Oakland, California

Co-founder and Operations Manager Dan Elliott believes that a quality- and service-focused mindset is key to the contract manufacturer’s success.

“I think a lot of the smaller shops underestimate how important quality and delivery are to a lot of customers,” Elliott says.

He’s a founder and owner of the company, along with company President Eric Benson and Sales and Engineering Manager Zachary Illingworth. The three men are long-time friends who had worked together in the past and were feeling burnt out in their employment. They decided that they could put their backgrounds and skills together to work for themselves in 2020 and actually opened their doors in 2021. Today, the three owners and their two employees stay busy turning out a variety of work for clients in their 5,500-square-foot facility.

Photos Jonathan Castner

The bulk of the company’s customers are from the tech industry, and their products range from parts used by the customers in their own manufacturing efforts to final parts that the customer sells. Much of the work is in the form of prototypes or short runs, although there are some longer run production parts that customers contract them to build on an ongoing basis.

“We thought we would have a higher mix across our three major [services] of welding, water jet cutting, and machining, but it’s definitely gone much more to the welding,” Elliott says. “It does help us to really establish ourselves in that aspect, and we just roll with it. We really just started with welding and fabrication because it’s cheap and easy to get started with and continue to build up from there. We immediately found that there was a huge demand for aluminum fabrication out there, so we do a great deal of aluminum fabrication and aluminum welding, and we were pretty surprised about that.”

Supplies of raw material haven’t generally been a problem for Redwood Machine Works, likely because of the relatively small quantities they normally require. While they’ve easily been able to meet their deadlines without disruption, sometimes their customers end up pushing back due dates because of their own supply chain issues, particularly because of electronics shortages. Although they’ve experienced occasional fluctuations, pricing for materials has remained relatively stable for them.

While they strive to do as much of their work in-house as possible, coatings and finishes are generally outsourced, with powder coating being the top need. Elliott says they are happy with their suppliers for most outside services, but continues, “One thing we definitely struggle to find, and I understand it, is wet painting. One of our mass-produced items is wet painted, and it’s very hard to find suppliers. And, if you do find them, the quality can be questionable. There are not a lot of people around here that do that. They exist, but it’s a very small pool compared to powder coating,”

Starting out, the company had to build its customer base from scratch, but Elliott says, “Being in the industry, we had some ties with people that we had worked with a lot and trusted us, so when we broke off, they said ‘Call me; we’ll send you work,’ but it was a small pool, so we definitely had to build it up from the ground.” Today, however, most work comes from repeat customers, word-of-mouth, and website contacts, so little in the way of outside sales efforts are needed.

Finding qualified workers is always a problem, and Elliott says, “Even though we’re a little tiny company, we push as much automation as practical, because it’s difficult to find that labor, and when you do, it can be very expensive. Having more automation on the floor, even though it can be a bit more of an upfront cost, saves us in the end. We definitely try to invest in higher-end technology, and machines and equipment that offer extra in their capabilities. With pre-set technology, a less-skilled operator can do a more complex job.”

Challenges: “With a job shop, you never know what’s around the corner,” he says. “One of the challenges is definitely to stay diverse and flexible, while staying organized. If you see a slight change in things, just go with it. Being rigid is always a problem.”

Opportunities: The company is planning on expanding the physical size of its facility, as well as adding new equipment, such as their new welding robot, to broaden their capabilities. More CNC machining work and more water-jet cutting will be pursued as they continue to grow, with the goal of becoming a full-service, turn-key supplier, and creating a steadier workflow.

Needs: Continuing expansion in a controlled, organized manner in order to maintain the quality and customer service they’ve become known for.


Find Them In Our Directory: