San Antonio, Texas
Contract plating and metal finishing services
Longtime colleagues and co-workers in the metal finishing industry, Arnold and Renaud bought the business that became City Plating and Metal Finishing in October 2013.
"The company was actually a business that was going and it had another name: It was called City Plating Company," says Arnold. "The business had been going since the '70s."
Arnold says he saw an opportunity to boost productivity when he bought the business. Now based in a 25,000-square-foot facility, the company has since upgraded its equipment and processes, increased plating capacity, and earned ISO 9000 and AS9100D certifications.
"We came in and changed out every tank in here, all the equipment," he says. "We have expanded into chem-film and primer, and we do passivation."
Renaud's background in sales of metal finishing equipment helped guide the revamp. "He always had an in on where to get the best equipment and what worked the best," says Arnold.
The company's focus is squarely on plating components for aircraft and rotorcraft, with an emphasis on interiors.
He cites an example: "We do the handrail systems for Gulfstream, and they call that the jewelry of their aircraft because it's the first thing the owner sees. Let me tell you, it's got to be perfect."
That kind of work can only be automated to a point, says Renaud. "We are a notch below artwork," he says of plating. "Our guys interact directly with the part as it's going into the solution and as they're coming out of the solution. They do that nearly 30 times from start to finish."
Renaud says there are only about 10 plating shops in the U.S. focused on aviation interiors, and the customer expects a higher level of aesthetics. "Gulfstream and their competitors have said, 'We need perfection,'" he explains. "You're going to sit in an aircraft for a couple hours. You're going to have interaction with a cup holder or with an air gasper or a switch or a bolt you have around a display. The longer you sit there, the longer you have to look at that thing. It has to look good!"
City Plating is known for their quick turnaround and high quality, says Arnold. "We hardly ever get anything back," he notes. "We have almost no returns."
Customers include such OEMs as Gulfstream and Bombardier, as well as modification centers and other businesses that restore and upgrade private aircraft.
The company's sales have grown ever since 2013. "We're probably up 50 to 75 percent from where they were," says Arnold.
Challenges: "It's hard to hire people off the street," says Arnold. "Today, it's difficult with people." City Plating typically brings on temporary workers as a pipeline. "If the guy is really good, we just buy out their contract."
Renaud points to the increasing sophistication of the buyers. "The customer's becoming more educated," he says. "They know the game of procurement. They understand how to work competitors against one another."
Opportunities: "Right now, what I see going on is a lot of people are buying private aircraft," says Arnold. "They're bringing them in, fixing them up, putting new interiors in them, doing all the checks and maintenance, and then they're selling them."
Noting that it's a more competitive space than interiors, Renaud says he sees potential to grow into "functional coatings" for exterior commercial aircraft components made of aluminum to smooth out the sales curve. The broader aerospace manufacturing ecosystem, he notes, is now demanding the same level of plating quality once reserved for the visible interiors of private planes.
Needs: "It's certainly labor," says Renaud. "For us, it's not labor that can sit in front of a computer or has a college degree, it's somebody that wants to get their hands dirty, is proud of the work they turn out, and strives to put out the best-looking, best-quality product -- and that's not a popular thing with kids today."
Arnold says he would like to outfit an unused 4,500-foot-structure with a large paint booth to increase the scale of the components that the company can finish.