Pro-Fab: Building a Small Business in a Changing Tech Landscape

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In a rapidly evolving technology industry, how does a small business built on supporting leading edge tech companies keep pace? For Gail Armstrong, it’s all about providing top-notch products and services, and prioritizing big decisions. Armstrong is owner and president of Pro-Fab, a manufacturing company built on designing and building equipment for customers like Intel, Boeing, and Texas Instruments, as well as government agencies and the construction industry.

“Our top technology priority is to provide more and more support to those technology-driven companies,” Armstrong says. Pro-Fab made its mark on the semiconductor industry 22 years ago, delivering equipment for clean room components. It has continued to succeed because it adapts with the times.

As chip fabrication became more automated, much of the company’s core business lost momentum. Some competitors folded, and the resulting drop in demand meant more businesses were competing for a smaller pool of work. Over the years, Pro-Fab has focused on adapting to serve ever-changing needs. Its survival has depended on a near-constant evolution of technologies and a rewarding and stimulating work environment.

Transforming for Relevance and Stability

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Pro-Fab is built on skilled labor. In its 25,000-square-foot facility, most of the 21 employees design and build tangible equipment, including fabrication, CNC machining, welding, electro-polishing, and powdercoating. The business is a two-part system: one part design engineering (using software such as SOLIDWORKS, GibbsCAM, and Global Shop), one part equipment production (using precision tools like computer numeric controlled mills, lathes, lasers, and 3D printers).

Pro-Fab employees are equipped with laptops and desktops throughout, each utilizing Intel processors. On-site servers and workstation towers all feature “Intel Inside.”

“When you are running programs that are heavily processor dependent, you want the best,” Armstrong says. “In a manufacturing environment such as ours there is a risk of damaging handheld devices.”

But as Pro-Fab’s customers’ technology changes, its equipment must also change. Armstrong (right) says Pro-Fab’s success stems from analyzing market trends and organizational growth, weighing options, and strategically selecting service offerings and technology investments. Making the right choices is essential for Pro-Fab’s future, and it has proven to be a strength of the small business.

“Entry costs can easily touch $500,000+ for new manufacturing equipment, which is why we have held off on some equipment purchases,” she explains. “This is a big investment for a small company.”

Integrating Design and Manufacturing Workflows

As a production-focused business, Pro-Fab hasn’t invested heavily in IT or in the latest PCs for its employees. Like most small businesses, Armstrong says they replace a few of the oldest computers each year and manage all but the most pressing IT problems internally. But she realizes the possibilities of a connected workplace.

“We have discussed a method to streamline the movement of information throughout our production floor,” she says. “In doing so we would have pedestals with touchscreens at every workstation, therefore making our production line paperless.”

Diversity Powers an Industry-wide Change

Beyond staying ahead of the pack in its industry, one element about Pro-Fab that Armstrong prides herself on is the company’s commitment to diversity.

“Being diverse-owned-and-operated business is very important, as it is an illustration to my own children, three of which are girls, that the business setting is no longer a man-only domain,” Armstrong explains. “It is empowering to me to be an example to future diverse-owned-and-operated entrepreneurs — especially to those females out there who are looking to get into a predominately male-dominated industry such as manufacturing.”

Armstrong acquired Pro-Fab in 2007, and has found comfort as a female business owner in her industry by working with professionals and dependable customers. Though she mentions there are still exceptions, she feels that the mindset of the manufacturing industry has changed. Today, it’s more about results, solutions, and performance — three areas where Pro-Fab excels.

Influential leadership, smart spending, strong decision-making, and an eye for efficiency has ensured Pro-Fab continues to thrive. Learn more about Pro-Fab here.

To learn more about how diversity inspires innovation at Intel, click here. For more small business stories and resources from Intel to help your business thrive, click here.