Salt Lake City, Utah
Performance automotive components
Blais started the company with his brother and co-owner, David. "We both come from a car family," says Blais. "My dad raced cars when we were kids, and we grew up riding bicycles around racetracks."
Naturally, that later led to them wanting to soup up their own fast cars. While studying at the University of Utah, the Blais brothers elevated their automotive hobby to the next level. "We started making stuff in the garage," says Blais.
The first components were exhaust manifolds for their turbocharged Volkswagen GTIs. "I was welding those myself, and milling some of the parts to make them," says Blais. "Then we started making some smaller machined accessories to adapt this or block that off or whatever."
A subsequent connecting rod for high-horsepower engines took off. "Those engines at that time were really fragile. If you went over about 300 horsepower, they would break a connecting rod and basically shoot parts out of the sides of the engine, so we designed and had made a bunch of drop-in connecting rods for those. That was basically where we got serious."
That first mass-produced component has now led to a full suite of high-performance components for Volkswagens and Audis, including exhaust systems, camshafts, and cutting-edge engine control unit (ECU) and transmission calibration equipment.
"Over the years, we basically got dragged closer and closer to the mainstream," says Blais. "It's actually funny: We built this $7,500 turbo upgrade and as part of that, we had to make an air intake, because none of the OEM stuff would fit and connect to it. Now we sell thousands and thousands of those [air intakes] a year, but the turbo kit's long gone."
He adds, "Those products bring customers into the brand as well. That's people's first mods. . . . If they keep modifying, they might end up buying our harder-core engine parts, but it's usually years down the road."
Production runs range from 20 to thousands of units, with about 20 of the company's 50 employees working on the manufacturing side. Integrated Engineering has an in-house CNC shop and a wide range of engineering capabilities (including software), but the company's supply chain spans hundreds of suppliers from Asia to California to Utah. "You need almost every industrial process you can think of," says Blais.
After years of consistent 30-plus percent growth, the company consolidated under a single roof in early 2021.The company's new 40,000-square-foot facility is "miles better" than the preceding setup in three buildings, says Blais. "We've literally got room to breathe. It's just a joy compared to what we were in before."
Challenges: "Adapting to hybridization and electric vehicles," says Blais. "That's going to be fun. We're 99 percent confident they can be turned up via software, just like anything. . . . We've already looked at some of them. Just like typical Germans, they used the same control units as the gasoline engines but just wrote different software."
Opportunities: New products. Blais sees room to grow by expanding into untapped categories. "We haven't even explored a lot of suspension parts, so we're going to start playing with that," he notes. "There's also wheels, which we haven't even played with."
COVID-19 led to a spike in demand that was difficult to handle with pandemic-related supply chain issues.
Needs: More good employees. Blais projects 10 to 15 new hires by the end of 2021. "Smart employees is still number one," he says. "We're hiring right now more software engineers, more hardware designers, but that trickles all the way down to the warehouse."