Ed Hilligrass is executive vice president at Diversified Machine Systems, which builds machines for other manufacturers.
Ed Hilligrass is executive vice president at Diversified Machine Systems, which builds machines for other manufacturers.

You may already be familiar with Diversified Machine Systems’ work. They’re kind of a big deal. Remember the riveting performance by the machine system in the movie “Tomorrowland”?

“There’s a clip at the end of one machining a model for a Chevy Volt. That was done on our machine,” said Ed Hilligrass, DMS executive vice president. “We’ve been in a few movies and TV shows.”

While silver screen publicity probably doesn’t hurt, DMS attributes much of its success to keeping its business model as agile as its products.

The Colorado Springs-based company designs and builds machines for a variety of manufacturing sectors including aerospace, automotive, woodworking, 3D sculpture and plastics. Essentially, DMS makes the machines others use to make their products.

The business is owned by Patrick Bollar, who first began working in manufacturing at his family’s California-based operation Motionmaster in the 1980s. After moving to Colorado in the early 2000s, DMS materialized when Bollar took the equipment after Motionmaster closed and combined it with the business and manufacturing know-how he acquired while on the West Coast.

DMS is one of only a handful of companies in the country manufacturing these types of machines, Hilligrass said. DMS has maintained its success over the past 13 years because of how it works with clients.

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“We saw the downturn in 2008 and 2009 like everyone,” Hilligrass said. “In order to survive, we adapted the company to retain employees and meet the demands of the time, which was a shift to service and away from as much product building,” Hilligrass said.

During the recession, DMS increased its focus on service and retrofitting, a tactic that guaranteed DMS products were meeting and exceeding the expectations of clients, but also ensuring talented employees at DMS would not be lost.

“In late 2009 our focus was producing machines again and business has been going up ever since,” Hilligrass said, adding DMS still provides the client-centric services it began less than a decade ago. “We … were able to stay profitable by changing the way our business worked, and we came out never looking back. We’ve seen double-digit growth every year and in the past three years, we’ve doubled the [revenue] of the company. We now look to do that again in the next few years.”

ONE TO WATCH

A new arm of DMS expected to perpetuate its client-focused efforts is its Advanced Manufacturing Center, which has been operational for about a year.

“We developed it specifically for clients to meet their manufacturing goals by interacting technologies or creating new technologies,” Hilligrass said. “That’s through utilizing different types of components or products [clients] hadn’t thought about using.”

And DMS also consults clients on how to consolidate operations and save money.

“Clients will come here or we go there,” said Hilligrass. “It’s a very fluid service.”

He said, prior to 2014, DMS was providing some level of consultation in addition to its manufacturing, “but discussions were nowhere near what they are now.

“It’s always a topic,” he said. “‘You have the machine, now how do we help you?’”

“For every machine we sell, we could sell a person to go with it.” 

— Ed Hilligrass

Despite growth, like with many other manufacturers, challenges exist — and that includes access to a trained workforce.

“For every machine we sell, we could sell a person to go with it,” he said. “The machines need people who can do [Computer-Aided Design] work; people who can work in those environments, operate the machines and help clients be productive. It’s not just pushing a button and watching it happen. Programs need to be developed.”

DMS has an internal training program to bring employees up to speed quickly, Hilligrass said.

The company also offers tours to students, but for younger groups, Hilligrass said there’s a prerequisite: Parents have to come along.

“We’d do tours and kids would be really excited, but once they got home, the discussion stopped,” he said. “Parents said their kids weren’t going to go into  manufacturing. They were going to become doctors or lawyers.”

Now parents are seeing manufacturing jobs pay well and don’t require a college degree, Hilligrass said.

CASTING CALL

Only two other companies fill the firm’s sector space domestically, but the most competitive companies, quality-wise, come out of Italy and Germany, he said.

Colorado Springs makes for a good fit for DMS because of its low cost of living and the cost to manufacture is “reasonable,” he said.

“Some things cost a little more than the coastal areas, but nothing that impacts us greatly,” he added.

About 65 percent of DMS products are shipped domestically and repeat customers make up a large portion of their base, he said.

And because of its recent growth, Hilligrass said, DMS is hiring.

“We’ve had such an outward focus on our clients, this year we’re also trying to focus on ourselves and where we can do better.

“I’m looking across the board [for new hires] — advanced manufacturing center employees who are process-knowledgeable in various types of manufacturing.”

Hilligrass said DMS is also looking for engineers and will be increasing the size of its sales and marketing department. He added the service side will also have to grow.

Jobs are listed at the DMS website. The company also works with staffing agencies to fill positions.

So the chances of a local producing the next CNC router to appear alongside George Clooney in his next blockbuster are looking pretty good.

[su_box title=”Diversified Machine Systems” box_color=”#005ac3″]Employees: 78

Established: 2003

Location: 1068 Elkton Drive

Contact: 719-226-5066; dmscncrouters.com[/su_box]