Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Azle company instrumental in national security

Integrated Machinery Solutions finishes work on Kings Bay project

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AZLE — Azle residents might be surprised at what’s being built in their own backyard.

Located at 1500 Northwest Parkway, a stone’s throw from Main Street, Integrated Machinery Solutions specializes in cranes, hoists and other lifting mechanisms and is the only registered company of its kind in the state of Texas. The company began work at its Azle facility in 2015 and today is one of the city’s largest employers. IMS clients range from NASA, Tesla, Lockheed-Martin and the U.S. Navy.

On March 8, the company shipped off one of its most ambitious and unique constructions to date. Two 120-ton, custom-built, overhead hoists left the facility for Explosive Handling Wharf One or EHW-1 at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on the Georgia-Florida border. EHW-1 is a large facility that rises 166 feet to its apex above the water. The facility is used to house U.S. Navy Trident ballistic missile submarines during unloading and loading of various weapons systems, including the thermonuclear Trident D-5 intercontinental ballistic missile. These are the primary weapons systems of the current Ohio Class SSBN submarines and will continue with the follow-on Columbia Class SSBNs, which are expected to enter service in 2031. The SS denotes submarine, the B denotes ballistic missile, and the N denotes that the submarine is nuclear powered.

The Azle-built machines will be used to load or unload nuclear ordnance into submarines waiting in the drydock’s water below. Kings Bay is a critical location for America’s nuclear arsenal and military infrastructure on the East Coast. The base’s previous equipment was built around 1970 during the height of the Cold War. The machine built by IMS is expected to not need replacing for another 50 years.

IMS co-founders Rick Reeves, who moved from Indiana 40 years ago, and Steve Bond, a Texas native, consider themselves proud Azleites and are optimistic about the impact their company has on the community.

“We’re Hornets through and through,” Reeves said.

The pair met while working at another engineering firm, but eventually set off together in 2009. They worked out of a home garage for the first six months, then leased a facility in Blue Mound until they broke ground in Azle in 2014.

“My ex-partner wanted to go a different direction,” Reeves said. “With Steve being available, I knew we could definitely build a better company, a better situation where we’re creating an environment for our employees to grow and build a (successful) product.”

Many IMS employees are Azle High School graduates. As part of its business model, the company opts to hire largely young workers straight out of high school or college. IMS currently employs 135 people and is looking to hire about 20 more. The company works with local high schools and engages with future engineers, machinists, welders, mill wrights and electricians through a Department of Labor-recognized internship program. Under the five-year program, students can work toward their journeyman license starting in their junior year of high school. The company also works with UTA, Texas A&M and the University of North Texas to hire new workers out of their engineering programs.

“Most of the kids that come in here, all of them are homegrown,” Reeves said while pointing out former AHS and Boswell High School students during a tour of the factory. “The majority, the only thing they knew when they came here was paper or plastic. These kids were working at Subway.”

The company also has its own unique flair. IMS paints the vast majority of its machines bright yellow. The company’s motto “Realis Viri Ferro,” or “Real Men of Steel” in Latin, can be found throughout the facility and on employee merchandise. Leadership also hopes to promote a culture of excellence by utilizing “Six Sigma” methodologies and a core value of I.C.A.R.E. — integrity, continuous improvement, associate involvement, reduction in waste, exceeding customer expectation. Reeves said there are few companies that could have pulled the project off and that their success is a testament to IMS employees.

“We’re very proud of our people,” Reeves said. “Without them, we would not be where we’re at.”

From lifting the stop logs at Lake Buchanan’s hydroelectric dam, painting the recently unveiled B-21 Raider stealth bomber, suspending Marine One for inspection, and placing t-beams at Dallas’s High Five Interchange, IMS machines have been almost everywhere and done almost everything. The founders say their journey has only just started. They soon hope to build a 200–300-foot expansion on the front of the facility and dream of one day turning the 58-acre lot into an industrial park. The “multi-multi-million dollar” Kings Bay project took IMS three years to complete. Next year, the company expects to begin work on a 250-ton machine for the Bezos-owned rocket company Blue Origin. With the nature of their products, Reeves stressed that safety is always the top priority.

“Everything we do is high liability,” Reeves said. “If we make a mistake, we can either kill somebody, actually damage a lot of the material, or if you drop a nuclear warhead, you could wipe out the entire East Coast . . . I’m just real proud that we can help defend our country. This piece of equipment is made to where if anything were to happen and you had to load ordnance into the submarines to defend our country if something went wrong it’s completely redundant. They are able to keep the piece of equipment running just so it can defend our country, our families and our grandchildren for the rest of our lives.”

IMS employees expect to also replace the loading mechanisms at Naval Submarine Base Bangor on the West Coast when the time comes.