By Eric Peterson | Jan 24, 2022
Contract CNC services for aerospace
"I had a non-traditional path to executive management," says Long, who succeeded LaVonda Jeffrey as Intrex Aerospace president in late 2021.
His career in manufacturing began in the mid-1990s as a machinist. "I worked my way up to engineering roles at a couple of different companies," says Long. "When I came to Intrex, I started out as a machinist on the floor. They liked what I did, and I was promoted up through the ranks."
He worked as a programmer and engineer, then became director of operations, director of sales, and director of continuous improvement before moving into the C-suite. "I've had all kinds of titles," says Long.
As CEO, he says, "I would like to continue to drive the whole Lean manufacturing side, keep pushing for improvements."
Long wants to do away with any vestiges of a job-shop mentality and position the company as a manufacturing partner. "We are a build-to-print house, but what makes us unique is our history," he says. "We didn't start out as a mom-and-pop."
While the company has been in its current form for a little more than a decade, Stanley Aviation -- at the time an Aurora-based manufacturer of ejection seats -- spun off a division in the 1970s that became Intrex Aerospace. "We're essentially one of the remnants of Stanley Aviation," says Long. "They wanted to get out of machining -- so basically they sold off the manufacturing arm of that division to a company in Louisville."
Michigan-based Demmer Manufacturing subsequently acquired the business -- then branded Intrex Global Solutions -- in 2009, a year before Long joined the company. "After the acquisition, the focus became aerospace machining," he says. "We took all of their people, all of their equipment, and also their quality manual," says Long. "We had a real jump start into the aerospace industry, and there are still people here from way back when. We've got people who have been making aerospace products for over 30 years."
At its 75,000-square-foot facility north of Denver in Thornton, Intrex now makes about 200 different parts a month and 30,000 total units a year, largely for customers often supplying NASA and prime contractors in defense and aerospace.
Using about 35 CNC machines, Intrex specializes in mill-turn parts for fluid conveyance. "The bulk of what we make is components for fluid conveyance," says Long. "It's connecting tubes and hoses inside of an airplane. As that shakes around and changes temperature, there's a fairly significant load on it."
It's notably intricate work, he adds. "Some of that stuff, once it starts to get thin -- especially in larger diameters -- it wants to spring into all kinds of different shapes. With all the history and knowledge of machining that, we figured out how to do it and be pretty successful up front with it."
The company has made components for the International Space Station and other projects with "high-level customer requirements," says Long."I think what separates us would be our performance numbers: Right now, we're sitting at 100 percent on-time delivery and zero product defects."
He adds, "We're unique in that we typically target a strategic partner, rather than looking for any customer that will pay the bills. We're really, really careful on what we quote. We want to make sure we're going to be successful."
The pandemic impacted the company negatively. At first, orders dried up, before revving up to "slow to moderate growth" in 2021, says Long. He forecasts sales to increase by about 10 percent in 2022.
Challenges: Intrex had 100 employees before the onset of COVID-19, but has about half of that number as of early 2022. "We're going to have to explore how hard it is going to be to hire," says Long. "When you talk to anybody, that's all they talk about is how difficult it is."
Automation has been a mitigating factor. "We have a couple machines we've equipped so they can run at least one shift unattended," says Long. "It's definitely paid off. If you have the volume, I think you have to look at that."
Opportunities: "With the state of the market right now, it's a little bit in flux," says Long. "When the pandemic hit, it seems the aerospace market overbuilt a little bit, thinking it wasn't going to last as long as it did. So we haven't seen the full rebound yet, based on how many people are flying these days."
Needs: Talent, with the most immediate being quality and manufacturing engineers, a buyer, and accounting help, followed by production staff later in 2022. "We're bursting at the seams with the amount of work that we've got with the staffing," says Long.