Despite the company's name, Precision Castparts derives more revenue from forged products (think an industrial-strength version of the village smithy) than from cast products.
Since ancient times, artists have used metal casting to create some of the world’s best-known sculptures. Precision Castparts uses essentially the same techniques to create aircraft-engine parts and other industrial components.
The manufacturer uses the “lost-wax” method for its products, which can range from handheld pieces to the size of small cars. First, a wax model is made out of the desired part. The model is then coated with layers of ceramic, then heated so that the wax runs out and a hollow ceramic mold remains. The mold is then filled with molten metal (typically a nickel or titanium alloy) and allowed to cool. The ceramic is cracked off, leaving the metal part.
Ed Cooley, Precision’s founder, grew it out of a chain-saw maker’s casting operation. The company’s big break came in the late 1960s, when General Electric was developing a new generation of turbojet engines. As it happened, a few years earlier Cooley had invested in a 1,000-pound vacuum furnace, giving Precision the capacity to make the kind of very large engine parts GE required.
“He had a fairly large furnace with not a whole lot to go through it,” Precision spokesman Dwight Weber said.
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Today, just over half the company’s business is in aerospace, down from around 85 percent in the late 1980s; industrial gas turbines, auto parts and metal fasteners are other key product lines. Despite the company’s name, it now derives more revenue from forged products (think an industrial-strength version of the village smithy) than from cast products.
The forging and fastener businesses came via acquisitions, as has, more recently, Special Metals, a producer of specialized nickel-based alloys. CEO Mark Donegan, a GE alumnus, “has made no secret that we’re constantly looking at acquisitions that can increase profitable growth,” Weber said.
Precision is reaping benefits from the current global boom in commercial-airplane orders, but sooner or later that boom will end. In years past, Weber said, that would have led to painful retrenching. There’ll still be some cutbacks, he said, “but now we have other growth engines.”