At manufacturer Texstars Inc.'s facility in Grand Prairie, each day is anything but ordinary. Employees have worked on projects like nuclear flash shields for the B-2 bomber. Officials talk fluently about different process applications, including the challenge of improving the airstrike resistance of the canopy on an F-16 fighter jet.
For instance, how do you engineer a canopy to handle the strike of a 4-pound bird at 550 knots?
Like eager scientists working on breakthrough developments, officials talked about products they've developed over the years, including injection molded night-vision goggles.
``One of the reasons several of us have been here so many years is that it's never a dull moment,'' said Jim Irion, senior vice president of engineering and quality, in an Aug. 7 interview at Texstars' headquarters in Grand Prairie. ``You have an interesting project coming up every single day.''
David Rollings, executive vice president of product development, tells the story of the U.S. Navy approaching Texstars in 1990 for a project involving a standard missile.
The standard missile is the Navy's primary surface-to-air fleet defense weapon, according to the Federation of American Scientists' Military Analysis Network. The standard missile had a warhead in it that was metal, and the Navy wanted the components produced from lighter-weight plastic. Texstars created a solution from carbon-fiber-filled Ultem.
``They weren't having any success,'' Rollings said. ``But it's a huge success story that we helped and designed the parts and designed the tooling. The plastic parts performed better than the metal parts.
``This company was born and continues today on accepting challenges that other people won't accept. I can point you in any direction here and tell you a success story that this company has done where others have backed away.''
Now, the challenge ahead of Texstars isn't complicated so much by foreign competition or skyrocketing resin costs. Greg Frye, named president and chief executive officer last year, highlights other areas like managing growth.
Under parent company Hampson Industries plc of Brierley Hill, England, the entire group will build on its stateside composites footprint. Hampson recently completed acquisitions of Coast Composites Inc. in Irvine, Calif., and Lamsco West Inc. in Santa Clarita, Calif.
``There really is a big push in Hampson toward composites as a whole, in the U.S. market in particular,'' Frye said. ``There are actually two companies that I'm not at liberty to name, where we've got offers out on right now.''
Tony Gilroy, Hampson's chairman, said in Hampson's annual report that the corporation will generate half its sales from its U.S. subsidiaries in 2006 and 2007.
``These carefully selected acquisitions have also opened access to the largest military market in the world, brought us an unrivaled blue-chip customer base in airframe manufacture and provided us with advanced new manufacturing processes and technologies that are helping to reposition our business,'' Gilroy said.
For Texstars, that means building on its reputation for composite technology, especially on the commercial side of its business.
Among nearly 290,000 square feet in two plants, the company maintains capabilities in several processes including injection molding, blow molding and vacuum forming. It also has tooling, research and development, a clean room and coating facilities.
Texstars has seen roughly a 70 percent increase in its order book during the past year, through new sales and marketing efforts. The firm now is about 60 percent commercial, 40 percent military. Two years ago, that ratio was reversed.
``The point to stress on that is that we've flipped, but the military side of the business really hasn't shrunk as much as the commercial side has grown,'' Frye said.
The company's military work has been a steadying influence in the past. For years, the company has generated 50-60 percent of its sales from military work.
``I think the biggest issue for us here it's going to be managed growth. We are growing. We are winning the contracts. We want to implement them in a lean fashion. We want to continue to grow. We have a strong R&D department. We have a few things that Texstars is undertaking as we speak. We want to be on the forefront of some of these composite technologies.''
The company's facilities in Grand Prairie and Arlington, Texas, illustrate Frye's push for lean, in that the factory floors have been realigned via cellular manufacturing and visual scheduling.
``We restructured the organization to accommodate a lean enterprise system,'' Frye said. ``We did that through the restructuring of sales and marketing; we put together an organization that deals strictly with supply-chain management.''
The approach is critical as Texstars takes on more contracts. B/E Aerospace Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C., has selected Texstars to supply composite seat components for commercial aircraft that will be used by Qantas Airways. The contract is worth $3.8 million, according to Hampson.
Hampson itself won a $75 million contract through which Texstars will supply composite components like pylons and nacelles for the Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet program.
That program received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in July, according to Eclipse Aviation Corp., based in Albuquerque.
Using a test fleet of five FAA-conforming aircraft, the jet was certified in more than 1,800 flights with 2,700 flight hours. The jet has been tooled and designed for high-volume, low-cost production, and Eclipse plans to deliver more than 50 through the end of 2006.
``The benefit of our investment will be realized over the years to come,'' Hampson Chief Executive Officer Kim Ward said in Hampson's annual report.
``In the meantime, all of our aerospace businesses are benefiting from the cyclical rebound in demand for commercial aircraft and there are currently no indications of an end to this cycle of increased demand.''
In an Aug. 17 telephone interview, Eclipse spokesman Andrew Broom said the jets will be built at Eclipse facilities in Albuquerque.
Those facilities will be expanded to 400,000 square feet to accommodate production.
Hampson is expanding its own presence in Grand Prairie. According to the city, Hampson Aerospace Inc. signed a 10-year lease in September on a 61,353-square-foot plant that will have an inventory and equipment value of $20 million.
The site is expected to employ 134 machinists, engineers and assemblers during the next two years. The facility is for assembly, according to Hampson's annual report.
Texstars itself has adequate plant space, but will add about 40 employees to its base of 200 through the end of 2007. During the past year, officials have added equipment like one water-jet machine, and an automated ply cutter for the composite side of the business.
During the next year, it will add another five-axis trim and drill machine.
``At this point, we're focused on growing in the processes and capabilities that we already have because we think there's a large portion of the market that we haven't seen,'' Frye said.
Frye was clear that military will remain a focus.
``We'll diversify in equal amounts,'' he said. ``I don't think we want to be too heavy in one area.
``We want it not to be as military-dominant as we were. But I do believe we still want a strong military presence, without a doubt. What we've done, though, even on the commercial side of the business, is that we have spread our eggs a little better.''
Going forward, Texstars officials are just waiting to see what might be the next ultracool project and new problem to solve.
``We were asked to bid on a ballistic panel program,'' Texstars' Irion said of the agreement with the U.S. government to supply laminated glass and plastic structures.
``Basically they came to us and said, `How fast can you get into this business?' We bought water jets and got going and we're still building some. We seized the moment.
``It's not something we were in two years ago. We were asked to get in, we got in, we're supporting them and hopefully we'll continue.''