CEO Bruce Page and President Jason Page are leveraging automation to make components of all sizes for the biggest names in aerospace.
The father-and-son team of Mack and Alan Manes started their namesake company, Manes Machine & Engineering, in Southern California in the early 1980s.
Forty years later, a new father-and-son team leads the contract aerospace manufacturer in Northern Colorado. Jason took over day-to-day operations as president in April 2021. “He’s now president and I’m an innocent bystander,” laughs Bruce. “We’ve made a couple of strategic changes within the organization of the company.”
Jason, who started working at Manes Machine in 2013, says he hopes “to continue to grow in our automation and technology” to give the company an edge over less automated machine shops in the aerospace sector.
Bruce bought a piece of the company back in 1987 before he and Alan bought Mack out and moved the company to Colorado. “We had outgrown our facility in Southern California,” says Bruce. “There was a big push to lure companies out of California and move elsewhere.”
After looking at cities in Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Nevada, and Arizona, the pair settled on Fort Collins. In 1993, the company moved to Fort Collins “The best option was Colorado,” says Page, noting that about 15 of the company’s 25 employees relocated.
Out of its 66,000-square-foot facility in Fort Collins, the company focused on big structural pieces for aircraft, but had also expanded into wheels for cars and motorcycles over the years. The company ultimately split in two: Alan took the wheels business and struck out on his own, and Bruce took over Manes Machine.
Today, the company’s list of top-tier customers includes UTC Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Airbus. Manes Machine still makes the big structural pieces, but it’s moved into smaller components for aircraft as well. “We still do the big-sized parts, but not as many of them,” says Bruce. “We focus more on big projects as opposed to big parts.”
SpaceX and Blue Origin emerged as leading customers during the pandemic. Manes Machine is manufacturing structural pieces for the companies’ rockets. “SpaceX has been an exemplary company to work for,” says Bruce. I’ve been exceedingly happy with them and the work we’ve gotten from them. . . . Elon Musk is an entrepreneur from the get-go, and he’s taken risks that lots of people wouldn’t even consider.”
While the business has hit some turbulence in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruce and Jason are bullish on the company’s future.
“I like where we’re at,” says Bruce. “As long as the industry continues to pick up, we’re actually in a pretty good spot.”
Challenges: “Aerospace has been as dead as a doornail for the most part,” says Bruce, estimating work on commercial aircraft had dropped by a third since 2019. “People have to feel safe about traveling without getting sick.”
But there is light at the end of the tunnel: “It’s hit the bottom, and it’s actually starting to pick up a little bit,” he adds.
Opportunities: “Space definitely supported us a lot, specifically last year ,” says Jason. “Coming into this year, single-aisle aircraft — the 737 MAX and the A320 — are ramping back up, so that will be the majority of the opportunity.”
Leveraging automation underpins a broader opportunity, says Jason, noting that Manes Machine invests about 10 percent of topline revenue back into automation. “It’s worked well for us pre-COVID and during COVID,” he says. “Some of the equipment that we purchased and the automation that we have has really benefited Manes. Coming out of COVID, with demand starting to pick up, I think we’re well positioned to pick up a little more market share in both commercial and military programs.”
Jason highlights a 2017 investment in a Fastems system that spiked productivity. “We have a material-handling system that services nine Mazak machines,” he says. “We’ve implemented new scheduling software, and we utilize a hand scanner to help out with our quality throughput.”
An industry shakeout during the pandemic also presents opportunities. “There’s been a number of competitors of ours who have either been forced out of business or decided that they no longer want to do this,” says Bruce. “That means there will be more opportunities for us in the future.”
Echoes Jason: “As the industry picks up and the demand picks up, I don’t think there are as many machine shops like ours to support all of our customers.”
Needs: “The right people,” says Jason. “We also continue to plan on investing about 10 percent or so of revenue into equipment.”
Manes Machine also needs partners to work for and collaborate with on jobs. “We look for relationships,” says Bruce.