President Gary Abrams has seen the company his father founded grow from humble beginnings in a one-car garage to become a major supplier serving defense, aerospace, medical, and other industries.

Abrams Airborne Manufacturing was created when Abrams’ father, Harold, combined more than twenty years of experience in the sheet metal industry with interests in flying and precision work. The initial focus of the business was on providing sheet metal parts built to exacting tolerances for rockets and missiles as a subcontractor for larger companies.

Abrams says of his father, “He was kind of a savant about being able to solve sheet metal problems. That’s what caused him to branch off on his own to create success with a lot of the people he had built a reputation with. Our early success came from his concepts and design solutions for sheet metal.”

Photos Jonathan Castner

In short order, Abrams Airborne Manufacturing expanded its capabilities into machining and other processes, and the size and scope of the business grew exponentially. From the very beginning, the company has been a family run operation. It remains so today as it continues its growth with the younger Abrams in the president’s chair since 1996.

Since 2013, the manufacturing operations of the company have been divided internally into AAMI Aerospace and Defense and AAMI Commercial and Medical. In past years, the company has also acquired VLTOR Weapon Systems — a weapons manufacturer — and Milkor USA — a manufacturer of grenade launchers. All four divisions are housed in the same 160,000-square-foot facility in Tucson.

The company’s two main divisions fluctuate in terms of workload and often balance each other out. Abrams says, “Medical stays fairly constant, but a lot of times when commercial is down, aerospace is up, which is kind of where we are right now.”

The company serves a number of big-name clients in both its primary divisions and maintains its own aerospace, mechanical, and electrical engineering staff to design and test products as well as for quoting and fabricating other products for customers.

“Way back when it was popular to outsource everything,” Abrams says, “I was insourcing. I do just about everything that we need under one roof. We have complete machining facilities. We do high-speed punching, deburring, and cosmetics. We do all of our forming. We design and build fixtures in house, and we do painting and plating, welding, cutting, and engraving. That way, we don’t have to be subject to somebody else’s quality or delivery. I can control my own destiny.”

The metals, plastics, and other raw materials the company uses are normally domestically sourced because of the quality specifications that need to be met for most of its work. In fact, at those rare times when it’s necessary to use an overseas source, Abrams usually needs special approval from his customers.

On the overall supply chain situation, Abrams says, “It’s been terrible, and I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” The company often has to find different materials to substitute for what was originally specified, cut material to meet its needs, or otherwise work with its customers to find solutions to overcome supply problems.

Naturally, all that effects pricing. “It’s been really hard to quote something,” Abrams explains, “because you’ll get a price, and you figure that into your quote and turn it in. Then you get a P.O. a week or so later, and you go back and the stock is gone, or it’s doubled in price, and it’s out weeks on delivery.”

During the COVID crisis, the company saw a substantial downturn in business but was able to stay in operation by spreading its crews out over 24-hour periods to maintain space between the workers. Business and operations have now pretty much returned to normal levels for Abrams — but finding appropriate staffing has been difficult.

“It’s been terrible because you can’t find anyone who knows how to do anything,” Abrams says. “There are not a lot of people out there teaching what it is that we do. Most of the time, I have to find somebody and bring them in and teach them what I need them to know to be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish.”

Abrams Airborne Manufacturing has sustained its steady growth through the years by greatly expanding the services it offers to its clients and maintaining an efficient workflow in order to offer competitive pricing. However, the real key is that “We treat people the way we want to be treated,” Abrams says, “and in some places, that’s the not the case. A lot of people come to us by word of mouth.”

Challenges: As in other businesses, ever-rising material and labor costs create a strain on profitability, as does finding capital sources for expansion efforts. Recession fears also dampen the future outlook. “I hope I’m wrong,” Abrams adds, “but I see us falling into some tough economic times unless they do something quick and aggressive.”

Opportunities: “We’re always trying to change and modify a bit, depending on what the environment is, and there are a lot of things I’d like to get into,” says Abrams. The company sees potential growth in adding even more processes to its capabilities, specifically waterjet cutting and additional laser marking work. The equipment needed for those additional operations will require further expansion of the facility, so it will be a substantial undertaking.

Abrams believes that strength in some aerospace and military markets will provide growth potential in the near future — in part due to the war in Ukraine and the need to replace stockpiles of weapons and equipment. The company also sees some opportunity in certain types of medical equipment going forward.

Needs: Abrams continues to expand its reach through its salesforce, both domestically and internationally. “I’m always looking for diversification and a larger customer base,” Abrams adds. “I’d rather have more customers rather than one or two as a captive audience — because if things go haywire, you’re done. So, I tend to look for new customers in order to obtain some diversity and longevity through different times and marketplaces.”