On top of the world
The days of job shops working parts by hand are over — Brenna and mark Fairchild are convinced of that. They choose to automate their business, keeping up a family-like atmosphere at the same time.
It is 4:30 a.m. in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Brenna Fairchild is already awake. Whether heading out for an early morning run, preparing to teach a sign language class, a Pilates class or the aerobic boot camp she leads for women in her community, there is plenty to do before she is off to work at Engineered Mechanical Systems, the profitable job shop she owns and operates with her husband, Mark Fairchild. “While most people cringe when they think of working with their spouse, we have enjoyed it,” says Brenna.
Although, jokingly, she suggests that working on opposite ends of the building helps, Brenna points to their team-oriented partnership as a key to their success. “My education and training is on the financial end while he has the fabrication background. Together, we have a good balance which has been important as we develop plans for the future of the company.” When Engineered Mechanical Systems was established in 1990, there were just three employees: Mark, his brother, Kevin Fairchild, and “the Mayor” the witty nickname Mark has given their long-reigning employee.
As EMS matured, Brenna and Mark recognized manufacturers increasingly looked to streamline — relying on job shops to perform quality work at a reasonable price. To be competitive, especially in the United States, the focus needed to be on new technology and increased automation. “Companies who won’t invest in new equipment and technology go out of business,” says Mark. We believe the investment is necessary to make us more efficient, bringing us where we can compete.”
Five years ago, mechanical contracting was a core service for Engineered Mechanical Systems. “Today, it is one of many services, such as CNC machining, laser cutting, robotic welding, custom fabrication including design build, prototyping and assembly. Each additional tool has opened new doors for success. Basically, if it’s made of metal, we can build it.”
Investing in technology over the last 20 years has allowed EMS to remain competitive. It has also led to three lasers and three press brakes from TRUMPF. Each purchase has been based on research as well as experience, as Mark has worked with TRUMPF equipment since 1994. “While the initial investment may be a little higher, moneywise, TRUMPF machines are more reliable and come with the best service.”
So while many companies have struggled in a tough economy, EMS found they were “busting out the seams” and needed an expansion. Mark explains, “With so many capabilities under one roof, we are not reliant on one industry. Whether providing services for the power, food, automotive or defense industry, we are not a production shop; we are a job shop — with the difficult task of serving all industries. We have to have the right equipment in place to be competitive and be ready to move on a dime — producing parts both timely and economically.”
With the installation of their new TruLaser 2030 with load and unload capabilities, EMS plans to run it around the clock. “The days of job shops working parts by hand are over. We can provide manufacturing and installation more economically and I think that capability will become increasingly more important in the future,” says Mark. “Companies who have material handling capabilities and robotics will be the ones that are busy and survive.” And, since manufacturers rely on receiving parts “just-in-time,” Mark sees this as an opportunity to build a positive reputation. “If you have the technology to perform a job quickly, and can meet a difficult deadline, you are in high demand.”
This positive reputation has grown with Engineered Mechanical Systems’ recent distinction as a certified women’s business enterprise as recognized by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which has allowed Brenna to network with other well-established women while broadening their customer base. Brenna explains, “The WBENC distinction is very difficult to achieve. Held to a high standard, the selection process is rigorous because the companies also represent the organization.”
Constantly striving for excellence, Brenna and Mark stress that a facility full of equipment is not enough. It is also essential to have qualified and supportive people behind it. “You must invest in the technology but also have good, well-trained people to operate the machines. They, too, are excited by the technological changes and their increased efficiency and accuracy. Many of our long-term employees, especially, have been cross-trained. And, as the company grows, they become increasingly more valuable,” says Brenna.
The couple explains that they try to run their business as a family, crediting a low employee turnover rate to the strong sense of security a family-like atmosphere creates. Although the original “family of three” has become a much larger “family of forty-seven” this supportive environment is evident in that most employees have served the company for 10 years or more.
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This article was first published in 2010.