For over 25 years, Utah-based Metalcraft Technologies has been known as a high-quality manufacturer of precision-machined and complex sheet metal components for the aerospace industry. Fresh off a historic contract with the Defense Logistics Agency, however, the company is elevating itself to new heights and opportunities in 2016. Michael Willis, vice president of the company, sits down to talk about the factors behind Metalcraft’s steady rise to prominence in North America’s aerospace market, and expands upon how this new business deal could lead to a new identity for the company. Steve Engelhardt reports.
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Situated across two closely located facilities in Cedar City, Utah, Metalcraft Technologies has travelled quite the interesting path to get to where it is today. Beginning as a small, humble sheet metal manufacturer whose main business revolved around the production of slot machine covers and door fixtures, a new chapter was written for the company when it caught the attention of McDonnell Douglas, a major aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor who would later go on to merge with Boeing.
And since they entered into the aerospace market in North America, the company has never looked back, serving today just about every major aerospace company in the world, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, who named them as one of their “Suppliers of the Year” in 2014. “Metalcraft Technologies today has grown to become a leader in providing sheet metal, machining, assembly, and process and finishing services to just about any company in North America’s aerospace sector,” says Michael Willis, “Quality and reliability is the standard when working with us, and our customers, whose industry demands such, appreciate it.”
Willis says that between their two facilities in Cedar City, which combine for over 240,000 square feet of floor space, they are able to handle just about any request, an aspect of the company greatly enhanced by the fact that Metalcraft Technologies is a vertically integrated manufacturer. “Our facilities are out in the middle of nowhere, so we have taken it upon ourselves to deliver a wide range of capabilities, with the equipment to back it up,” he says, adding that, “About 80 percent of what we do never leaves our facilities prior to shipment. It comes in as a raw material and leaves as a finished product.”
In addition to having a versatile manufacturing presence, one of Metalcraft’s biggest strengths in the aerospace market is their willingness to take on out-of-the-box projects that often wouldn’t be touched by anyone else. Citing a number of anecdotal examples speaking to this, Willis says one instance of this came when they were working with one of their customers who needed a stainless steel bulkhead with difficult geometry. “Many bidders withdrew, stating that the part was not manufacturable, but after meeting with our team, we were able to come up with a workable solution and have since produced over 200 of such bulkheads in three different configurations to date.”
Another example came when they worked with Sino Swearingen Aircraft Company (now owned by SYBERJET aircraft) on the SJ30 light business jet, an aircraft model that has become renowned for its engineering and flight capabilities in the aviation world. Willis says that although Metalcraft initially approached them to simply provide assembly services for the empennage, it quickly became apparent that there weremore pressing issues in the aircraft’s production process that they could help out with. “The plant manager told us they were having a lot of trouble with the aft fuselage section of the aircraft, specifically with the fitting of its aluminum skin, and that the production of a single unit was taking nine and a half months on average due to their struggles.”
Willis says “We went back to our team of assembly mechanics and after discussing the project with them, sent them to the company’s facility in West Virginia where the SJ30’s were being manufactured. After troubleshooting the problem, they were able to produce the desired fuselage in five months for the company. We then brought back the tooling to our facilities in Utah and completed the sixth fuselage in 5 weeks.” Willis adds “After manufacturing the sixth fuselage in a five week period we received a call from Sino Swearingen in which they politely asked us to slow down delivery because we were so far ahead of everything else in the project.”
It’s this kind of innovation, flexibility, and efficiency that ultimately led to Metalcraft Technologies scoring perhaps the most important contract in its history with the Defense Logistics Agency last October. The contract, which spans seven years and is worth $42.9 million, will have Metalcraft Technologies manufacturing the upper nacelle section for the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, one of the most durable and famous aircraft models employed by the U.S. military.
“While we hadn’t done much direct military work prior to this contract, we did have some experience in A-10 inlet skins and doing prototype work on other A-10 components. This experience helped in developing our successful proposal to the Defense Logistics Agency because we understood the project,” says Willis.
Going up against industry giants in competitive bids, Metalcraft Technologies entered as a bit of an underdog. However their tenacity, and problem solving allowed them to resolve significant issues facing the program. These solutions became a competitive advantage in the response. One such problem was identifying a source for a critical component. Some potential bidders dropped out because they couldn’t resolve this problem. Interestingly enough, the solution to the problem came by identifying a source that has much the same problem solving culture that Metalcraft Technologies employs. “Both companies had similar approaches which allowed quick resolution.” says Willis.
Willis says the contract with the DLA has given the company a lot of momentum heading into 2016, and says that they plan to expand their services to the military significantly more after this. “This contract is a big deal for us, because we felt that our identity had been a bit ‘pigeonholed’ in the past, where companies only saw us as either a sheet metal or machining company,” he says, adding, “But it’s clear to the rest of the market that while Metalcraft certainly excels in those areas, we’re also an extremely capable manufacturer of major structural components as well, and I think that’s something everyone here at the company is excited to build upon.”
Continuously improving in its craft and delivering high-quality, critical components to some of the world’s most impactful aerospace companies, Metalcraft Technologies is a company that, like the product it supplies, is truly taking flight.