Creative Boom at Acutech

Columbia Falls manufacturing company working with inventors and companies to create innovative products

By Molly Priddy

COLUMBIA FALLS– Walking through the Acutech building on Highway 40 is an education in metal work, where the technology employees use ranges from the rudimentary blacksmith’s anvil mounted on a large tree stump to laser cutting.

In the north end of the workspace sits one of the only laser cutters in the Flathead, while nearby the waterjet pumps out a stream of water at 60,000 psi to cut out new wheel centers for a Hummer.

A CNC machine is hard at work carving out rifle parts from blocks of raw metal, while in the southern section of the workspace two workers are building a 700-pound chandelier by hand with age-old blacksmithing techniques.

“We have the most primitive stuff where you’re pounding on steel, and then we have guys measuring within a 10,000th of an inch,” Acutech co-owner Dean Grommet said.

Acutech, a one-stop metal manufacturing shop, moved into its current building on Highway 40 in 2011, and in the three years since, the company’s management and crew have put together a unique system for devising and producing innovative projects.

Some of its recent products include working with Flathead Valley resident Jim Wegener to engineer Wegener’s Safety Latch for football helmets, an invention that locks the helmet’s chin strap into place and keeps the helmet from popping off during contact.

High school and college teams have already ordered the latches, and Grommet said his team was preparing to have the first latches available on Aug. 11, which would be followed up with distribution.

“It’s just one of those pieces of innovation that seems to happen in this valley,” Grommet said.

One of Acutech’s goals is to work with such inventors, Grommet and co-owner Josh Boyce said. Inventors come to the metal shop and speak with an Acutech engineer to troubleshoot the product, and the production crew creates a prototype.

“The customer will come to us with an idea, and we can make it into a sellable product,” Boyce said.

From there, depending on the distribution size, Acutech can either produce the invention or manage its creation, Grommet said, making sure it comes to life in an efficient and effective manner.

Another product Acutech is developing is the Glacier Guard, a local invention from Glacier Guard Innovations and its CEO Matt Folkman, which consists of an engineered aluminum system for roofs to eliminate ice dams through heated panels.

Acutech is also working with Algae Aqua-Culture Technology of Whitefish, and built the organic carbon engine Green Power House at work on property owned by F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. in Columbia Falls.

A national technology company has also tapped Acutech to manufacture and produce the specialized stainless steel ribbons used in its RibbonLift systems, which are used to broadcast major events, such as NFL and NBA games.

There are other projects in the research and development and production stages, Boyce said, but the information is proprietary at this point.

And then there is the firearm component to the company, which Acutech originally branded as Miller Precision Arms before renaming it Acutech Arms. The company introduced its MPA300 Guardian, a .300 Win. Mag. with an AR platform, at the Las Vegas Shot Show in January.

“We produced it to have all the same components and functions as an AR-15,” Grommet said.

Aside from the large-scale production projects, Acutech also works on smaller-scale products, such as custom wheel centers, architectural metalwork, and thick sheet metal projects using a 12-foot press break that can bend metal with up to 175 tons of force.

There is also a stamping press used to create die casting molds for the machining shop or to stamp out designs in metal, and is often used for projects related to the satellite industry.

Along with the brute force of such machines comes the finesse and elegance of traditional metal work, such as the blacksmithing involved in creating hand-hammered chandeliers.

Grommet and Boyce said part of Acutech’s popularity with customers is its one-stop shop approach, where a customer can come in, have a product engineered, and employees from all of the various sections can put in their two cents on the design and usability, creating a dynamic flow of ideas.

“We have combined a lot of machinery and talent under one roof,” Grommet said. “We can manufacture just about anything in metals.”

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