Preece. "Our quality has just skyrocketed."
Customer diversification has followed, he adds. "Since then, we've built similar relationships with a medical prototyping company and a defense company. It's the same kind of thing, where they're willing to give us really complicated parts that a lot of other people aren't willing to try. We're totally willing to screw up on it if they're willing to let us try it."
Projects have ranged from optomechanical parts to components for DNA analysis equipment. "What has been huge: Customers are willing to let us try something," says Preece. "I love learning, my guys love learning, so we're totally stoked about these opportunities."
Preece Machine & Assembly has since won jobs from customers in the medical and defense industries with a focus on rapid prototyping and low-volume production. "We definitely like taking on the harder jobs," says Preece. "All we're doing right now is milling, because we're really, really good at milling."
The end result has been rapid growth: 300 percent in 2019, followed by 500 percent in 2020. For 2021, Preece is forecasting 150 percent revenue growth for the year. "If we could do about $750,000 this year, that would be ideal," he says.
Challenges: "Definitely marketing," says Preece. "I am not an expert salesman. We've tried a couple things out -- we've tried paying people to do it for us."
Opportunities: Preece sees aerospace as a top target, and his company is currently pursuing ISO 9001 certification to pair with its stamp of approval from ITAR. "We love that kind of work," he says. "I love being able to work with the engineers. It really interests me, so that's what I've been focusing on."
He also sees an opportunity to keep some jobs as they move from prototyping into low-volume production. "It's the same thing," notes Preece. "A lot of our customers are now demanding finished parts, but a quantity of one or two."
Digitization of the supply chain represents another catalyst. With an assist from Paperless Parts, prospective customers can directly upload CAD files and other documents to the company's website. "We can essentially get really large quotes out same-day and smaller quotes almost instantly," says Preece.
Needs: "We want to break into 5-axis as soon as we can," says Preece, noting that a new Doosan vertical mill is coming to the shop soon.