A new facility in Pueblo is working to solve a growing problem for the United States Department of Defense, and the solution could have big implications for the local economy.
The military has trouble obtaining parts for some of its aging but still essential equipment. About 1.8 million parts are on back order.
Take, for instance, the fleet of B-52 Stratofortress bombers, which came into service nearly 60 years ago but still make up the backbone of the Air Force’s bomber fleet. The U.S. intends to keep the plane in service until 2045, but many of its parts are no longer manufactured and replacement equipment is getting harder to find.
That’s where Pueblo is stepping in.
Veterans Initiative for National Sustainment
The city is home to the Veterans Initiative for National Sustainment (VINS), which kicked off last October after five years of work by the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation (PEDCO). Former PEDCO chairman Jeff Shaw oversees the facility, which will eventually be called Home of Heroes Manufacturing Center for Excellence – a nod to its dual purpose.
Pueblo got the nickname "Home of Heroes" from President Dwight Eisenhower, who noted the area's high number of Medal of Honor recipients. VINS is charged with enlisting veterans to build parts by putting schematics into their hands and helping them win military contracts.
The Department of Defense aims to send 3 percent of its contracts to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, but the reality has been less than 1 percent. That discrepancy is worth several billion dollars. By getting veterans involved in the manufacture of needed parts, VINS hopes to solve both problems at once.
Pueblo Leads Way With Cold Spray Technology
Replacement parts aren’t the only way VINS will help the military. The facility has invested in “cold spray” manufacturing technologies that can put a protective coat on parts in order to help them resist corrosion and last longer. But that’s hardly the only use for the technology, which involves firing metal particles onto another metal surface at such a high velocity that a strong molecular bond is formed.
In addition to coating steel with another material such as copper, the technology can be used to repair parts that would otherwise need to be replaced or to quickly fabricate a new part by spraying metal into a mold, Shaw says.
The technology has attracted attention from aviation, automotive and even health-care companies, Shaw says.
A team looking to exploit the technology includes defense contractors such as New York-based aerospace company Moog Inc. ($2.1 billion in revenue in 2010) and Connecticut-based helicopter company Sikorsky Aircraft ($6.7 billion in 2010).
Shaw expects VINS to eventually employ 30 to 40 researchers and serve as a training facility for companies looking to leverage the technology.
“We expect defense contractors to relocate,” Shaw says. “We have defense contractors who work in the facility right now. We expect them to expand operations and to have a relationship near or inside the facility – including some that are household names. The defense world is changing; budgets are changing. Cold spray is a cheaper way for them to do business. And the defense contractors understand that.”
Read more about honoring veterans in Pueblo, CO.