By Eric Peterson | May 02, 2022
Contract CNC services and roll cages
Fraccola got into manufacturing by way of building race cars in 2014. That pursuit morphed into the launch of High Alpine Fab the following year to manufacture roll cages for utility terrain vehicles (UTVs). The company's catalog includes heavy-duty cages for rugged vehicles from Polaris and RZR as well as bumpers, tire carriers, and other UTV accessories.
Along the way, High Alpine got into contract manufacturing because of its capabilities and capacities. Roll cages are "now a backburner thing" behind contract CNC machining projects for High Alpine Fab, says Fraccola, as demand for contract manufacturing has surged since 2020.
The company is industry-agnostic when it comes to projects and target markets, but its capabilities have proven a good match for the construction industry in Summit County, Colorado. "A lot of it's homebuilders," says Fraccola. "They'll give us drawings from the architect."
It's a natural symbiosis that gives High Alpine a steady stream of work manufacturing staircases, structural elements, and other construction components while contractors don't have to maintain a machine shop internally. "They don't have to have employees," says Fraccola. "We'll build the structural stuff and they'll come pick it up."
Beyond contractors and architects, High Alpine's diverse roster of customers ranges from out-of-state bleacher manufacturers to local ski resorts.
As other machine shops in Summit County shuttered, High Alpine doubled down on automation to handle an increasing workload. The company acquired its first CNC machine in 2018 when Copper Mountain needed about 1,100 steel plates cut, and no shop had the capacity to handle that kind of volume, leading Fraccola to invest in his first CNC equipment.
High Alpine now has a total of five CNC machines, a rarity in the high country. "Nobody up here has them," says Fraccola.
Other machine shops in Summit County suffered with the pandemic and labor crunch. "A lot of guys have decided to close their shops," says Fraccola, noting that High Alpine sidestepped labor issues thanks to its reliance on automation.
The staff is "me, my wife Cait, and five computers," says Fraccola. "Everything's automated."
Operating out about half of a 6,700-square-foot facility it shares with the Fraccolas' other business, High Altitude Plowing Services, the company added a Star Lab plasma table to its arsenal in late 2020, and also offers CAD, welding and repair, and custom fabrication services.
Growth has been "nonstop" in the four years since making the move to CNC equipment, he says. "We're expanding more," says Fraccola.
Challenges: "The biggest challenge is getting materials," says Fraccola, noting that lead times that were days in 2019 are months in 2022.
One reason roll cages are on the backburner is the supply of steel tubing needed to make them. "It's a pain in the ass to get right now," he says. "It's the matter of getting it here on the boats. You have to use it because of its strength."
Opportunities: Due to the dearth of local competition, Fraccola forecasts strong continued demand from diverse markets, although he sees a limit in the construction market relating to a notably small supply of developable land left in Summit County. "We're pretty much maxed out," he says.
Fraccola says the company will still build roll cages for the wholesale market, but direct-to-consumer sales became increasingly difficult to manage on a one-by-one basis. Fraccola laughs, "Will you build me a cage? I want it done Friday!"
Needs: The company will continue to leverage technology and automation as it expands its capabilities. "I would like to get a six-axis laser table," says Fraccola, noting that an investment in one would bring beveling capabilities to High Alpine Fab.