Fort Collins, Colorado
Employees: about 90
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Aerospace components
CEO Bruce Page has strategically invested in automation to make a wide range of parts for the biggest names in aerospace.
The father-and-son team of Mack and Alan Manes started their namesake company in Ontario, California, in the early 1980s. Page bought a piece of the company in 1987 and he and Alan ultimately bought Mack out.
"We had outgrown our facility in Southern California," says Page. "There was a big push to lure companies out of California and move elsewhere."
After looking at cities in Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Nevada, and Arizona, the pair settled on Fort Collins. In 1993, the company moved Fort Collins "The best option was Colorado," says Page, noting that about 15 of the company's 25 employees relocated.
Lifestyle was a big part of the decision. "Colorado was a much better place to raise your kids," he says. "It wasn't perfect. There wasn't everything we need for aerospace and that's still a problem." He says Manes Machine continues to send parts to processing houses in Wichita and Southern California for coating and anodizing.
At the time of the move, says Page, "The big thing was to make big structural parts for aerospace." The company also started manufacturing wheels for cars and motorcycles and bought its 32,000-square-foot building in 2000.
But there was a big bump in the road. "When 9/11 hit, manufacturing was a four-letter word," says Page. "Nobody was buying aircraft. It really impacted us hard."
The company ultimately split in two as a result: Alan took the wheels business and struck out on his own, and Page took over Manes Machine. "We plowed along and dabbled in this and dabbled in that," Page recalls of the 2000s and early 2010s.
The company pivoted circa 2015. "We changed our focus and really started drilling down into higher technology and more automation," says Page. "Before, our focus wasn't nearly as disciplined."
The strategy allowed Manes Machine to start making bigger runs of smaller parts for aircraft, including heatshields, compression pads, and housing and fittings, and that required smaller machines. "In the last two years, we probably sold eight large pieces of equipment and bought nine smaller pieces of equipment." He highlights a 2017 investment in a Fastems system that spiked productivity.
Page says the pivot towards automation and smaller parts largely resulted from a job from UTC Aerospace Systems that required a capital investment in new technology. "That particular job started growing and growing, and brother and sister parts came in as well."
The volumes might be higher, but there are actually fewer companies vying for the work, he adds. "There's more competition in larger parts than smaller parts. We still do 5-axis work, but it's much more strategic."
UTC Aerospace is Manes Machine's largest customer, placing higher-volume orders for a number of "smaller structural parts and engine parts," says Page. Other top-tier customers include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Airbus, and GE Aviation.
Page expects the company's revenue to hit $21 million in 2018, an uptick of about 12 percent from 2017. "It definitely is driven by the health of the industry," he says. "Right now, it's in a very positive cycle. Commercial aircraft is at record high and military is at a record high." The former accounts for about 70 percent of Manes Machine's revenue and the former is about 30 percent.
Challenges: "Skilled labor is very difficult to find," says Page, noting that automation helps deal with the scarcity. "How do we reach some younger kids to do this?" he muses. "Right now, we're blessed to have a pretty young workforce, but I worry about competitors snagging them."
Another ongoing challenge: "You've got to stay on the forefront of technology, because it's moving at such a fast pace right now." He points to tooling as an especially evolutionary area: "They are truly driving the industry."
Opportunities: Page says he's open to work beyond aerospace and cites the energy and semiconductor industries as possible targets. He's also looking at a strategic investment in advanced machining as a driver for future growth in aerospace. "Eventually advanced machining will be one of the big door-openers," he says. "It's very costly, but it can do things traditional machining can't do." SpaceX offers an example, he adds. "You look at some of those parts, there is no way to machine that."
Needs: "Continuing with good people with good enthusiasm for what we do," says Page. "If you are diligent and stay focused, there's tons of opportunity."