Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Colorado Manufacturing Awards: Checking in with last year’s winners

Article by Tom Bugnitz February 7, 2017, 09:34 am MST

Last year's first-ever Colorado Manufacturing Awards was an important step in acknowledging the contributions of manufacturing and supply-chain companies to the regional economy. Manufacturer's Edge is pleased to be a co-presenter of the awards.

As we continue receive nominations for the 2017 CMAs (nominate a company here), it’s important we stay connected to past winners, to the alumni who continue to shape regional manufacturing even as we recognize a new crop of finalists and winners.

Food & Beverage: Fresca Foods

The Louisville-based natural foods company is seeing big dividends manufacturing and managing the supply chain for some of the industry's most dynamic brands.

For 2015-16, Fresca Foods "experienced 45 percent revenue growth," says Liz Myslik, chief marketing officer and CEO of Fresca Brands. "We're on track to do that or more again this year." The company now employs 400 people at four facilities in Louisville and a distribution center in Aurora.

The big news for 2017 was the February acquisition of popcorn brand Open Road Snacks, a longtime Fresca client that's now the second brand owned by the company after Sejoyia (formerly Wonderfully Raw), maker of Coco-Roons cookies and other natural snacks.

"They've been a customer and partner for almost seven years," says Myslik. "We've also seen the ready-to-eat popcorn category just explode" -- doubling to $1.5 billion since 2012. "We love big categories where there's lots of room for growth for the category as well as the brands in that category."

To that end, Myslik says Fresca Brands will acquire another in-house brand by spring 2018.

Industrial & Contract: Woodward

With a who's who client list that includes names like Boeing and Caterpillar, the industrial powerhouse remains focused on "breakthroughs in innovation and Lean manufacturing as well as advanced management systems," explains Woodward Communications Business Partner Julie James.

But it's hard to ignore the shiny new Lincoln Campus, the cutting-edge headquarters the company moved into in Fort Collins in 2016. "From an operations and workforce standpoint, the building meets all capacity and productivity goals," touts James. "With flexibility being a guiding principle, it's proving to exceed our expectations."

What's next for Woodward? "Stay tuned!" answers James. "We continue to gear up for the newly won programs in our aerospace segment and are positioning ourselves for future growth in the industrial segment."

Bioscience & Medical: Mountainside Medical

The big news: the acquisition of Mountainside Medical by Wilmington, Massachusetts-based Tecomet in late 2016.

It's part of a broader trend. "The market has changed in the orthopedic surgical instrumentation space," says Kevin McGrath, GM of the contact manufacturer's Boulder facility.

Both medical device companies and the industry's contractor manufacturers are consolidating. "When you customer doubles in size or triples in size, you have to be able to do that as well," says McGrath. "It's harder to be a small shop." Including 105 employees in Boulder, Tecomet now has more than 2,500 employees in all.

But it's largely business as usual in Boulder. Aside from co-founder Peter Neidecker moving on, "There are really no changes, just my title," says former Mountainside VP McGrath. "What has changed is we've brought on new customers at the Boulder location that we did not have access to as a smaller company."

Several new clients have placed orders since the acquisition. "One of our big drivers is in emerging robotics and robotic-assisted surgery," adds McGrath. "There's large growth in that market segment and our technology is positioned very well to help those customers out."

And that dovetails into last year's deal. "That's why Tecomet bought us," he notes. "Tecomet is more into orthopedics. We're more into minimally invasive surgery and robotics."

Built Environment: RK

The Denver-based mechanical engineering and manufacturing giant is coming off a banner year.

RK COO Jon Kinning says the company experienced "extraordinary growth" in 2016 and forecasts another uptick of 20 percent or more in 2017. "We have an incredible backlog of unbilled work that we are fulfilling," he explains. "On top of that, our new business opportunities currently put us far ahead of our early revenue projections for 2017."

Recent highlights for the company include the launch of manufacturing of Clear Comfort pool-cleaning systems, a big investment in automation, and landing contracts for mechanical work for Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Aurora and Salt Lake International Airport.

Kinning says that focusing on prefabrication is helping drive growth across RK's varied business units with customers in multiple sectors, including oil and gas, healthcare, construction, and general manufacturing.

Workforce development is another emphasis. The company's apprenticeship program offers a template for training skilled tradespeople to manufacturers. To this end, Gov. John Hickenlooper recently appointed Kinning to the state's Business Experiential-Learning Commission.

"RK is part of Colorado's commitment to developing our nation's skilled workforce," says Kinning. "We slowly see the market landscape shifting toward valuing these extremely important contributors to our economy."

Electronics & Aerospace: Modular Robotics

After manufacturing its robot-building blocks in Boulder for five years, Modular Robotics took a hard look at its operations and started manufacturing overseas in 2016. "For a while, we've been running parallel facilities -- one in Boulder and one in China," says CEO and Design Director Eric Schweikardt. "We're able to get much better quality and much reduced costs."

Schweikardt says the company made the move for several reasons, chiefly the "agility" to deal with sales spikes during the winter holiday season. "Having capacity to manufacture all year and deliver at the end of the year is prohibitive to us," he says. "We've been fighting the good fight and manufacturing in Boulder for five years, but all of our competitors manufacture in China."

In late 2015, about 100 workers assembled Cubelets in Boulder. That number dipped to 36 in late 2016 and about a dozen as of early 2017. But sales are up, and "more critical for us [are increases] in margin and profitability," adds Schweikardt. "We've been selling a bit more internationally. We are selling more into large school districts -- many $100,000-plus orders."

With parallel computing coming into vogue, there's a broader need for educational tools like Cubelets, which students can program with the newly released Blockly platform. "Cubelets are decentralized and parallel -- lots of different little brains," explains Schweikardt. "They're a great model for many of the things we see in the world."

Energy & Environment: Vestas

After the December 2015 renewal of the wind production tax credit, 2016 was a banner year for Danish wind giant Vestas.

"We had a record-breaking year for order intake, revenue, and service revenue," says Vestas spokesperson Chanté Condit-Pottol. The company's worldwide revenue grew 22 percent in 2016, hitting $10.24 billion.

The U.S. market has been particularly strong. "We had about 20 percent growth in wind-turbine orders," says Condit-Pottol. As all of those orders will be manufactured at the company's U.S. manufacturing facilities in Pueblo, Brighton, and Windsor, she adds, "It's going to be a busy year at the factories in 2017."

With about 3,500 employees in all, the Colorado plants "have been undergoing a lot of growth," she adds. "We invested in the Pueblo factory to increase our storage capacity."

But it's not just Vestas riding a wave, it's the entire wind industry, with a workforce that recently eclipsed 100,000 people. Notes Condit-Pottol: "We are home to the fastest growing job in the U.S.: wind technicians."

Brewing & Beverage: Ska Brewing Company

Co-founder Dave Thibodeau says the first half of 2016 "was crazy" for the Durango-based Ska.

The big move: dropping 12-ounce bottles entirely and moving exclusively to cans for most of its beers. (Ska still bottles a few special releases in 22-ounce bottles.) "I was the last holdout," says Thibodeau. But he was convinced by taking a good long look in the mirror. "Somebody asked me, 'What do you drink?' Every time I leave here, I grab a six-pack of cans."

Losing 3,000 bottled barrels left a hole in sales, which was compounded by Ska leaving North Carolina soon thereafter. "It was kind of a double whammy," says Thibodeau.

By focusing on efficiency, Ska managed a 9 percent increase in revenue as production rose to 34,300 barrels for the year. Now retrenched in 10 states, Ska is set to hit 37,000 barrels in 2017. "We might open one more market in the fall," says Thibodeau.

Amidst the growth, experimentation remains a priority. The brewery has a new pilot system, dubbed the Mod Project. "There are so many ideas flying around," says Thibodeau. "It's going to be constant new products for the next two years."

Case in point: Due out in the spring, Pink Vapor Stew represents Ska's first canned sour beer, featuring apples, beets, carrots, and ginger. Describing a pink-hued blend of sour-mashed and kettle-soured brews, Thibodeau says, "It's crazy beer."

Contract & Industrial: Faustson Tool

After working with Manufacturer's Edge to establish the Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) with a grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development in 2015, Arvada-based Faustson is heading to the Beehive State to launch another such center with the new Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) on the campus of University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

"The big emphasis for Faustson has been on emerging technology of 3D metal printing," says VP Heidi Hostetter. In Utah, the company is partnered with the state and the Department of Defense. "The headline really is: The feds have been watching us and are basically saying, 'These guys have got it figured out.'"

Case in point: ADAPT had a notably busy first full year 2016. "It's been going great," says Hostetter. "We grew the membership by 300 percent. We solved a major, major design issue with Lockheed Martin. It has to do with aluminum vaporization."

While the company's sales were flat in the run-up to last year's election, Hostetter says Faustson is a critical supplier on the F-35 program making the next-generation fighter jet and that work will buoy the 15-employee company for the next five years.

Supply Chain: Colorado Malting Company

President Jason Cody sees a path for continued dynamic growth supplying the state's craft breweries with local malt. His family's barley farm in the San Luis Valley moved into the craft market with Colorado Malting Company in 2009 after growing for Coors for generations.

Specialty malts are outpacing traditional styles. Jason says his brother, Josh Cody, "has created a roasting technique that we own. We're calling it 'Old World Roasting.'" Josh takes his time, roasting the malt at lower temps for six or so hours instead of two. "That's really yielding some magnificent flavors," says Jason. For example, chocolate malt comes out "less bitter, more milk chocolate."

The company has added roasting capacity nearly every year since its launch. That trend continues, as Jason says he expects the operation's capacity will triple to the end of 2018.

​Lifestyle & Consumer: VOORMI

Co-founder and CEO Dan English says the Pagosa Springs-based startup is all about innovation in the staid textiles space.

Debuting in early 2015, VOORMI's proprietary Core Construction "is a big breakthrough," says English. "It's the first overall single-layer performance fabric on the market. We've been able to integrate all sorts of weather protection in a single layer of fabric."

Another recent innovation is High Visibility Wool. "Wool absorbs light," says English. VOORMI's fabric makes it more reflective for hunting vests and other apparel that needs to be seen.

It's paying off: Sales have doubled on an annual basis. "We manage our growth responsibly," says English. "We could certainly grow much faster, but we want to stay within our headlights and not get in front of our skis."

Updates reported and written by CompanyWeek Editor Eric Peterson. Reach him at rambleusa@gmail.com.

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