An Arizona Firm Shows Flexibility, Success in Manufacturing
Since the 1980s, American manufacturing has been dwindling. One of the primary reasons for the decline in American manufacturing employment has been offshoring, but other factors such as trade imbalances, technological change and wider opportunities in higher education have slowly eroded the manufacturing employment landscape as well. Though U.S. manufacturing employment is in a diminished phase, smaller manufacturing firms are doing their part to keep manufacturing jobs stateside by engaging a few novel strategies and advanced manufacturing technology.
I was in Dallas a few weeks back and I ran into an engineer named Jared Aurich. Jared, his father, Dale, and a host of other employees have seemingly bucked the odds. Since the mid-1980s, when manufacturing jobs were fleeing the country, the Aurich’s and their team have been steadily growing a manufacturing business in Prescott, Arizona.
How’s that possible?
Well, it might boil down to the fact that the Aurichs have maintained a common sense approach to hiring (though it probably goes against the grain of most firms), and they’ve always been flexible about the projects in which they’ll engage.
In 1984, Dale Aurich founded Advanced Metal Fabrication and Machine (AMFM). Since its inception, AMFM has been a hands-on engineering shop that won’t shy away from any project. With that attitude driving their vision, AMFM is now capable of providing an entire suite of services to clients, including anything from helping designers engineer a product, to mass manufacturing custom components or sheet metal parts and nearly everything in between. Equipped with a 35,000-square-foot facility filled with CNC mills and lathes, sheet metal bending machines, welders and more, AMFM can manufacture a wide variety of product.
Over AMFM’s thirty-year history, Dale and his team have worked across a wide range of industries and with some of the largest companies in the world. In that time, his team has developed a deep skill set that gives them great insight into how to effectively engineer products. But the way that AMFM has been able to cultivate that skill set has been almost as important as having it in the first place.
As Jared put it to me, “Usually the kind of people we look for are the kind of people that have a mechanical aptitude as a talent. You have a lot of people who are engineers because they went to school for it, and then you have some people who just think that way.” Jared continued, “What we’ve found is if you hire someone who has good mechanical aptitude and a talent for it you can really train them to work anywhere in the shop, and they’ll take off and do a really great job.”
Though AMFM’s hiring policy makes sense, the reason it’s most effective is that it represents that beginning of a thread that guides their entire design process. Jared continued, “Because my team and I have an intuitive understanding of manufacturing, and we’ve been making parts successfully for so long, we can look at a part and, in many cases, tell our clients that we can help you make this part more effectively and for a lower cost if we change a few features or do it like this. The most fascinating thing is that often times we’re able to hand our clients a part that’s better than the original.” In the end, emphasizing manufacturability is very important and having staff on hand that have a deep understanding and intuition about that principle is extremely valuable.
Two Projects—A Study in Flexibility
Aside from having a team that knows what they’re doing, AMFM has also been successful because it isn’t afraid to take on any project. While in Dallas, Jared showed me two projects that were being exhibited by AMFM at the SOLIDWORKS World Product Showcase, and both examples demonstrated the flexibility that’s made AMFM successful.
The first project Jared introduced to me was a helicopter flight simulator. “We had a client come in and tell us that they were interested in expanding their flight school, and developing a platform that provided more realism for their simulators,” he said.
After listening to their client and finding out that their current simulators weren’t much more than a PC running flight simulation software and a few simulated controls, the AMFM crew knew just what they’d have to deliver—a realistic helicopter cab and controls coupled with a suite of monitors for displaying the graphical simulation.
A few weeks later, AMFM took delivery of a crashed Robinson R-22/R-44 helicopter cab that was provided by their client. Immediately Jared and his team went about reverse engineering the salvaged cabin. “It’s not just the look of the cab that was important to us. We reverse engineered everything, including the helicopter’s controls so that the simulator controls would function just like the original,” he said.
Using SOLIDWORKS, Jared and his team took detailed measurements and began developing a model for a tube frame, the seating, the controls and nearly every other component for the simulator. Once their model was complete, plans were shipped to the shop floor and manufacturing set out to do its work.
From the time Jared and his team were contacted by their client to the moment they took delivery of their simulators, AMFM used nearly all of their manufacturing processes to build a machine made up of more than 200 parts. Astoundingly, all of the design and manufacturing work was completed in 16 weeks.
Coming back down to Earth, Jared showed me what’s been dubbed the Swiss Army Knife of camp trailers. AMFM’s camp trailer was inspired by Jared’s own desire for a cheap, compact and mobile camp trailer.
Since he was young Jared’s been involved with the Boy Scouts. Anyone who’s ever been on a scout camping trip knows the importance of having a well-made trailer. Out in the woods a trailer is home base. It’s where you store and cook your food, it can be a shelter from the blistering heat, it can be anything that a scout needs it to be.
Jared’s lifetime involvement with the Boy Scouts gives him appreciation for the importance of having a well-made trailer for transporting camping supplies. The problem was, Jared didn’t see a solution on the market that was affordable, could be stored away neatly in a garage and be lightweight enough to be pulled by a small car.
With only their imaginations driving their design, Jared sat down at his workstation and began putting together a model. “It was actually a really cool process,” he recalled. “Once I started building the model, other people started coming over and giving me feedback. People were saying we should add this, or we can make that function also do this. Basically, everybody had their input and eventually a go-go gadget trailer emerged.”
Today, Jared and his team are still hitting the outdoors with their trailer in tow, and the design process for the trailer is ongoing. “The trailer is still evolving,” he said.
Because of the deep interests that everyone on the AMFM team, be they design engineers or machinists, have for the trailer, everyone knows exactly how and why each and every component is made. With that knowledge, Jared says his team can take an order for a completely customized trailer and have it out the door in a few days.
In the end, Jared and his team succeeded in creating an extremely well-designed trailer that’s got enough bells and whistles to accommodate any scout’s interests. That’s no exaggeration either. AMFM’s trailer can be dining table and a kitchen. It can carry a kayak or bikes. It’s got myriad places to store a water supply or hang lanterns. In short, it’s an amazing trailer.
In addition to its more esoteric projects, AMFM is also in the business of making custom components that are more routine. Whether it’s a customized fastener, a radial bracket, a bike frame component or even a customized motorcycle wheel, AMFM’s team pours all of its expertise into each of its projects regardless of what they might be.
While it might be true that American manufacturing will never reach the same position of prominence that it once commanded during the middle of the twentieth century, there’s still opportunity to regrow a vital part of the U.S. economy that’s desperately lacking. One promising solution is packaged in AMFM’s manufacturing philosophy. Hire the people you think will be versatile and nimble across your business, and be open to every manufacturing opportunity. If more upstart manufacturers would adopt this tack, the manufacturing landscape in the U.S. might just change for the better.
About the Author
Kyle Maxey is a mechanical designer and writer from Austin, TX. He earned a degree in Film at Bard College and has since studied Mechanical and Architectural drafting at Austin Community College. As a designer Kyle has had vast experience with CAD software and rapid prototyping. One day he dreams of becoming a toy designer.