Grand Junction, Colorado
President Mike Sneddon navigates the often volatile world of manufacturing by following a key investment guideline: diversification.
When Sneddon bought Wren Industries in 2008, he inherited some serious problems: The company had previously specialized in search-and-rescue equipment, and says Sneddon, "The liability for that was outrageous." More troublesome still, there wasn't enough volume to grow -- or even sustain -- a CNC manufacturing company.
Heralding from a 30-year career in aerospace engineering, Sneddon knew he needed a new business model. He already had the know-how to jump into aerospace manufacturing, but he didn't stop there. "We diversified into different sectors that really complement each other," he explains.
Under Sneddon's auspices, Wren augmented its aerospace business with industrial and firearms manufacturing, and that's been a winning portfolio.
One of Wren's biggest aerospace customers is multi-billion-dollar Parker Hannifin. A testament to the company's breadth, Wren also made printer components for 3D Systems, and has done prototype and fixture work for Sturm, Ruger & Co.
"A couple of years ago," Sneddon says, "we were probably split 50 percent industrial, 40 percent aerospace, and 10 percent firearms." Today, aerospace production comprises about 60 percent of Wren's output, while the industrial sector -- particularly oil and gas -- has declined, especially along the Western Slope, Sneddon says.
"It's such a weird market for manufacturing," he continues, offering, "You get in with a customer, you start going gangbusters and then they run out of money so you have to try a different market."
When Sneddon acquired Wren, the company operated out of a 2,000-square-foot warehouse. It has since moved into a 9,000-square-foot facility located in a 40,000-square-foot building.
"We're a standard machine shop that has assembly," says Sneddon. Among his suite of axis lathes, a 7-Axis machining center allows for more complex manufacturing. "What's nice, we can load a part onto a machine, and when that part is done it comes off as finished, and is ready to go directly to the customer or to an outside process." There are also manual machining and fabrication areas, too.
Quality control is pivotal, especially for aerospace manufacturing, and Wren has an extensive amount on its gauging and inspection tools, all calibrated to meet the standards of AS9100.
"We're pretty small, but we have large clients," Sneddon says. His company "produces things faster" by streamlining its process and avoiding the red tape found at large-scale operations. Having full CAD/CAM capabilities helps, too, by allowing Wren to do virtual machining prior to manufacturing.
Challenges: "Our location is problematic," admits Sneddon. "We aren't in SoCal, and we don't have the pulling power that the Eastern Slope has. People think the Western Slope is too far detached. But we're not. We're only an hour flight from Denver, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix."
Opportunities: Wren Industries has its systems in place, and is ready to accommodate substantial growth. Now it needs more customers who are ready to move forward with development and manufacturing, Sneddon says.
Needs: As Sneddon adds clients -- and snags more government contracts -- Wren will be looking to grow and hire more employees.