Once dependent on aerospace giants like Hughes Aircraft Co. and Rockwell International Corp. for its business, a Santa Ana high-tech machine company is repositioning itself to survive the shifting economy.
The company, Numerical Control Computer Sciences, makes the software needed to operate high-tech metal cutting machines. Its software has been used to manufacture fighter planes like Northrop Corp.'s YF-23 and the B-2 bomber. The company’s computer programs helped manufacture the metal tiles needed to keep the Columbia space shuttle from disintegrating on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere and helped make tanks used in the Gulf War.
In operation for 20 years, the company is now trying to meet the demands of the changing aerospace industry by moving into overseas markets and finding new clients.
“We realized we had to get involved in something besides aerospace if we wanted to grow,” said Donald F. Schultz, the 58-year-old president and founder of NCCS. “As everyone knows, aerospace has taken quite a beating.”
And Schultz is a man who knows the aerospace industry. A Colorado native, he moved to California in his early 20s and joined what would later become Rockwell. Early on, he was attracted to the fledgling computers used to run some of the machines.
“Back then, in the early 1960s, we had mainframe computers and no disk drives,” he said. “It was something completely new, and the government was sponsoring this.”
Schultz stayed for 13 years before moving to Northrop. Then, in 1974, armed with only $3,000, he started NCCS out of his home. A few years later his brother joined him. Still, with four young children at the time, Schultz had serious reservations about leaving the security of a corporate position to take a risk.
“I struggled with it,” he said. “But at the time, I knew more about what I was doing with the software than anyone one else in this country. It wasn’t that I was so bright, I just worked harder than anyone else.”
Last year, the company’s reported revenue was $3.2 million. It expects to pull in nearly $3.5 million this year, and at least 15% of that will come from foreign sales.
“We make a very niche product, which has caused us to sell software around the world, not just in Los Angeles,” he said.
Because the aerospace industry has cut back or moved into new lines of business, NCCS has shifted to adapt to new ventures, such as commercial aviation, and found new clients in the manufacturing industry, which has become increasingly high-tech.
“We are very flexible,” Schultz said. “We make our own software, and we can make it do whatever we want.”
NCCS’s software packages aren’t cheap, typically running about $65,000. For that, the customer gets software that operates a five-axis machine--an instrument so flexible that it can manipulate a cutting tool in a fluid motion.
Though more expensive than other cutting machines, the five-axis tool is extremely precise, which makes it attractive to manufacturers who need that exactness. It is especially popular for aerospace work because its spindle head can tilt and swivel, allowing the machines to cut metal surfaces from any angle.
Ernie D’Leon, regional sales manager with NCCS, said the company counts among its newest clients Egan Industries, a New Jersey maker of plastic mold machinery, and Midwest Pattern, a Quincy, Ill., company that makes molds for refrigerators.
Closer to home, a new customer is Innovation Sports, an Irvine company that makes knee braces for athletes.
“Their software is just the best there is,” John Gates, a research and development engineer at Innovation Sports, said of NCCS. “It gives me maximum control as I’m cutting all the new bits and pieces that go into our braces.”
Gates said he once bought costly software from one of NCCS’s main competitors, a French company, but soon switched back.
“The other software just wasn’t as good,” he said. “We won’t be switching again.”
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