Aircraft parts manufacturer among stops on West Slope tour

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Lewis Engineering, a Grand Junction company that manufactures aircraft components, was among the stops on a Western Colorado tour promoting connections among businesses in the aerospace industry.

In addition to designing and machining parts for oil field applications, Lewis Engineering produces parts for commercial and military aircraft, including the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The company employs an average of 70 employees throughout the year.

Matt Collins, chief operating officer of Lewis Engineering, said the goal is to “stay on top of the food chain” in supplying high-tech aviation markets.

Competition comes not only from other precision machine shops in the United States, but overseas, Collins said. “We need to assume international competition at every bid.”

Color-coded product cells help maintain organization in the Lewis Engineering facility on H Road.

And many of the products Lewis manufactures are machined out of blocks of raw material in a process called “hog out” rather than using casting, as other manufacturers do. Grant Crowley, engineering manager for Lewis, said the process is not only more cost efficient, but also produces better products.

“We used to use castings, but converted to hog out,” Crowley said, describing the process by which a designed part is machined out of a solid billet — often aluminum — to meet client specifications that demand a lightweight material with high strength-to-weight ratio that can generally be procured locally. “This has resulted in decreased lead time and costs and an increase in the quality of material,” he said.

Crowley said Lewis Engineering operates in Grand Junction largely because of 3D Systems, which previously occupied the building. Lewis Engineering manufactured parts for 3D in California, and 3D remains one of the company’s biggest clients,  he said.

Lewis Engineering is also a major subcontractor of aerospace giant UTC Aerospace Systems, a company previously known as Hamilton Sundstrand. But supplying parts for the Joint Strike Fighter constitutes a growth opportunity.

 The role of Lewis Engineering as a leader in the high-tech manufacturing and aerospace industries in Colorado has been widely recognized, so much so Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chose the facility as a venue from which to promote an economic development initiative dubbed the Colorado Blueprint.