Precision parts manufacturer creates 80 new jobs

Acutec Precision Machining Inc. (www.acutecprecision.com), a South Carolina manufacturer of precision parts for aerospace, energy and other industries, is investing $2.5 million to create 80,000 additional square feet of manufacturing space and to create as many as 80 new jobs over the next three to five years.

The new facility is part of a 900,000 square foot former home of Avtex Fibers, Inc. in Crawford County, Penn. currently being managed by the Economic Progress Alliance (www.economicprogressalliance.com) During the past three years more than 350,000 square feet of that facility has been rehabilitated and occupied. The new 80,000 square foot facility adjoins a 30,000 square foot area currently occupied by Acutec.

“The jobs, the economic activity, the commitment to the county are all wonderful things to have happen,” Mark Turner, the Alliance’s executive director, said. “Now we have to take some outmoded space with lots of potential and convert it to 21st century manufacturing standards,” he explained. “[Acutec] needs to control the temperature and the climate to a very high degree in this facility. We’re excited about investing in converting this old property into something that will really be very cutting edge and flexible.”

The Acutec conversion is part of a $2.5 million project that combines $800,000 in conventional bank financing, approximately $1 million — with an interest rate fixed at 4 percent for 10 years — through Pennsylvania Industrial Authority and a pending $700,000 grant from the state.

The Alliance will invest approximately $1.5 million in upgrading the new Acutec facility, including covering and insulating the roof and installing heating and air conditioning systems to provide the extraordinary climate control needed to machine close-tolerance parts.

The overall project includes the improvement of exterior roads as well as the installation of additional lighting and parking lots.

Acutec has doubled in size since 2005. With its 70,000-square-foot main manufacturing site in Hayfield Township, the company currently employs more than 230 people, including approximately 50 already at the business park. According to Rob Smith, president of Acutec, the new facility will enable the company to double its sales again during the next three to five years; during the course of the buildup, as many as 40 more skilled machinists will be required. In fact, he could put 20 people to work right away Smith said.

“We focused on a niche market that is very, very large,” Smith explained. “It’s an aerospace market that is high quality, low volume, high value added.” Specifically, Acutec manufactures more than 2,000 different parts each year ranging in size from tiny pieces — smaller than a thumb — to parts it takes a crane to pick up. On a Lockheed-Martin aircraft, for example, one could find Acutec parts in all the braking systems, the hydraulic systems and probably in the avionic system.

As for the volume, “when we make 1,000 of one type of parts, that’s a lot of parts,” Smith said, noting that some parts can cost a buyer as much as $4,000 each — and production runs can be as small as two or three dozen.

According to Smith, it takes precision surroundings to manufacture precision parts. “We’re going to spend another quarter million dollars just getting the floor prepped the way we want it,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to do, let alone the equipment we’ll put in.”

The new lease is a key component in aggressively expanding the company’s customer base. According to Smith, the time to do that is now. “While the aviation industry is hurting because of the price of fuel, it was overbuilding,” he explained. “Demand was beyond the capability to provide, so all this has done is slow things down to a dull roar — instead of just being too hot.” At the same time, he added, an evolution is taking place within the industry, with companies that used to manufacture all their own parts turning to outsourcing. And because the quantities are relatively small and the quality has to be extremely high, they’re outsourcing to companies like Acutec.

“This is indicative of the quality of manufacturing that’s still taking place in this country,” Turner said. “It’s the kind of manufacturing that’s not going to go off-shore.”

For Smith, the number-one strategic issue for his company for the next five years or so is finding qualified, skilled people. He’s already been working closely with PMI to find the kind of skilled employees he needs, and he expects that process to swing into even higher gear. “The issue,” he said, “is people.”

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