Fort Collins, Colorado

Founded: 1986

Privately owned

Employees: 15

Industry: Industrial & Contract

Products: Engineering, fabrication, and machining services

Owner and CEO Nate Erickson is transforming his fabricator into a one-stop shop that can handle jobs from the idea stage to manufacturing.

Ron Hackel started Design Metal Manufacturing (DMM) with a focus on HVAC systems. Erickson bought the company in 2014 and relocated to Colorado with a plan to build on the company’s successes while expanding its services. “We want to make sure we’re servicing the customers he already was working with,” says Erickson, while “offering additional services such as engineering and design.”

The strategy has roots in Erickson’s background. “I’ve been in engineering and engineering management most of my career,” he says. After working in the Midwest, primarily in automation engineering for agricultural manufacturers, he decided he want to go into business for himself and found DMM.

DMM now supplies clients in robotics, agriculture, irrigation, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and other industries. “It’s a pretty broad spectrum,” says Erickson. “Our goal is to diversify.” Agriculture remains the company’s top market, but “aerospace has picked up,” he adds.

Historically, sales have “gone up and down” with the various markets, he adds. “That’s more reason to diversify.”

Keeping a focus on low-volume, high-value jobs, Erickson’s aim is to build the company into a one-stop shop that can shepherd new designs from concept to production. “A lot of times, machine shops are job shops,” says Erickson. Not DMM and its sister business, Enable Engineering: The operation can handle engineering, fabrication, coating and painting, and assembly. “We look to be an integrator for other companies, not just a fabricator,” he explains.

DMM’s shop includes a pair of brake presses, a punch, a shear, three CNC mills, and two CNC lathes, along with coating and painting equipment. The company recently bought a 5-axis waterjet that’s a good fit for the high tolerances of aerospace. “It’s helped out efficiency in our machine shop as well,” says Erickson.

“On the engineering and design side, our goal is to offer design for manufacturability,” he adds. The goal is to get involved with a project early in the design process. “My background has been design for automation, so it helps with scaling up.”

The company also offers a personal touch. “We deliver, which is somewhat unusual,” says Erickson. “One thing we’re very good at is quick turns. It’s days, not weeks or months.”

Heading into year three of owning the company, Erickson says he’s learned some lessons along the way. “Our first year was somewhat difficult,” he explains. “Our number-one customer stopped ordering from us and it took us to our knees.”

The goal is to double the staff of the company to about 30 employees, but Erickson plans to grow at a slow and steady rate. “We’re strategic, and want to be incremental in our growth,” he explains.

Challenges: “To be as reactive as we can to our customer’s need, that’s a huge challenge,” says Erickson. “Being a small company, it’s difficult to adjust to the potential for a large order. We only have so much capacity.”

Opportunities: Designing and manufacturing custom robotics for machine shops and fabricators, says Erickson. He sees potential to grow in aerospace as well.

Needs: “The human side,” says Erickson. “Finding well-trained individuals who can step right in is a challenge.” Machinists and sheet-metal fabricators are in particularly short supply in Larimer County.

There are also equipment needs, he adds. “I would love to buy more mills and more 5-axis waterjets, but the capital side of it is a challenge.”