American Precision Engineering Founder Daniel Hester’s agile job shop leads a new cadre of Austin-area companies that “make the things that make the things” for a host of other American manufacturers.

In short, American Precision Engineering –or APE — designs and produces tooling and complex sub-assemblies that other companies use in the creation of their own products. Though Hester’s machine shop is typically doing so in small quantities rather than large production runs, business is always brisk because the team is improving clients’ efficiencies with their commitment to service.

American Precision Engineering
Photos Bart Taylor

“We’re rarely working ourselves out of a job,” says Hester, “and, if we’re doing it right, we’re showing the value we can provide so that we’re getting a long-term commitment from that customer as a partner. We want to be the go-to source for people when they have a manufacturing problem.”

Customers come from a very wide variety of industries ranging from automotive to specialty construction, from medical to semi-conductors, and to just about any field in the business of making things. Hester says the breadth of his company’s client base is purposeful. “We’re trying to build the business out as broad as we can from an industry perspective,” he explains.

Of their actual operations, he says, “We basically want raw materials coming in and want a finished product leaving the door, as much as possible. With the exception of some specialized operations like heat treating, or anodizing, or powder coating, we do the full gamut of fabricating and machining in-house. We see our business as kind of a general contractor — willing to take on a broad scope of operations — and ultimately relieve our customers of headaches, and deliver them a better product, quicker. We try to be the easy button for the manufacturers. We say yes to the Teslas of the world, so when they say, ‘Can you do this?’ we say, ‘We’ll do the whole thing.'”

American Precision Engineering

The ability to take on complete projects for clients is seen as a real competitive advantage for the company. Hester says, “The combination of our size and our sophistication allows us the ability to perform at the high levels of speed, precision, and execution that leading companies require, and so we’ve found a niche.”

Generally, the company sources their materials and equipment in the United States, but Hester points out that certain tubes, pipes, and other raw stock is simply not produced domestically. He says, “We’re big on supporting American companies, and it may be a near-term financial disadvantage to go that route, but long-term, we think that’s a more successful way to run a business — to be contributing members of our local community and our country as a whole.”

The company has experienced some sporadic delays in delivery of raw materials in recent times, but the biggest issue in acquiring stock has been with spiraling prices. Very recently, they’ve seen some leveling off of the price increases — and even some reductions in prices — although the market is still volatile.

Hester’s early background is in carpentry, as both his father and grandfather had construction businesses. Metal fabrication became a hobby of his in high school, as his thoughts turned to becoming a field engineer. He graduated from college with a civil engineering degree in hand and worked in the field in his native California, but all the while he maintained a side business fabricating and engineering. He says, “That just grew and grew and grew, and I had a little shop on the side. I’d work a full day, then I would work at my shop at night. That just became kind of overwhelming. I picked up a few projects that were big enough to allow me to quit my regular job and move on with my own business.”

American Precision Engineering

His original company in California was similar to his present business in Texas with a few differences. “That was a fabrication company that got the work that we did because we also did engineering,” Hester explains. “Whereas here, we’re trying to be more of an engineering company that gets the work we do because we also manufacture on site. It’s kind of looking at the same coin from the other side.”

Challenges: “In starting [APE], there were a lot of lessons learned from my previous business,” Hester says. “But there are also a lot of new challenges that you don’t ever know about until you get kicked in the face with them.”

Opportunities: The vast majority of the company’s work comes from word-of-mouth and repeat business, but a larger outside sales effort will be made to further increase the customer base and maintain the steady growth they’ve experienced. “Our long-term goal is to design and build something that goes into space,” Hester adds, “to move up that technological ladder of more and more advanced fabrication.”

Needs: Finding the people with the skills and technological knowledge to meet the needs of the company as they expand, as well as finding a facility to allow that growth.