On the night of April 4, 2019, CompanyWeek is presenting the fourth annual Colorado Manufacturing Awards at the Cable Center at the University of Denver.
Every week leading up to the big event, we are publishing short profiles detailing the finalists in 12 different categories. This edition covers: Aerospace/Electronics Manufacturer of the Year, Outstanding Craft Distiller, Outstanding Outdoor Industry Brand, and Energy Manufacturer of the Year.
Aerospace/Electronics Manufacturer of the Year
By Eric Peterson
President Dan Thoren says the leading turbomachinery component manufacturer started as a consulting engineering firm when it was founded in 1966. "Over time, the founders said, 'Why don't we manufacture this hardware? We know the most about it,'" he says.
Barber-Nichols is perhaps best known for manufacturing turbopumps for aircraft that blew away their predecessors in terms of performance. "If you run them faster, you can make them smaller and more lightweight," says Thoren. "You're orders of magnitude faster, you're orders of magnitude smaller."
Thoren, who joined the company as an engineer in 1991, says Barber-Nichols has since "evolved from a product company to more of a systems integration company." The focus is still squarely on turbomachinery, he notes, but the company now brings in parts from other manufacturers in order to move up the aerospace food chain.
The company has also innovated with materials. "One of the parts we make for rocket engine turbopumps is pretty unique in that we are using three materials on one shaft," says Thoren.
With such customers as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing, manufacturability is front and center. "That really drives cost out of components," says Thoren, noting that the company has been using 3D printing for prototyping since 2017 as it looks to integrate additive manufacturing into its production process.
Revenue jumped from $7 million in 2002 to $40 million in 2018 as the staff increased from about 35 to 125 employees. "The real overarching story with Barber-Nichols is long-term organic growth," says Thoren. "We've basically been growing at 10 percent a year since 2002."
Special Aerospace Services
Boulder / Arvada
CEO Heather Bulk says Special Aerospace Services (SAS) is on a starward trajectory.
"Things have changed so significantly in a manner that has been strategic, but a lot faster and more sophisticated than planned," she notes.
The company bought C&C Manufacturing to complement its engineering services in 2015, rebranding it as the SAS Flight Factory, attaining AS9100 certification. and moving the operation from Englewood to Arvada. "Before you knew it, we were tearing down walls because client demand was so strong," says Bulk.
The company shedded customers outside of aviation and space like the U.S. Mint and ended up with a focused turnkey operation. "We do design, we do prototyping, we do 5-axis machining," she says. "Now we're testing hardware for our clients here in Colorado."
And SAS looks to continue to vertically integrate. "We're looking at outside processes we can pull in for timeliness," says Bulk.
She sees plenty of potential for local manufacturers to fill gaps in the aerospace supply chain for top-tier manufacturers like Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems, Ball Aerospace, and Lockheed Martin. "If you wanted to have really high-quality turbine blades made, people would send them out of state," explains Bulk. "You might design it here, but how do we keep that work and those jobs here?"
SAS's strategy involves a focus on complex components -- including 5-axis-machined turbine blades -- and the response has proven the concept. "It's been fantastic," says Bulk. "The revenues have doubled at the Flight Factory."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/special-aerospace-services
"We're still moving upward and onward," says President Mike Sneddon of his Western Slope manufacturer.
Sneddon bought the company in 2008 and quickly focused on aerospace, moving away from firearms and other markets. Wren still does some work in oil and gas, but aerospace is now 90 percent of the business.
Lately, that involves making components for Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that Lockheed Martin and Airbus are building, but Sneddon can't say much more about his closely guarded clients' projects. Most work plays into Wren's forte as a "one-off specialist for space," he notes.
As 2018 revenues soared by 45 percent, Wren Industries has doubled from five employees to 10 in the last 18 months, and the company continues to hire. "I'm bringing on two more employees," says Sneddon.
He's also doubling down on tech and automation as Wren Industries positions itself for more growth. "We've invested another $500,000 in equipment," he says.
Lean is the name of the game in aerospace manufacturing, and Wren is no exception. Clients "are asking for a Leaner environment," says Sneddon. "We're small enough to react to that. . . . We went through our whole supply chain."
It's all about leading the way for the local aerospace industry. "We've worked really hard to establish a name for aerospace on the Western Slope," says Sneddon. "We're trying to add our name to the party."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/wren-industries
Outstanding Craft Distiller
By Eric Peterson
Founder Michael Myers is thinking big.
The lease on his 7,000-square-foot facility on the south side of Colorado Springs is up in January 2020. He says he wants a new space that's about 30,000 square feet to house production and barrel storage.
"We're looking at different options in Colorado Springs," says Myers. "We're looking for a space four times the size we are in right now. . . . We have a couple places we are looking at. We haven't decided on one yet."
There's a good reason for that. A "pretty steep" growth curve saw sales grow by a factor of 37 in eight years, and Myers is forecasting 24X growth from 2019 to 2024. Production doubled in 2018, and it's on track to double again in 2019, as Distillery 291's distribution map widens to seven states in 2019.
Myers muses on his distillery's galloping growth of Distillery 291, launched in a 300-square-foot space in 2011 before it graduated into its current digs at Bristol Brewing's former address in 2013. "When we moved in, we didn't have any barrels or equipment. Now we're packed to the gills."
While Distillery 291 has won a slew of medals, one award had a notable impact last year, says Myers. "We won World's Best Rye from Whisky Magazine in 2018."
That led to an abrupt spike in demand, and Distillery 291 even ran out of inventory at one point. That's been corrected, but it underscores the need for the planned expansion.
The rye, bourbon, and other 291 whiskeys are finished with toasted staves of aspen Myers sources from a friend's property on Monarch Pass. "There should be some tradition to it and a twist to that tradition," he says.
The aspen began as a charcoal filter for 291 Fresh, an unaged whiskey, and that led Myers to experiment with finishing his whiskeys with staves of the local wood. In 2012, he put some aspen in a Mason jar with some Fresh. "I shook it for two hours and tasted it," he says. "It tasted different -- and it tasted good. It actually mellows the whiskey a little bit."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/distillery-291
Golden Moon Distillery
Stephen Gould has implemented an unusual strategy for a craft distiller. "We've taken more of a tech or pharmaceutical path to business growth," he says. "We've put out a large family of products across the United States and Europe without any sales, without any advertising, without any PR, to see if it would sell."
The plan is working. Golden Moon's "artisan, ultra-premium spirits" have found ready buyers. "We're finding different spirits resonate well in different markets," says Gould. With that data in hand, the plan calls to scale according to demand.
"Our sweet spot is resurrecting old-school manufacturing techniques, and that produces spirits that are more flavorful and more complex," says Gould, pointing to REDUX Absinthe as a prime example.
"Our single malt whiskey and our gin are really our two flagships," he adds. "Those two products are harder to sell than some of the more unique spirits we make, like Amer dit Picon and Génépi. Sometimes, people say, 'I didn't realize you made a whiskey and a gin.'"
A $2.9 million capital raise with Live Oak Bank in 2018 "funded the first phase of a two-phase expansion that we're putting the finishing touches on," says Gould.
That phase involves an expansion from 2,000 square feet to 9,000 and a 25X capacity uptick. "We've taken a light warehouse space and turned it into a world-class alcoholic beverage production facility."
Gould is now casting a wider net with an equity round that will sell 60 tranches at $50,000 apiece; the $3 million total is valued at 20 percent of the company.
That will fund phase two of the expansion: another production upgrade by late 2019 and "the new-and-improved Golden Moon Speakeasy," the distillery's nearby lounge that has won a trophy case of awards as one of metro Denver's top cocktail destinations.
Look for new releases in Golden Moon's Gun Fighter line of curated whiskeys and a rum later in 2019. Of the former, Gould notes that the wildly popular Pappy Van Winkle is a curated brand. "Most people don't realize how much brown spirits are traded between distilleries," he says. "As long as you're honest where it comes from and you're transparent with your customers, that's what matters."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/golden-moon-distillery
Laws Whiskey House
"We're in construction mode," says namesake founder Alan Laws.
The distillery will soon break ground on a two-story tasting room and education center in front of its existing facility on South Acoma Street in Denver.
"The tasting room has been something we've been planning for two years," says Laws. "We want it to match our brand statement."
A key pillar of that statement: "There are no shortcuts." It's even painted on the wall on the production floor.
Laws describes his 25-employee distillery as a "whiskey church" and is apt to wax rhapsodic about the craft. His premise has always been to never release spirits that have aged for less than two years, and most of Laws' whiskeys are bottled at three or four years.
A fierce dedication to these core tenets has led the distillery to continued growth. "We have almost 2,300 barrels aging right now," says Laws. "We still have a net inventory build. Our sales are seeing really fast growth."
There is room for 10,000 barrels in Denver, but Laws is planning to establish rickhouses for barrels on farms in partnership with key grain suppliers Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa and Whiskey Sisters in Burlington.
Production continues to increase, as does capital investment. "We spent about $1 million in a boiler, chiller, a gas upgrade, and an electrical upgrade," says Laws, noting that the moves are laying the groundwork to triple production by late 2019.
The distillery distributes in nine states. After Colorado, Illinois and Texas are top markets and California is the most recent.
But Colorado "is the market we never want to turn our back on," he adds. "Everything we do we try to tie back to a place. It's terroir. It's like grapes, and it's everything we do."
Laws continues, "We're zealots of this. It's what we're selling. It's a flavor profile that comes from the grain. That isn't marketing. It's truth."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/laws-whiskey-house
Outstanding Outdoor Industry Brand
By Eric Peterson
After working with aluminum for about five years to make performance mountain bike frames, Guerrilla Gravity began exploring composites as the materials that could take the manufacturer to the next level.
"We have developed a new way to manufacture carbon bicycle frames," says President Will Montague. "It's a process we developed in-house." Dubbed Revved Carbon Technology, "It combines a new material and a new manufacturing method."
He adds, "We see this as being necessary for U.S. manufacturing to compete globally. We're never going to compete on labor rates, so we need to innovate our manufacturing methods."
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade awarded Guerrilla Gravity a $250,000 Advanced Industries Accelerator grant in 2018 to accelerate R&D on Revved. "It was the first time that grant had been given to an outdoor recreation company," says Montague.
Guerrilla Gravity makes five bike models -- The Smash, Megatrail, Trail Pistol, Shred Dogg, and Pedalhead -- with different features geared towards different riders and terrain. Carbon fiber frames start at $2,195 and complete bikes start at $3,695.
Montague touts a 300 percent more impact-resistant frame for Revved. The new bikes also incorporate the GG Modular Frame Platform, which allows riders to adjust their frames for different terrain or even convert it into a different model.
As the company innovated, it expanded its footprint in central Denver from 1,700 square feet to 5,300 and nearly doubled the employee head count since 2017. "Growth numbers have been 50 percent to 150 percent every year we've been in business," says Montague.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/guerrilla-gravity
Ross is a Colorado icon. The company has made upwards of 300,000 fly-fishing reels in its more than 30 years in Colorado.
"Ross was the first company to machine fly reels from billet," says David Dragoo, president of Ross Reels' parent company, Mayfly Outdoors. "Now it's industry standard, even down to the type of aluminum used. Everybody's copied Ross."
Under Mayfly, Ross has come full circle as an innovator on Colorado's Western Slope. Previous owner 3M had moved several operations out of state, but Mayfly returned it to Montrose and the brand to prominence in the fly-fishing market.
The big news for 2019: Mayfly has consolidated manufacturing at its new 41,000-square-foot campus at the Colorado Outdoors project on the Uncompahgre River in Montrose for both Ross and sister brand Abel Reels.
Dragoo says the new factory is both greener and leaner. "It's not just another shop," he touts. "It's a world-class facility." The broader campus at Colorado Outdoors will soon see more development in the form of a hotel and housing, as well as a riverside trail system and other recreational amenities.
On the product front, Craig Baker, VP of business development, touts Ross' new-for-2018 Animas reel. "That's driving a ton of growth with us," he says.
Look for new Ross Reels models to hit the market in late 2019. "There's more coming this fall from both brands," says Baker. "We know what the next five years look like and there will be new products from both brands every year. . . . We're a product development machine."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/ross-reels
Topo Designs has grown its footprint to encompass its HQ in Denver's RiNo Art District, a warehouse in south Denver, four factories in Colorado, and retail stores in Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, and San Francisco.
It's been a dizzying rise for the brand, founded by Jedd Rose and Mark Hansen in 2008. In 2014, the company had 10 employees. Five years later, there are 57. Annual growth has regularly topped 30 percent.
The catalog has similarly grown to include backpacks, duffel bags, messenger bags, briefcases, and other luggage, as well as "outdoor-inspired but fashion-forward" men's and women's clothing and outerwear.
The ramp-up has involved shifting some production to contract manufacturers in Mexico and Asia. "As we've grown, we've kept some manufacturing of bags here in the United States," says Director of Marketing James Atkin. "As we scale, the units become too taxing on our local manufacturers." Regardless, he adds, "We plan to keep our core products over here."
It's all about quality, volume, and supply chains. Ripstop fabric, for example, is most abundant and of highest quality in Asia, so that's the best place to make ripstop bags.
"We look around for partners who can support us," says Atkin of finding the right partners overseas. "We are small, we're not at the top of any factory's list."
He says careful vetting and strong relationships are critical to maintaining quality and authenticity. "The only way you maintain that is if your partners align with your values."
A recent pop-up store at Denver International Airport has raised Topo Designs' profile even higher. "We're expanding, but we're still a small brand," says Atkin. "To have millions of people walking by is amazing."
In 2019, Topo will continue to push that tactic with pop-up shops within larger retailers in New York and Philadelphia. The company has also been exporting to Japan for a decade and recently gained distribution in Europe. "That's the place we'll be growing the most over the next few years outside of the U.S.," says Atkin.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/topo-designs
Energy Manufacturer of the Year
By Chris Meehan
"The facility that is partially operating today -- and will be fully operational in the next month or two -- is the largest continuous production facility for solid-state batteries in the United States and definitely one of the largest in the world," says CEO Doug Campbell. "That's pretty stinking cool if you ask me."
In developing the next generation of lithium batteries, Solid Power has attracted some impressive investors, including BMW, Samsung, A123 Systems, and Hyundai Cradle. That's because the technology is aimed at created safer, longer-lasting, smaller, and lighter batteries that could be used to power everything from aerospace and military applications to smart devices and electric vehicles.
By moving to a solid-state electrolyte, the batteries promise higher capacity in a simpler, safer format, Campbell explains. Since it's not using a liquid electrolyte, the batteries can be essentially printed and encased in pouches. Since the electrolytes are in a stable solid state rather than a volatile liquid state, they're safer and won't be subject to runaway
The technology was first developed at the University of Colorado Boulder, but left the university toward the end of 2013. Now the company is building its first production line in a 21,000-square-foot facility and aims to manufacture 10 megawatt hours of batteries annually on the first line.
Once the batteries are in production, Campbell anticipates first meeting the needs of smaller markets, like military and aerospace, within two to five years. To supply the automotive market, the company would have to produce gigawatt hours of batteries every year. "That's still five to 10 years away," he estimates.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/solid-power
When Adolf Coors bought the Harold Pottery Company in 1910, he made a prescient investment in a company that's producing advanced materials and ceramics that are used in electronics, aircraft, and medical devices today. The 6,000-employee company has more than 30 facilities across the globe, but its headquarters, R&D center, and five manufacturing plants are located in Golden.
CoorsTek is seeing rapid growth in its major industries, explains Chief Commercial Officer Patricia Mishic. "Rapid advancements in connected mobility, AI, and IoT are fueling the need for ceramics and advanced materials that can perform in extreme environments in the semiconductor, automotive, and electronics sectors. Hypersonics are driving major changes in aerospace and defense, and changes in the energy landscape are providing interesting opportunities. There are a lot of changes in the medical industry where ceramics and advanced materials are pushing the boundaries of innovation."
While the company faces competition from other ceramics manufacturers large and small, CoorsTek has a unique competitive advantage, Mishic contends. "We have many material formulations and process capabilities that other manufacturers don't," she says. "From our perspective, competition drives innovation, so it's very healthy."
"There are very few markets where we don't currently play," she adds. "We are always interested in and actively exploring new applications for our products and capabilities and are also focused on key trends in our core industries, but we don't want to limit ourselves."
Currently, the company is seeing a lot of interest from the semiconductor market and is investing in that, according to Mishic. "We are also are looking at opportunities in the energy market, particularly in power and other alternative energies," she says.
Bolder Industries is going gangbusters recycling discarded tires into a replacement for virgin carbon black, Bolder Black, and other materials.
Currently, the company is processing more than a million tires a year and Wibbeler anticipates it will be able to process more than 3 million in 2020 and roughly 30 million tires a year by 2025.
"Our business has really moved into a products company," says CEO Tony Wibbeler. "We were originally an advanced manufacturing plant builder. Our goal is to extend the life of the petroleum-derived black products."
It's not just about Bolder Black anymore, says Wibbeler, noting that the company mow produces more than 70 compounds. That's a far cry from 2017 when the company was producing just a couple of compounds from old tires and about 90 percent of the company's revenue came from sales of Bolder Black. "Now it only represents 44 percent because we build so many other products," Wibbeler explains. "We have a much more diversified income model and we're selling all of those products now."
There's an unexpected wrinkle. "The traditional carbon black market is not able to supply the demand," Wibbeler says. As such, Bolder Industries is now supplying some companies to meet normal allocation needs, not just sustainability goals, and its materials are now in everything from farm equipment and tires to rubber roofing to wetsuits and phone cases.
"We can be reintroduced in just about every single thing, from 1 percent to 100 percent. We've validated that we can replace the virgin carbon black need by 100 percent," Wibbeler says. "We're filling a need we didn't expect."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/bolder-industries
Read up on the finalists in the brewer, cannabis, consumer/lifestyle, and builder categories here.
Read up on the finalists in the industrial, contract, medical, advocate, and food categories here.
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