Industry: Industrial & Contract
Products: Custom safety components for hydraulics and other parts
President Claude F. Knuepfer comes from a manufacturing family, a legacy that guides his contract manufacturer to growth.
"My great-grandfather was in the casting industry," says Knuepfer. "My grandfather [Claude A. Knuepfer] opened his own screw machine company in 1922."
After World War II, Claude A.'s son and Claude F.'s father, Jack, joined the Chicago-based company. Jack branched out to Colorado in 1971 when he started Denver Precision Products with a local customer in Redfield Gun Sight Company.
In 1978, Jack suggested his son head west from Chicago to run the Swiss screw machine shop. "He asked me, 'Why don't you go to Denver a little bit?'" laughs Knuepfer.
Four decades later, Knuepfer continues to run the machine shop with an emphasis in safety components for hydraulic systems. The company has also manufactured for clients in the aerospace, energy, and medical industries. "I'm completely a contract manufacturing company," says Knuepfer. "I've worked with various OEMs over the years."
In hydraulics, Denver Precision Products specializes "the safety valve that keeps hydraulic power from building up too much," says Knuepfer. It's a critical component in a wide range of hydraulic machinery, from forklifts to garbage trucks.
As other manufacturing moved overseas, Denver Precision Products focused on this high-value niche. Hydraulic manufacturers by and large kept manufacturing in the U.S. due to the sheer size of the systems, says Knuepfer, "but the safety devices are always small and always intricate. That's the kind of business I want to be in."
He ported the operation to CNC machines in the 1980s. "What I'm doing in one step, my dad would have done in five," says Knuepfer.
Denver Precision Products’ shop now has 11 CNC machines, plus manual grinders, lathes, and mills. The company specializes in production runs up to 50,000 parts, and ships more than 1 million parts a year.
The company invested in George Products’ Oasis optical inspection system in late 2016. "It will check all my external dimensions on parts," says Knuepfer. "It's also much more convenient to write reports."
Knuepfer says growth has been "significant" since 2014, when sales totaled $875,000. In 2016, they hit $1.3 million.
Challenges: "Figuring out where 3D printing fits into our future," says Knuepfer. "I'm trying to figure out where it fits into our product mix."
Customers "used to line up orders," he adds. "They changed that policy. They're only placing one order at a time."
Opportunities: More local and regional work. "In Chicago, I'm one of 20 screw machine shops in the city," says Knuepfer. "In Colorado, I'm one of 10 in the state."
"My decision about where to seek customers is based on where I can be tomorrow," he adds. "I can be in Cody, Wyoming, tomorrow. I can be in Colorado Springs tomorrow. I can't be in Hawaii tomorrow."
Needs: He says skilled employees are always in demand, but takes a long-term approach. "I'm trying to balance my workforce. I don't want to be swinging up and swinging down. I want to keep level and keep moving."
"I need to replace a couple antiques I've had since the 1980s," says Knuepfer. "I'm looking for a particular machine that's going to do bar work -- that's my forte." He says he's still using manual Swiss machines on about half of the company's bar orders, but is looking for a new machine.
"There's much more sophistication in the machine tools. It's just dramatic leaps in technology."