Engineered Mechanical Systems Inc. (EMS) is a fast-growing fabrication and engineering firm based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A woman-owned, family-focused business, EMS thrives on quality craftsmanship, employee loyalty, sensible business practices and religious faith.
“We’re a job shop, but we also are doing production work for several companies all over all the country… If somebody comes by and wants something built, instead of them having to [divide the work between] three or four different shops because their capabilities are limited, we’re set up as a one-stop shop,” says President Mark Fairchild, whose wife, Brenna, is majority owner and company CEO.
Services rendered by EMS include custom fabrication, reverse engineering, close tolerance machining, precision forming, precision laser cutting, 3D printing and inspection. Automotive is one of the main sectors the company works for, although EMS also has clients in the aerospace, nuclear, marine and power industries, to name a few.
EMS boasts a large inventory of machine tools and equipment. The firm just bought its eighth laser cutting machine and has “in the neighborhood of about 14 press brakes… We’ve probably got eight machining centers and probably got about close to 20 welding stations,” states Fairchild.
EMS utilizes CNC (Computer Numerical Controls) on its machine tools and operates out of two facilities in Chattanooga. The main plant is 120,000 square feet in size while the other plant is about 50,000 square feet. The latter is a temporary facility, being used until a planned expansion into Rhea County is completed. Rhea is located roughly one hour north of EMS’s current base, and the company aims to open a facility in the county that could be as large as 100,000 square feet.
If all goes to plan, the Rhea County facility should open “in the first or second quarter of next year,” states Operations Manager Chris Smith.
The new plant would “primarily support OEM-based services… We do a lot of sub–tier work for big OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) like John Deere and Caterpillar. If we continue our growth, our plan is to do some direct services for those guys,” adds Smith.
Over the past few years, EMS “invested in some marketing to get more national business,” he adds. This investment has paid off and now EMS has customers across the United States, into Canada and Mexico, and as far afield as Australia.
Engineered Mechanical Systems was founded by Mark and Brenna Fairchild in 1990. “When we started, it was a job shop all the way,” recalls Fairchild. At first, the company did a “lot of stainless steel work,” he shares. The firm established a pattern of putting profits back into the business, a move that helped EMS acquire “some of the latest and newest technology to keep us competitive.”
In addition to this practical business practice, EMS grew by diversifying its services and clientele, emphasizing quality work and following a family- and faith-based ethos. “We’ve always been a family-oriented business. We don’t have many turnovers. As a matter of fact, two years ago, the first guy I hired just retired. We probably have 20 to 30 people that have been here 20 years plus. The balance have been here anywhere from 10 to 15 years,” states Fairchild.
This intense worker loyalty stems in part from a spirit of workplace openness and communication. “Anything [our workers] have to say, we take into consideration – in terms of expansion, in terms of what do we need to do to help the company grow. We listen to the guy that sweeps the floor in the hallway and the veterans that have been here for 27, 28 years,” states Fairchild.
Having a loyal, long-term staff means EMS can tap into its employees’ collective knowledge base when the firm takes on new work.
The company also encourages loyalty among its suppliers, though it welcomes offers from new vendors. “Being in business as long as we’ve been, we’ve had an opportunity to vet a lot of [suppliers]… We have very good partnerships with our vendors. We always welcome new suppliers to our facility to give them an opportunity to see what they can offer,” says Smith.
Religious faith has also played a key part in making EMS a thriving enterprise. “The secret to our success is our devotion to what we believe in. We believe in Christ… One of the main scriptures that we use is Philippians 4.13: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ By operating in faith, our business has been very successful,” says Fairchild.
This success can be measured objectively; EMS ranked 33rd on The Fabricator’s 2017 Fab 40 list of top-grossing firms. The Fabricator is a media outlet that covers the fabrication industry.
At present, EMS has a total of 108 employees, roughly 20 more than this time last year. Smith attributes this increase to a few factors: “Our marketing strategy has helped bring in some new business from different sectors of the country. Also, the economy has turned around somewhat,” he states.
EMS does face a significant hurdle on the labor front, however. While eager to expand, the company is facing a shortage of young, skilled workers, something experienced throughout the entire industry. “We’re looking for people who have experience in the job-shop industry but at the same time those kinds of people are hard to find,” states Fairchild.
EMS has employed two strategies to meet this challenge head-on. The firm works closely with vocational institutions, high schools and colleges to entice new workers, and offers comprehensive workplace training for existing staff.
“It’s nice when somebody running a press brake wants to also work on laser cutting and learn that part. It helps them grow and not feel stagnant in one area. They can cross-train, go to another part of the company and learn that part of the business. As long as they have an aggressive attitude, they can work themselves all the way up to sales if they want to,” states Fairchild.
EMS takes a safety-first approach and requires workers to wear eye protection and ear plugs while on the shop floor. The company doesn’t use overhead cranes, so hard hats are not required. “We have a safety committee that meets on a monthly basis,” says Smith. “We have quarterly meetings with all the employees and suggestion boxes if anyone has anything that they’d like to bring up. As far as our mobile equipment, like forklifts, we require training for all of our forklift workers. I think as far as recordable injuries, we probably haven’t had a recordable injury in over 10 years.”
EMS has ISO:2008 certification and is in the process of becoming certified to a new ISO standard. “We have a vibrant QC (Quality Control) department. We also have meetings [to discuss] compliance with ISO standards,” adds Smith.
To be sure, EMS has been involved with a series of fascinating projects. The company recently completed a 26-foot high replica of the Eiffel Tower that was erected in downtown Chattanooga. Photographs of this mini-Eiffel Tower, along with other projects, can be seen on the company website.
In addition to this website, EMS has “a marketing team that develops [promotional] strategy for our company. We have a monthly meeting where we sit down and discuss new ways to promote our business, via LinkedIn and social media,” says Fairchild, who also notes that the firm sometimes takes part in trade shows.
EMS belongs to several trade organizations including the Associated General Contractors of America, the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association and the American Welding Society, to name a few. “What do we get out of belonging to these associations? We get an opportunity to meet other competitive people doing the same type of work we’re doing, learning about what they are doing to make their company more successful. We get to meet new contacts,” states Fairchild.
In terms of industry recognition, Fairchild proudly notes that EMS is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise. It took Brenna Fairchild roughly two to three years to earn certification, which is offered through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a third-party certifying body for the United States Small Business Administration (SBA).
The process of becoming WBENC certified was grueling: “When Brenna went through her test, she had to spend three days with a group of people and she had to know every inch of our business: all of our equipment, from the cost of it to running it,” states Fairchild.
Fairchild has every intention of keeping EMS a family-owned, family-focused business. A family business that continues to expand and offer new services, that is. “We are in the development stage of doing fabrication for forming tubes and also tube laser cutting,” says Smith.
And in five years’ time, Fairchild expects the Rhea County facility will be up and running and the company booming.
“I would say probably as far as manpower goes, we will probably see anywhere from 30 to 40 percent growth. As far as the company goes, in five years, with that type of growth in employees, [revenue could grow] as much as 50 percent. We may even be looking at another facility or adding more square footage” to existing buildings, he states. We look forward to seeing where the future takes this dynamic and growing company.