Co-founders Ken and Jordan Curry see potential to grow their machine shop through investments in automation and a quality-first ethos.
Ken had previously started another Salt Lake-area job shop, Clean Machine, in 1993 and planned to ride into the sunset of retirement after selling his stake in the business in 2019.
His best plans were laid to waste within a year when Jordan came to him with a business plan for another shop. They launched Summit Peak Manufacturing from a 3,800-square-foot space in Murray in 2020.
“My son, Jordan, he worked for since he was 14 — he’s now 34,” says Ken. “He came to me and my wife and he said, ‘My next job is to move to a new company and be an engineer. I’m a shop guy, and I’d really like to start a shop.’ He said, ‘Would you like to help me do it?’ Before I could even say yes, my wife said, ‘He would love to.’ I think she wanted me to get the hell out of the house.”
He adds, “Basically, my role now is to help him pursue his dream.”
That dream is rooted in manufacturing, says Jordan. “I needed to make a decision: Do I want to go get an engineering job or do I want to do something else,” says Jordan. “I just couldn’t see myself going and sitting behind a desk and not being able to be out in manufacturing, building parts.”
As equal partners in the business, the father-son team has invested more than $1.5 million in four CNC machines, including two 5-axis models. “As we grow this business, we don’t necessarily want to grow it by employees,” says Ken. “We want to grow it by automation.”
The goal is a 15-person shop with high-value jobs and lights-out operations. With two shifts working four days a week, Summit Peak has some lights-out manufacturing now and a plan to close the four- to six-hour gaps where machines aren’t running by early 2023.
Jordan envisions “a one-stop shop.” Summit Peak outsources grinding and electrical discharge machining (EDM), but such processes could be brought in-house. “Bringing it in-house allows us to control the process from start to finish to ensure the customer is going to get exactly what we agreed upon. There’s no guesswork, nothing like that.”
It also helps with employee engagement, he adds. “The thing I strive to do the most with them is make sure they’re always growing and always learning. Bringing these other processes in-house allows them to branch out and learn more.”
Summit Peak is focused on the oil and gas, semiconductor, and aerospace industries. “We’re trying to select companies that have a little bit of forethought as far as needing parts so we can get repeat production orders and things like that laid out,” says Ken.
Beyond automation on the production floor, Summit Peak has embraced paperless systems for the front office and the QA process. “We’re actually a very high-tech shop,” says Ken. “We’re big into 5-axis machining. Of course, we have a CMM machine that we utilize to check that 5-axis work.”
Summit Peak thrives on projects other shops might try to avoid, he adds. “We’re not your end-all shop, but if there are parts that you are struggling with or having problems placing, things like that, we may be your shop.”
Growth has been strong since the outset, and the forecast for 2022 is 100 percent growth. “We’re doing a little over $100,000 a month,” says Ken. “In two years, we already have a $400,000 backlog of work. We’re just buried. I’m quoting 12- and 16-week lead times already.”
Challenges: Supply chain has retreated to “two or three” on a 10-point scale, says Ken. “The big thing is just being able to communicate that.”
He highlights another: “Hiring skilled, highly motivated employees is going to be a challenge. It’s about finding the right person who fits in our scheme and fits in our culture we’re trying to develop here.”
“There’s kind of a gap between my pops and me,” sasy Jason. “There’s a 15- to 20-year age gap where the industry is low in that age range. I think we’re seeing that again — I’m in my mid-thirties right now — to younger kids. Finding skilled employees is just a challenge in general in the industry itself.”
Opportunities: Ken sees opportunities across a number of industries by building on a foundation of high quality. “What’s surprised us, honestly, is how the work has just come our way, and I think a lot of that is just the quality of what we do,” he says. “That’s a big deal for us.”
Jordan says he sees aerospace continuing to drive growth with Summit Peak pursuing ISO 9001 and AS9100 certifications. “Once we achieve those two certifications, I think aerospace and defense will be an area that’s really intriguing for us, because of the complexity of the parts. That’s where we really excel — with complex parts”
Needs: Space, or lack thereof, “is one of our limiting factors,” says Ken, targeting a facility of about 7,500 square feet.
Jordan says the shop’s proximity to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray has proven a power bottleneck. “We’re pretty constrained from the city for utilities,” he says. “We tried to double the power, but the city unfortunately came back and said that, right now, they’re not going to allow us to do that because of power requirements from the hospital.”
He adds, “We could put more machines in our current square footage, but we’re tapped on power.”