Colorado Companies to Watch 2014: Advanced manufacturing
Diversified Machine Systems (DMS)
PORTRAIT: Founded in 2003, Diversified Machine Systems (DMS) is a designer and manufacturer of three- and five-axis computer controlled cutting machines, known as CNC routers, and custom-engineered machining centers. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) primarily supplies the aerospace, automotive and consumer goods industries.
DIFFERENTIATOR: DMS attributes some of its growth to its market-by-design strategy: Machinery is developed only when a specific market need is determined. This approach has allowed the manufacturer to flexibly design its tools and foster uniquely collaborative client relationships. Moreover, the machines are designed for repeated disassembly to fit in shipping containers for international transport and are easily put back together.
MAJOR MOMENT: When DMS returned to Colorado from Texas in 2007, it built the Black Max – a large-format CNC machine used to produce steel-fabricated machinery bases. This event brought the entire production process in-house, reducing lead times by three weeks and improving product accuracy dramatically.
COMMUNITY: DMS recently hosted a group of high school students from Arnold, Neb., a town with a population of less than 600. The group was involved in a program called School House Graphic Products (SHGP), a student-run graphics company that operates as a real-world business. The implementation of a FMT Patriot 3 Axis CNC router resulted in a substantial profit increase for the student design business.
PORTRAIT: EFI Polymers fabricates formulated resin systems for electrical insulation, adhesives and specialty coating applications. While the bulk of the business has developed domestically, roughly one-third of EFI’s products are exported to more than 20 countries. The 33-person team is focusing on rapidly growing markets including: smart grid, solar power management and electric motors.
DIFFERENTIATOR: Rapid product development defines EFI’s approach to growth.
MAJOR MOMENT: On March 17, 2003, a severe storm struck Denver, dumping three feet of snow on the city and destroying EFI’s Steele Street manufacturing facility. The staff worked 12-hour days to bring production back online and within five days made its first product run in a makeshift warehouse. Both suppliers and customers rallied around the EFI team, so that all orders for the month went out as anticipated. More than a year later, EFI Polymers moved into a remodeled facility – three times larger than the original – which provided for rapid growth. The challenge resulted in an opportunity EFI could not have re-created.
INNOVATION: As EFI responded to identifiable market needs, the team rose to the occasion and developed UV coatings to protect concrete railroad ties. This reduced the curing process from 30-45 minutes to less than two seconds, allowing worn tracks to be quickly repaired and improving performance through reduced defects.
eGauge Systems LLC
PORTRAIT: eGauge Systems, established in 2008, manufactures energy-smart meters that record and save real-time energy consumption and production data. Notable customers include: Namaste Solar, Pecan Street Inc., the City of Boulder and others.
DIFFERENTIATOR: Few metering companies have discovered a method for combining multiple tools in one, as eGauge has. With its proprietary software and firmware – a meter, data logger and Web server allow a single device to measure currents across 12 different inputs. Another distinguishing feature of eGauge is its mass on-board storage.
MAJOR MOMENT: After two years in the works, eGauge acquired a revenue-grade accuracy compliance certification at the end of 2013. The certification is like the “gold standard” sought after by any metering company that makes a state-of-the-art product, according to Alex Czernik, operations manager at eGauge. This required a series of stringent tests to verify that meters remain accurate to a half-percentage point in various conditions, but was a worthwhile investment for the business, as it puts eGauge on the table for projects where revenue-grade metering is required.
COMMUNITY: Proof of the company’s commitment to help reduce energy consumption and associated costs is in its donation and installation of equipment at Front Range schools in the ReNew Our Schools energy education and conservation competition, administered by the Center for ReSource Conservation (CRC). The program allowed student participants to experience real-time energy consumption. Thereafter, a white paper published by the CRC stated: “The data from the eGauges was used by the energy management personnel to investigate no-cost operational changes that are projected to save the district $50,000 to $200,000 annually.”
Eldon James Corp.
PORTRAIT: For nearly 30 years, Eldon James has manufactured plastic tubing and connectors for the medical, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, industrial and automotive industries. The business opened its new headquarters in Denver last year. Moreover, EJ was recently awarded a grant to develop its lean manufacturing procedures, intended to further streamline processes and individual roles and responsibilities.
DIFFERENTIATOR: Rather than create custom molds, Eldon James opted to build its own proprietary products right from the start. Since, the manufacturer has created more than 6,000 different tubing and fitting components, required in all equipment that transfers air or fluid.
MAJOR MOMENT: After 20 years in the business, Eldon James went “clean and green,” building a 10,000-square-foot cleanroom and creating a new product line of PVC- and BPA- free tubing. This opened the floodgates for pharmaceutical and medical markets worldwide. Also this year, the company will launch PVC-free tubing and fitting assemblies commonly found in hospitals. This initiative is intended to help patients who suffer from plastic allergies.
COMPANY CULTURE: EJ has helped several of its employees buy homes and elevate their quality of living by subsidizing rent payments. In addition, a summer work program for employees’ teen-age children allowed the company to impart its collective wisdom of “stick-to-it-ness” – a term fondly used among team members for persisting through a task until completion. Teens are assigned to departments separate from their parents and maintain duties intended to lengthen attention span and encourage delivery on employer expectations.
Nokero International LTD
PORTRAIT: Nokero envisions a world without kerosene lamps; thus the company designs and sells solar bulbs to individuals living without electricity. The roughly four-year-old business, which serves organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, experienced 67 percent employee growth last year.
DIFFERENTIATOR: Based on more than 20 years of experience in industrial design and 40-plus excursions to China, founder Steve Katsaros has compressed the required time from product-concept to commercialization to less than a year.
MAJOR MOMENT: After research was published on the use of kerosene lights for fishing in the Great Lakes region of Africa, Nokero designed a solar-powered light to use in place of kerosene lamps for fishing, eliminating the monthly cost associated with fuel and maintenance. This product is set for launch this summer.
COMMUNITY: With roughly 1 million units distributed, Nokero estimates that its products have replaced 10 million liters of kerosene, saving $20 million and a reduction in CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons. In addition, with partnerships, such as that with Shelterbox, more than 30,000 Nokero lights have been distributed to victims of natural disasters in Haiti, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Silver Bullet Water Treatment Co.
PORTRAIT: Silver Bullet’s technology effectively treats cooling towers and livestock drinking systems from a single injection point without the need for hazardous chemicals. Well-known local clients include NORAD, Sky Ridge Medical Center and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
DIFFERENTIATOR: The company’s system is distinguished from similar treatment structures, as it does not require continuous injections of chemical biocides, nor does it require the same frequency of monitoring as traditional systems to ensure proper performance.
MAJOR MOMENT: In 2012, Silver Bullet entered the agriculture market, when members of a dairy cooperative interested in using the system to treat their livestock and drinking water approached founders David Sunshine and David Kolstad. This market expansion doubled business within a single year and allowed the team to increase from six to 32 employees within two years.
INNOVATION: Originally designed for the sole purpose of removing toxic chemicals from HVAC water treatment cooling towers, Silver Bullet now utilizes its proprietary technology in various forms of water treatment as a replacement for hazardous chemicals, such as chlorine. The system increases the operational efficiency of the water system in its entirety, reducing water and electricity use.
Well Master Corp.
PORTRAIT: Known as “the plunger lift people,” Well Master serves natural-gas producers to increase profits and decrease lease operating expenses. Founded in 1984, the company manufactures uniquely crafted plunger lift systems to de-liquefy gas wells that serve production companies. The company is rapidly expanding into new markets – including Texas and Louisiana – and has recently inked a contract with a Fortune 500 international oilfield equipment manufacturer for its artificial lift offering. Its compounded annual growth rate of revenue exceeds 55 percent.
DIFFERENTIATOR: The company has developed the Dynamic Seal technology for its systems. This technology utilizes aerodynamics in its plunger design, creating high-turbulent forces to seal in gas, increasing lift and minimizing liquid fallback in the tubing string of a well. This patented technology has led to the development of the Viper family of products, which out-produce and outlast the competition.
MAJOR MOMENT: The company transformed itself when it pivoted from a focus on automation products and services, with a 12-15 year buy-cycle, to a focus on wearable steel components, with a six- to 12-month buy cycle. This allowed Well Master to effectively compete in a niche market for the first time.
COMMUNITY: Well Master involves itself in industries such as oil and gas, for which it sponsors annual events, including the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s Chili Cook-Off, supporting families in need in the Denver Julesburg Basin.