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AADA Article AirTechIn September of 1996, Airtech Supply started out producing CAD/CAM programs from blueprint and within a few months started manufacturing “with an old used machine that nobody liked to run,” stated Del Keith, President and Owner of Air Tech Supply. His mentor, Ron Reagan, had purchased the Thermwood Cartesian 5 at an auction for his son’s shop, but it ended up not making parts that well. His mentor then told Keith that if he could run that machine, then he would give him some work.

Del Keith rose to the occasion and soon after was able to purchase a few more machines. Keith explains that it is simply working hard and doing something well, not adequately, but well, that gives the foundation for a successful business. After purchasing several more machines, they continued to build and “before we knew it, we had a pretty good-sized business.”

Mark Sorrell, Director of Quality Operations at Airtech, joined the Airtech family in 2005. At that time, the company, though well-established, was about to hit a growth spurt. He explains, “I was fortunate to be brought into a very small company of about twenty people. I was able to be involved in some of the early ground work and helped get us certified with Quality Systems in AS9100 and NADCAP heat treating.” It was through obtaining these certifications that allowed the company to branch out to direct customers and to do work with the primes as well. Sorrel states in response to those early challenges they faced in becoming certified, “The most rewarding part is to step back, after overcoming many challenges and obstacles to look at where you came from and where you are today.”

Keith was the first employee of Airtech. When Sorrell started out in 2005, as mentioned above there were twenty employees. Today, the company has grown exponentially to employ forty-five people and a host to much more advanced machinery. It is with these two viable components that have made Airtech the premier CNC sheet metal machining operation in the Midwest U.S.

A powerful key to what makes Airtech so successful is their team morale and the value they have for their employees. Keith remarks, “We’re like a family here.” They also utilize Lean Manufacturing tools, a management method to empower their employees to become problem-solvers, and, in the process, eliminate some of the waste and reduce the cost. Keith adds, “By putting these tools in their hands, we have worked with them to create a pattern of continuous improvement.”

Airtech Supply has attended the annual Arkansas Aerospace and Defense Summit for the past four years. Their very first year they landed a new customer, another Arkansas company, and claims, “it was very worth our time.” Sorrell comments in reference to the Summit, that “There is always an opportunity there to make new connections and meet new customers. The networking is very valuable...the most valuable part for us is the business-to- business meetings. This year we were able to meet with Raytheon, Safran, and Gulfstream.”

Airtech values hard work and being able to continue their hard work through opportunities such as the Summit, but also in those they employ. Keith states, “It is very gratifying for me to provide stable employment for my employees and to provide a family environment. “

Keith’s first response to what he was most passionate about within his company was the people who work for him. His secondary response was that, “The technical aspects are very gratifying too. The challenges of how to best approach the manufacturing of a part... to find the most efficient and effective way to produce that end condition is a challenge and is a lot of fun.” When asked about his company’s

achievements from all their hard work, he states, “We were the ninth company in Arkansas to earn the AS9100 Quality System certification and the fifth company to achieve a NADCAP special process accreditation. Our special process is heat treating aluminum parts. These certifications are very difficult to achieve. It is pretty remarkable.”

Airtech is an incredible Arkansas company because they stand for the values that makes our state great. They value hard work, and the people that work hard for them. These two core values promote growth, and as testament to this, Keith states, “We have been in a growth state since we started, and we have a goal to continue to grow.”