Houston, Texas

A lifelong interest in all things mechanical drew founder Mark Cruze to manufacturing. Now his thriving CNC machine shop is once again outgrowing its footprint.

In 1995, Cruze was a rep selling a variety of mechanical components. When one of his customers had more work than they could handle, they asked him if he might be able to help them meet the demand. Having grown up around machines and with a background in manufacturing arts, he decided to jump right in.

Photos Jonathan Castner

“We started out with a 3,000-square-foot building with one machine, and within a year I was moving into a 6,000-square-foot facility,” he says. “At that point we thought we had plenty of room to grow, but we quickly grew out of that. With the old saying of ‘build it and they will come’ as our motto, we purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility sitting on four acres. We’ve now filled it up with some of the top CNC machines out there. We never really expected to grow to the size that we are at this point. We were planning on keeping it small, but it’s so hard to do when so many people are needing help. We’re good at what we do, and word of mouth has kept us in business for nearly 30 years.”

Early on, the company’s customer base was primarily the oil and gas industry. While that’s still a large part of their business, the company is now also serving the aerospace, medical, scientific, and recreational industries with precision parts. A focus on quality work has led to ISO 9001.2015 certification, and the company prides itself on communication with its customers to achieve the accuracy and satisfaction they’re looking for in their products, whether for prototype, short run, or long run quantities.

While Custom Components & Assemblies offers a wide array of in-house services to its customers, they also use outside vendors for some specialized work in finishing and the like. As Cruze says, “If you try to get into everything, you won’t be good at anything.”

Machining, fabrication, and assembly services based on customers’ specifications make up the vast majority of the company’s work. However, they also manufacture some of their own proprietary products for the aerospace industry.

Custom Components & Assemblies’ experience and expertise in manufacturing allows them to advise customers on design improvements to their products that will permit more efficient, cost-effective fabrication, and that has helped them build their reputation and success through the years. “We just try to stay at the forefront of the technology,” Cruze says. “The technology has grown a lot over the last few years, and staying up with it is sometimes hard to do.”

Most of the raw material the company uses is stainless steel, although they work in everything from plastics to more exotic metals. Cruze says their supplies are all domestically sourced, with their stocks remaining steady, despite a few delays on certain items. They did experience substantial price increases over the last couple of years, but now things have stabilized and even declined.

Finding skilled workers can be a challenge for many businesses these days, and in this case it can be especially difficult. Cruze says, “The talent pool is just not what it used to be. A lot of people, especially in Houston, because we were so heavy into oil and gas, with the growth and the layoffs, it’s like a roller coaster. People get tired of doing that. They work 12 hours a day, six days a week for a year or two, then they get laid off and told there’s no job for them. The energy industry has been really tough the last couple of years, and that makes people go find something else to do.”

Declines in the company’s own workforce have led to fewer than half the number of employees from their peak, but since the worst of the COVID outbreak, numbers are rebounding for both the workers and the workload, and Cruze is optimistic about the outlook for the future. Recent additions of some new equipment have expanded capabilities and productivity, and the company is once again running out of space for its operations.

Challenges: Cruze says, “The challenges are going to be weathering this transition that’s happening now with moving out of the fossil fuels into a new direction. The government has spent a lot of money on that, and it looks like that’s what they want everybody to do. Being a part of that is going to be interesting, and exciting, I think. We’ll have to find out exactly what kind of components are going to be out there. We just don’t know at this point.”

Opportunities: The outlook for American manufacturers is good according to Cruze. “I see a lot of people bringing their products back from overseas because they’re having trouble getting things,” he explains. “I see a lot of opportunity there. I see companies bringing their work back from China and other places that are unstable.”

Needs: Continuing to stay on top of the latest technology, and possibly needing to further expand their facility to accommodate more equipment.