By Eric Peterson | Jan 11, 2022
Machined parts and automation components
Cottrell has machining in his blood. "My dad raised me in the trade," says Cottrell. "I've always worked in this field, probably since I was 12."
"It was something I was good at. I came into this world with the skill set, and I enjoyed it," he adds. "I always found a hidden joy when you work hard, put in a good day."
He worked for his father, Don, at his machine shop, DRC Tool & Manufacturing, in Murray, Utah, and Abbott Laboratories before starting Quality Machine & Automation more than 25 years ago when he saw an opening contract manufacturing for medical-device companies.
Medical customers include BioFire Diagnostics, Varex Imaging, and Varian Medical Systems. Quality Machine's ISO 9001 certification "enables us to slide right into companies that require that process," says Cottrell.
Outside of medical jobs, a marquee project involved developing the first Handi Quilter after the company got started in the late 1990s. "We were in on the ground floor of all of the prototypes, the creation of the product," says Cottrell. "It was an amazing experience."
Based in a 6,500-square-foot shop north of Salt Lake City in Centerville, Quality Machine now focuses on high-margin medical and aerospace work. "We've stayed pretty steady," says Cottrell. "The profit margins are where I want them to be, so that's where I put all my energy."
The strategy dovetails into the company's precision capabilities. "What really sets us apart is our quality," says Cottrell. "I'm doing a job now that five other shops said they couldn't do, so we pride ourselves on how we figure things out."
That involves having the best tools for the job: A new 9-axis Quick-TECH mill is the latest and greatest acquisition. "There's probably just a handful of shops in all of Utah that has a machine like this," says Cottrell.
Quality Machine also supplies custom components for automation systems, many of them in medical. "We do a lot of assembly line stuff, fixturing and tooling," says Cottrell. "We're doing parts right now for a medical company and their epidural line."
"The machine's going to take over the world, I think," he adds wryly.
Challenges: "Dodging all this craziness that's in the world," says Cottrell. "Being able to order to China and just have it naturally appear one day is coming right to a head."
Another big challenge: "Finding skilled people to come in," he says. "It's a high-skill trade."
Opportunities: Reshoring. "It's going to be nice to see all of this come back to the states," says Cottrell. "I'm grateful for that."
"It's going to be nice to see all of the chip manufacturing companies come back, because Utah was a big chip-manufacturing state before all of that went to Taiwan."
Firearms are another opportunity, with a hitch. "Right now, guns are going crazy," says Cottrell. "I've dabbled in that a little bit. One hitch: "The profit margins are not there."
Needs: Employees. "We're always doing interviews," says Cottrell. "We hire character, and then we train that individual. Whether they've been a machinist or not hardly matters."
As trades have been largely gutted from the U.S. educational system, a paradigm shift has allowed people to self-educate with an assist from the Internet, he adds. "It's all online. If you want to learn how to program a computer and you want to get motivated, lose some sleep, you can do it as fast as you want to do it, and learn and invest in yourself, invest in your mind."
But the majority of American students don't take this route, Cottrell contends "They're all just automatically funneled into college," he says. "Europe takes their youngsters at a young age and test them, and by the time they're 12, they're already on a career path of what their strengths are and what they enjoy."
"When you have a trade, it affects every aspect of your life," notes Cottrell. "They're bringing those apprenticeships back. I served my apprenticeship and got my journeyman's card in the '80s. It's nice to see the push for these trades and the journeyman's card coming back."