By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Plenty of high-tech equipment gets its start at a growing Youngstown company.
Accuform Manufacturing works closely with its customers to design and build the metal housings that provide the foundation for many telecommunications, medical and computer products.
Its customers stuff the housings with all sorts of electronic gadgetry, such as:
U Laser communication devices that allow companies to zip data rapidly from one spot to another.
U Equipment at the base of cell-phone towers that receives signals and sends them onward.
U Laser engraving systems that provide high-resolution printing of magazines and posters.
"We're not high-tech, but our customers are," said Bob Hockenberry, Accuform president.
Demand: He said high-tech companies from all over the United States and Canada choose Accuform for its ability to meet precision specifications. These customers send the Youngstown-built parts to manufacturing plants all over the world.
The 13-year-old company changed its focus five years ago from just making initial patterns for new equipment to designing and producing them.
The production end picked up three years ago, and company sales have been growing 30 percent a year. The number of employees has grown from seven to 22.
In May, Accuform moved from a rented building on Poland Avenue to a new building in the Salt Springs Road Industrial Park.
Medical equipment: One particular stack of metal housings shows how the company's business has changed. The housings are for home dialysis machines that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Accuform has been working on the design of the housing closely with its customer to make sure it can be produced as easily and as cost-effectively as possible. The product has been through four revisions, and one or two more are in the works, Hockenberry said.
Accuform's customer has ordered 42 housings as it builds machines that will be used in clinical tests.
"Once they get FDA approval, they will need hundreds or thousands, and we'll be able to supply them," Hockenberry said.
He said Accuform's growth so far has been by word-of-mouth. It is just working up its first promotional brochure and is planning to send sales representatives to visit companies for the first time.
Hockenberry said he expects the company to add new customers, including local ones; develop new markets; and draw larger orders. Its largest order so far was for 16,000 of the housings for cell-phone equipment.
The new building, which has 20,000 square feet, can be increased to more than twice that size, he said.
Hockenberry has brought two of his suppliers into the building to create better service for customers. Kcast of Zelienople, Pa., has set up a small foundry to cast high-quality, thin-walled aluminum parts. Custom Powder Coating of Youngstown has set up a coating operation.
Hockenberry said having the three companies under the same roof will allow him to fill orders more quickly and at a higher quality.
Going into business: Hockenberry, 40, of Cornersburg, said he made patterns for other companies when he decided to start his own company. The companies he had worked for weren't advancing and providing him with enough challenges, he said.
"My hobby is learning new things," he said.
A local business owner who liked his work provided Hockenberry with the initial financing needed to start the company. That business remains a customer.
Hockenberry said running his own company has provided him with plenty of opportunities to learn. The biggest challenge as the shop grows is learning how to manage an organization, he said.
Learning what equipment the business needs to serve its customers also has been exciting, he said.
"I get to spend a ton of money," he said with a laugh.
He also has learned new technologies and new manufacturing methods that make his operation more efficient and help his customers design better products.