This Employee-Owned Firm Keeps on Top of the Technology Curve

Precision Metal Industries

Precision Metal Industries Inc. (PMI) is focused on acquiring new equipment and keeping on top of the technology curve while diversifying its client base and expanding its work facilities. The Pompano Beach, Florida-based firm offers computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining, sheet metal fabrication, robotic welding, laser cutting, turnkey assembly, part and assembly prototyping, and other services. In all things the goal is continuous improvement driven by an intense focus on quality.
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“Many of our customers have been with us twenty to thirty years; our attention to high level quality is the reason why,” states Greg Wilson Jr., vice president, general manager, and son of the founder.

The main sectors served by PMI include defense, medical, aerospace, energy, and the electronic enclosures market. The firm also does custom projects, “but these are a smaller part of our business on more commercial-type programs,” says Wilson. “The main focus of our business has been toward the defense and medical industries.”

Key products that the company produces are custom enclosures, cabinets, and missile containers. The latter are used to transport missiles for the U.S. Army. For obvious security reasons, Wilson cannot offer too many additional details about the company’s defense work.

One of the medical products PMI makes is “designed to detect atherosclerosis at the earliest possible stages. We produce the entire system from start to finish. We do all of the sheet metal, all the assembly. We install the operating system designed by the customer. We certify the calibration on the system, so when it leaves PMI it is a working unit,” states Wilson.

While capable of creating original designs, this is not the company’s forte. “We do design work, but what is more common is a company bringing us their designs for their programs,” explains Wilson. “We have the expertise and knowledge to change the customer’s design to make their products more cost efficient and practical for production.” The company uses SolidWorks software for such purposes.

At present, PMI is eager to enhance its presence in the energy sector. “One of the industries we’re trying to expand in is energy,” states Wilson. “Looking five, ten, fifteen years in the future, it is a rapidly growing market that PMI wants to be a part of. We expect to find the right program and diversify ourselves along with the defense and medical parts of our business.”

Wilson refers especially to renewable energy, with a view towards possibly making “energy storage enclosures that pull from solar power. We’ve have produced similar products in the past.”

The focus on solar energy is fitting, given the company’s Florida location. The firm operates two facilities in Pompano Beach: a 40,000-square-foot building that houses the company head office and a 100,000-square-foot facility just down the street. The latter building contains an automated missile container production line, among other features. PMI only uses about half of the larger building, leasing out the remaining space to other companies.

A good percentage of PMI’s clients are based in Florida, although the company does ship all over the United States and into other countries.

Precision Metal was founded in 1996 by Wilson’s father Greg Wilson Sr., who remains the company President and whose main objective is in developing new business for PMI.

In 2014, Wilson Sr. made a momentous decision and sold the company to his employees via an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). The firm is now 100 percent employee-owned with a management team and board of directors who have the responsibility for the overall success of the company.

“A lot of times, when you sell your company to someone else, they come in and change the culture. We have long relationships with many of our customers and we didn’t want to see someone come in and change how we do things [especially] our attention towards quality,” says Wilson. “My dad and I share the same goal of this company staying successful for the next 50-plus years. We have customers and employees that depend on PMI being here for a very long time. That is why the ESOP is so important; everyone benefits from it: the company, the employees and the customers. At the end of the day, the ESOP makes us a much stronger company that makes long-term success sustainable.”

PMI is proud of its reputation for quality, as reflected by its ISO 9001:2008 certification and ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) registration. “We have a very detailed and well thought out quality manual. Everyone in the company is trained to this manual from the day they start working here. We are audited and certified to ISO annually. We have a great quality management team that puts effective procedures in place to meet our quality goals,” he says.

PMI’s Quality Manager, Scott Eggleston, also heads up the company safety team. The team meets weekly to review safety issues. It also performs safety audits on the plant floors, runs various events, and handles workforce safety training.

At present, Precision Metal has ninety employees, up from roughly eighty this time last year. “We’re doing more revenue. We’ve improved on our total revenue every year for the last eight years. We’ve made many investments in automated technology,” says Wilson, “but we’re still growing and need certain people for specific operations. We’re expanding our business and growing the company, and that requires more employees,” he shares.

“If you’re hired to be a machinist or a welder, they’ve got to come in with a certain skill set and experience. [We also] want to make sure people have the right attitude, the right characteristics, the right drive. The number one thing, we want people to care about what we do and what we produce. We make many products that are a part of systems that people’s lives depend on,” he says.

The firm’s ESOP status is “our huge selling point for bringing in new employees. Everyone who works here is an owner in the company. As the company stock increases, their individual value grows. They don’t have to put a dollar into the program. All they have to do is work here; it’s an amazing retirement program that is set up for the entire company. This also incentivizes our experienced workers to stay at the company until retirement, which gives us great results on our key-employee retention.”

PMI has received industry recognition for its excellent work. The company has won the best of Pompano Beach award multiple times in the precision sheet metal fabricator category, as handed out by the U.S. Commerce Association (USCA). Similarly, the firm has repeatedly been included in the list of top twenty-five manufacturers in South Florida, which is compiled annually by the South Florida Business Journal.

Technology has had a huge impact on PMI’s operations. The firm is “dedicated and focused on automation,” today and has invested accordingly, Wilson notes.

The company is always interested in the newest technology and equipment to keep the firm on the cutting edge. The aim is to become “more automated and cost-efficient,” according to Wilson. Among other equipment, PMI has its eye on an automated CNC machine center with a robotic arm that can automatically pick up parts and load on the machine. This machine would run for 24 hours completely unmanned, with zero manual labor hours charged to the job. These same automated features are very similar to the equipment PMI is currently using today.

Connectivity is one of the technological innovations PMI has embraced. The performance status of the firm’s laser cutter, for example, can be remotely monitored through an online network. The laser cutter works lights out, around the clock. If an operator is at home and a problem occurs, he or she can be automatically notified on a smartphone about the issue. Sometimes, the problem can even be fixed remotely, via smartphone, to keep the machinery going through the night.

Promoting the company is handled in both high- and low-tech fashion. The firm has a website, social media presence, and sends emails to clients on its customer list. At the same time, PMI sales representatives routinely talk about the company’s merits with clients and potential clients.

“We are not looking to acquire a high volume of new customers every year. We want to bring in two or three reputable customers a year that we can build strong relationships with and become a supplier that they can depend on,” states Wilson.

Outside of work, the company shows its compassionate side through its support of the 4Kids of South Florida organization, a charity that finds homes for at-risk or homeless children. PMI runs a donation-in-kind program, in which employee contributions to 4Kids are matched by the firm.

Wilson says client diversification is the biggest challenge currently facing the company. “We are investing a lot in defense and medical which is all great but looking into the future, we’d like to diversify ourselves better to provide balance to our company. Technology will always advance and old programs go away over time. That’s why I talk about energy. It is a market that obviously has a very important need for everyone and is quickly evolving every single day. We want to spread ourselves out as best as possible to mitigate any kind of risk in any industry,” he says.

The company has big plans over the next five years. “We have aggressive revenue goals, and we have geared ourselves up [for expansion]. We currently have two buildings. With the second building, our plan is to have our company take over more space as we take on new programs. That is one of our goals over next five years, to have the entire 100,000-square-foot building completely operated by PMI.”

Working Smarter

A key goal of any successful manufacturing operation is a continual drive toward improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through the adoption of lean production principles, waste reduction using the Six Sigma approach, and similar productivity solutions. These systems have been widely incorporated throughout the manufacturing industry and have significantly improved product quality, production speeds, and perhaps most importantly, the safety of those working in manufacturing plants.

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October 15, 2019, 6:54 AM EDT