Acoustical engineering and product testing
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Acoustical engineering, testing, and calibration/repair/sales services
Howard McGregor, Stuart's father, worked at the Glenn L. Martin Company (the predecessor to Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin) before striking out on his own as an acoustical engineer with Engineering Dynamics. "He was part of the group that started the acoustics and vibration lab at Martin in the late '50s," says Stuart. "I think he got tired of the big business, and wanted to have his own."
The startup analyzed sound and vibration for aerospace and industrial clients. At first running the business from home, Howard employed Stuart for help on consulting projects. "I was cheap labor when I was in high school," says Stuart.
Howard moved Engineering Dynamics from the house in Littleton to downtown Denver in the mid-'70s, then to its current 4,600-square-foot location in Englewood in 1980. Stuart rejoined the company in 1989 after working for McDonnell Douglas in California.
Today, the company offers acousting engineering for largely industrial and construction clients, testing, and sells and maintains equipment for sound- and vibration-measuring instrumentation.
While the gist of the business remains the same as it was a half-century ago, the "strip chart with a squiggly line" has been supplanted by ever smaller digital sensors and recorders. "I guess it's just the technology that's changed," says Stuart. "My dad had a hard time with digital. He was an analog guy."
Stuart has a different mindset: New technology "has made the job immensely easier," he says.
The company's testing clients are largely manufacturers from aerospace, medical devices, and other industries. "You're simulating an environment a gizmo is going to see over the course of its lifetime," says Stuart of testing. "You'd like to know it's going to survive its intended use."
Tests simulate long periods of shock, vibration, temperature, and humidity for standards including MIL-STD, ASTM, RTCA, and ISTA. "We'll look at the spec and figure out what we need to test. I've had a couple of clients where we custom-tailored the test spec: 'This one wasn't enough but this one is too much, so we'll mix them together,'" says Stuart.
Engineering Dynamics has emerged as a one-stop shop for many testing clients with multiple temperature chambers, a centrifuge, and an Unholtz-Dickie electrodynamic shaker that rattles everything from "little mechanical things to electronics" to their limits. "The principle is the exact same as the loudspeaker on your stereo," says Stuart.
Certain tests require specialized equipment, and Engineering Dynamics manufactures test fixtures and other components in-house. "We have a little machine shop where we make our own parts," says Stuart.
For both testing and engineering, Engineering Dynamics serves a largely local market. Past and current customers include United Launch Alliance, Lockheed Martin, SEAKR, Ball Aerospace & Technologies, and Northrop Grumman. "A lot of our tests are small components that go on launch vehicles," says Stuart. "We have a number of commercial customers and medical device customers, but I tend to concentrate on going after the aerospace stuff."
Challenges: Marketing. "The biggest challenge I have when I'm trying to market to my customers is getting past the secretary," says Stuart. "That's the hard part for me -- to break through and find these people."
He says he's also seen a growing "time lag" when it comes to accounts receivable. "Getting paid is a challenge," says Stuart. "They're just going to pay you when they're going to pay you."
The custom nature of the work presents another challenge, he adds. "Every client's different," says Stuart. "It's frustrating at times, but we have to be flexible. Every test that comes through here is different."
Opportunities: Stuart says he sees a wide range of possible customers making things in Colorado. "Manufacturing is the best fit," he says. "I deal with medical, aerospace, and commercial products."
Needs: "More steady customers," says Stuart. "That's the big one."