SAN DIEGO — Shaking off some hard times, family-owned Specialty Manufacturing Inc. is focusing on quick-turnaround commercial projects and boosting capabilities at its in-house toolmaking division.
The thermoforming company now concentrates on biomedical, telecommunications and computer peripheral markets, following divestiture of its defense division in July 1997 and acquisition of toolmaker Protogenesis Inc. in October.
Defense operations moved to Spring Valley, Calif., and Protogenesis moved from Carlsbad, Calif., to San Diego, where Specialty Manufacturing is based. Protogenesis' four employees brought along a computer-aided-design package and workstations, computer numerically controlled mills, a CNC lathe and a hand mill.
``With a spinoff of the military [business], our overall sales and profit dropped, but we also got rid of inventory expenses and executive expenses, and we were able to keep the best of the military'' infrastructure, such as quality assurance and statistical process control, President Jenny Ames said during a group interview in San Diego.
Specialty Manufacturing employs 48 including Protogenesis.
Military work was labor-intensive and slowed commercial production times, she said. The change ``freed up time and space.''
She projected sales of about $4 million, excluding defense, for the fiscal year ended June 30. Including defense, Specialty Manufacturing had fiscal-1997 sales of $5.3 million and ranked 91st on Plastics News' list of North American thermoformers.
Ames became president a year ago after tenure as controller and in other positions during her 20 years with the firm. She succeeded her now-retired father, Frank Ames, who co-founded Specialty Manufacturing with Arthur Buckel and Dennis Williams in 1976.
Williams' children took responsibility for the defense business, forming Williams Aerospace in July 1997 as an assembler and supplier of spare parts. Specialty Manufacturing retained the equipment and continues to thermoform parts for Williams Aerospace.
Moving the military-related inventory and tools freed about 20 percent of the firm's 24,000-square-foot plant, said Haydn Forward, vice president of sales and marketing.
Having Protogenesis on-site improves Specialty Manufacturing's ability to help a customer move a product to market quickly. Protogenesis had supplied tools to the processor for seven years. Jeff Upton heads the division as general manager, and Protogenesis continues to accept outside orders for tools and models.
The new arrangement cut 40 percent from the time needed to upgrade and redesign a large, four-piece assembly, Forward said.
After acquiring a Motionmaster five-axis CNC trimming machine in April, Specialty Manufacturing drew on a seven-year alliance with heavy-gauge thermoformer Arrem Plastics Inc. of Addison, Ill., ``to incorporate the machine into our shop quickly,'' he said. Arrem had sales of $7.8 million for the fiscal year ended May 31, 1997.
The firms use three-dimensional CAD software to transfer technology and project files, said Jack Schrieffer, Arrem sales manager.
Specialty Manufacturing operations include one rotary and two shuttle pressure formers and a high-speed, in-line, thin-gauge machine.