By Eric Peterson | Aug 29, 2022
St. George, Utah
Solenoids and electromechanical components
RAM Aviation, Space & Defense (RAM ASD) has been manufacturing for nearly 50 years.
It started in the garage at Ray and Melzie Ganowsky (RAM is an acronym for Ray and Melzie) with a single part for Kohler Engines. Their son, Kevin Ganowsky, started the valve division in 1988, setting the company on a course it's still on today.
RAM specializes in solenoids and solenoid valves for fuel and landing gear systems for both airplanes and spacecraft, and its footprint spans all of the top aerospace manufacturers and many NASA programs.
"The space market has more demanding criteria than aerospace," says Doty. "With the environment of course being very cold and then conversely, upon reentry, very hot, the extremes are expanded."
He adds, "Since it's an emerging market, in some cases you have customers who are learning along with you as to what they want, so it's very dynamic. It gives us an opportunity to be greater contributors to the whole because our team is sometimes more aware of what is needed than the customer might be."
The company rebranded from RAM Company to RAM ASD after CEO Gregg Robinson joined the business in 2019. "He is the first non-family CEO," says Doty. "He has succeeded Kevin Ganowsky in that role."
In 2021, RAM ASD started manufacturing linear variable differential transformers (LVDTs), electromechanical transducers that convert motion into an electrical signal. "It does include space, but those are largely aerospace components," says Doty.
Doty touts product quality and turnaround time as differentiators for RAM ASD. "Compared to our competitors, we are quite often at least as good or higher quality and shorter lead time to market," he says. "We can turn prototype product in as little as 14 weeks . . . but with all of the qualifications associated with space, it can often be in the 38- to 42-week total time. Some of our competitors are quite significantly longer than that."
"Another competitive advantage we offer is the ability to collaborate with the design engineer," he continues. "It's not just wordspeak, it's real. They can call and talk to the design engineer and vice versa and you can work that out quite well collaborating on the final design."
Doubling its space to 126,000 square feet in 2018, the company is vertically integrated and handles most everything but plating and anodizing in-house. "We like to say, 'We bring in bar stock and magnet wire and we turn out solenoid valves,'" says Doty. "With a machine shop with multiple Nadcap-certified processes, with our ASI 9100 certification, with expanding engineering capabilities -- for example, we've added a vibe table -- with these environmental control type of capabilities, we are quite in-house now vertically integrated."
RAM is majority owner of Intergalactic, a manufacturer of thermal management systems for aircraft and spacecraft. Intergalactic is based at its parent's facility and leverages the onsite manufacturing capabilities.
"We have property purchased for them, and they'll eventually be outside of this facility, but at this point they're still downstairs," says Doty. "As their products get more mature, we'll likely be doing more [manufacturing] for them than we are today."
Revenue has grown by 15 to 20 percent in recent years. "It primarily was our growth in our commercial and military aerospace group," says Doty. "That still is a driver today and those markets have rebounded. At the same time, we are now still quite significantly into the space market, and that also consumes a great deal of our capacity."
Challenges: Doty points to labor issues. "That's just competition for the labor that's willing to work," he says. "It's machinists, it's entry-level assembly."
"We're working hard on culture and culture improvement, and part of the employee challenge is making sure we retain the people we have trained," he adds. "We take every opportunity we can to make sure we're showing appreciation for the good employees who make it happen every day."
Opportunities: Doty sees an opportunity to navigate labor and supply chain issues better than competitors. "Another opportunity for us is the LVDT market as well as the expanding space market," he says. "Space is outpacing the current aerospace market."
RAM ASD also started targeting the oil and gas industry in early 2022. "There's no downside to offering product in that market," says Doty. "Downhole and subsea have similar type extremes as there are in space. When you have high-mix, low-volume applications in space that are challenging, it's the same in downhole subsea. Those markets have overlap in the skill set needed to produce solenoid valves for them or LVDTs for them."
Needs: More employees. "If 25 people walked in the door today, we'd hire them now," says Doty. "We definitely have needs for trainable and skilled labor."