Paragon D&E Completes Project Valued at More Than $5 Million to Expand Capacity for Aerospace Work, Other Industries

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Paragon D&E has completed a project valued at more than $5 million that expands its Grand Rapids facility and outfits it with advanced equipment to manufacture molds for jet engine components and other large, complex parts.

Paragon D&E has completed a project valued at more than $5 million that expands its Grand Rapids facility and outfits it with advanced equipment to manufacture molds for jet engine components and other large, complex parts.

One of the largest mold makers in North America, Paragon D&E increased the footprint of its manufacturing space at 5225 33rd St. SE. by 26,000 square feet, laid a bedrock-like foundation of specialized concrete, and set two large machine tools that will be used to rough form huge blocks of aluminum and steel into molds used to manufacture parts from composite materials and plastics.

The company is growing in part due to the highly specialized manufacture of jet engine parts from composite materials, which are combinations of materials that are prized for their light weight and superior strength compared with exotic and hard-to-machine metal alloys. The expansion of the now 165,000-square-foot facility will ensure capacity for future growth in other business sectors as well, President David Muir said. Paragon D&E services the aerospace, oil and gas production, automotive, heavy truck, mining, marine and nuclear waste industries.

Sales and employment are at record levels for Paragon D&E, up significantly from a recent low point during the recession. Muir said the company employs 225 people and expects to post sales of about $40 million this year, compared with employment of about 150 people and sales of about $30 million in 2006. The trade publication Plastics News ranked Paragon D&E as one of the top 15 mold makers in North America in terms of sales in 2011.

One main driver of Paragon D&E's growth is its aerospace work. Commercial airlines are expected to begin switching on a large scale from jet engines made primarily from metal alloys to composite ceramic materials that can also resist tremendous heat and rotary forces generated as the engines run and still boost the fuel efficiency of engines as much as 20 percent, Muir said.

"Basically, most of what the air touches as it travels through the jet engine is starting to be made from composites," he said. "Jet engine manufacturers are changing the whole dynamic of how engines operate by significantly increasing their air flow. In many cases, it will be cost effective to tear existing engines off jets and replace them with composite jet engines." Paragon D&E is in discussions or working with the largest jet engine manufacturers in the world, including GE, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce.

The project gave Paragon D&E the opportunity to spread its own wings when it comes to repurposing machine tools to meet the company's specific needs, Muir said. As part of the expansion, the company is making substantial modifications to a 5-axis Droop & Rein FVP floor mill and computer controls on the machine. "We are taking what would normally be a machine with a 10-foot-long capacity and tripling that," he said. "We are getting into the machine design and build portion of it with our people -- even Droop & Rein is looking at how we're doing it."

In addition to work on the 5-axis machine, Paragon D&E has repurposed a 6-axis Droop & Rein MODIMILL machining center with a 76" by 80" programmable rotary table, brought a high speed Makino A61 NX horizontal milling machine online, added an overhead crane with 25-ton capacity and increased electric discharge machining capabilities for large complex molds.

Much of the expansion will help workflow leading to the company's double gantry 5-axis FIDIA milling machine, the largest machine tool of its type in North America about the size and length of a car wash that can easily cut the entire fuselage of an F-22 Raptor fighter jet within a hair's width of tolerance.

In addition to cutting large three-dimensional shapes from aluminum, steel, composite, or other materials, the FIDIA can be fitted with sensors so that it can precisely measure the shape of very large objects -- allowing Paragon D&E to help customers reverse engineer existing parts such as helicopter cockpits and airplane tail structures to produce replacements. Installed three years ago at a cost of $3.5 million, the FIDIA has a table 60 feet by 12 feet with virtually unlimited weight capacity.

Paragon D&E has earned a NQA-1 qualification so that it can work on materials and components used by the nuclear power industry. With the new designation, the company is producing a patented barrel specially designed for the secure transfer of nuclear waste. "We are ramping up that production with the expectation that more barrels will be used," Muir said. "With our new designation that is well above and beyond even aerospace requirements, we are capable of doing any type of nuclear work."

Paragon D&E is ISO certified and registered under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as a secured facility for defense component manufacturing, as well as being AS9100 certified for the manufacture of aerospace components.

"There's a real 'wow' factor to the type of work we are doing here -- a continuation of the can-do attitude that was established 50 years ago by my grandfather and the skilled machinists he attracted to company," Muir said. Muir's grandfather, Fred M. Keller, purchased the company in 1962 and established a strong reputation as a full-service mold supplier with engineering and build capability that has consistently invested in new technology. In the 1980s, the company invested in technology that reduced mold building time in half to satisfy demands by the automotive industry for quick turnarounds.

"When I look how far we've come, I think that my grandfather would be pleased with what we've accomplished, " Muir said.

For more information about Paragon D&E and its new capabilities, please refer to the company's website at http://www.paragonde.com, call the company at 616.949.2220 or write Bob Starck at e-mail address bstarck at paragonde.com .

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Matthew Gryczan
SciTech Communications
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