APRIL 2, 2014

P&J Machining in Puyallup employs nearly 100 people who make parts for every model of Boeing aircraft, including these map holders that sit in the middle of the yoke in 737 cockpits. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)
Anyone who wants proof that “Made in America” is alive and well could get all the evidence they need in a quick visit to Tacoma.
Exhibit one could be P&J Machining in Puyallup, a family-owned precision machining company growing at 30 percent a year as it creates parts for every model of airplane Boeing produces.
Exhibit two would be Bradken, where the century-old Tacoma foundry pours molten steel into custom shapes for hydroelectric generators, nuclear submarines and mining operations around the world.
And the next few thousand examples would be on container ships, trains and trucks at the Port of Tacoma, which handles $6 billion worth of American exports each year and supports 40,000 jobs in and around Pierce County.
The AWB Institute‘s third Manufacturers’ Showcase visited manufacturers and shipping areas in and around Tacoma on Tuesday. The attendees came from private industry and the community/technical college system, including a mix of instructors and administrators.
Mary Dick, administrative services director for TigerStop, a Vancouver manufacturer of automated measurement systems for wood and metal workers, came on the Manufacturing Showcase with three of her company’s employees to make professional contacts and expand their horizons.
“It’s good to see what other manufacturers in the state of Washington are doing,” she said, “to participate in business efforts, share knowledge if we can, and it’s good for our employees to see what other facilities do.”
The tour’s stop at P&J Machining in Puyallup highlighted the power of automation and the ongoing boom in the state’s aerospace industry.

Paul Hogoboom, president and COO of P&J Machining, which supplies 250,000 parts to Boeing each year.
Paul Hogoboom’s parents started P&J Machining in their garage. He and his father both had day jobs, but they worked nights building their business. The company opened at its current location in Puayllup in 1986.
The company is growing at an amazing clip. They had to upgrade a 15 percent planned growth rate because it proved to be unrealistically low. Last year the company grew by 33 percent, and this year they are looking at another 30 percent increase, Hogoboom said.
“We’re trying to maintain the growth without having the growth run over the top of us,” Hogoboom said. “It’s been fast.”
The company’s current headquarters building was completed in 2011, when the company had 40-some employees. Now they’re up to nearly 100 employees and an increasingly automated manufacturing process. One building is full of “lights out” machines that run throughout the night with no human intervention whatsoever. Employees arrive to work in the morning with a printout of maintenance to perform.
“The more we automate, the better off we are,” Hogoboom said. Their first true “lights out” machine outperformed the manned machines eight or nine to one. Even at a cost of $1.15 million for the new machine, the investment was “a no-brainer,” he said, with only an 18-month return on investment. He anticipates full payback on his latest $3.2 million machining center by 2017.
They are set up to manufacture 5,000 different parts, many in small runs of a few dozen at a time. They supply a total of 250,000 parts a year to Boeing.
“We’re having fun making little pieces out of big pieces,” Hogoboom said. “It’s a good time to be in aerospace.”

Bradken’s 3,000-degree furnaces and custom designs can create carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel and duplex stainless casts ranging from a few ounces to 35,000 pounds. (Photo: Bradken)
Another company that exports globally from Tacoma is Bradken, where a century-old plant in Tacoma’s Nalley Valley has been upgraded throughout the decades and now uses some of the most precise equipment in the world to design, forge, and test parts for mining, electric generation and pumping of everything from seawater to sulfuric acid.
They also made the castings that hold cables in place on the new Tacoma Narrows bridge, but that highly visible project was an exception.
“Most go into refineries, pipelines, submarines — things people never see,” said Stephen Gear, president of Bradken’s energy division.
Bradken technicians use sophisticated computer modeling to determine how to form molds that will allow molten metal to cool and shrink without deforming the finished product. Then the company has the option of using the industrial equivalent of X-ray machines with metal-piercing bursts of radiation to examine parts for any internal flaws. Cement walls 16 feet thick, with enormous doors of six-foot-thick lead, keep workers safe from these cobalt and iridium-powered linear accelerators.
The foundry’s gleaming finished products might be shipped anywhere in the world to upgrade hydroelectric plants, enable offshore oil drilling or energize Trident submarines. For some of the submarine parts, Bradken is the only foundry in the world that can produce the alloy needed.
Bradken, based in Australia, has 6,200 global employees, including about 500 in Tacoma.

The Port of Tacoma handles 1.5 million container units a year, including $6 billion worth of American exports being shipping abroad. More than 80 percent of the trade volume between Alaska and the lower 48 states goes through the Port of Tacoma.
Just north of Bradken, the Port of Tacoma enables 40,000 direct and indirect jobs in Piece County. One of the 10 largest ports in the nation, the international deepwater port at the “tideflats” is a vital shipping hub between Korea, Japan, China and the American Midwest.

A single ship can hold 6,000 or more containers. The biggest shipping cranes in the world — and the skilled longshoreman that work them — can “flip” a container ship in just 36 to 48 hours.

Once onshore, workers that can earn up to $250,000 a year operate straddle carriers — multi-story mobile moving machines with big claws. They quickly pick up and move these containers onto rail cars then zip along at up to 30 mph to the next destination.
The Port of Tacoma has room to grow, with 700 acres available for new industry.
It also is a place of opportunity for workers, said Port Executive Director John Wolfe. He said students who study logistics, technology and engineering have tremendous opportunities at the Port of Tacoma or elsewhere in the global trade field.

“We create a lot of jobs for people without a high level of education,” said Sean Eagan, the port’s government affairs director. “Jobs in the high five figures or six figures with a high school diploma.”

The next Manufacturers’ Showcases will be June 19 in Spokane and Aug. 19 in Seattle. Contact Amy K. Johnson of the AWB Institute to learn more.