In a small, nondescript warehouse off U.S. Highway 2 in Evergreen, father-son duo Bob and Dan Burgi oversee a small engineering and manufacturing company that has a finger on the pulse of the technology industry.
“We’re helping other companies develop their products and improve their technology so they can continue to grow in their markets,” Bob said. “They’re trying to do things newer, faster, better and stronger than the current technology allows, and that’s where we come in.”
The Flathead Valley isn’t known as a high-tech hub. The county, and Montana as a whole, is far from the major centers of aerospace and automotive innovation, but that’s exactly why Bob wanted to move here.
Bob’s background is in mechanical engineering, mostly focused on the niche of rotating machinery design. He started out in California working with aircraft motors, before shifting into consulting work that was heavily involved in the burgeoning wind energy sector.
Deciding he didn’t want to raise a family in California, Bob moved his wife and four kids to Montana after discovering the Flathead Valley on a vacation. After a decade of consulting work, he founded Burgi Engineers in Columbia Falls in 2002.
“We started with just two other fellows in our office in Columbia Falls,” Bob said. “There wasn’t much manufacturing back then, but we built our first systems in my garage.”
The majority of products Burgi Engineers designs end up in the research and development labs of other technology companies. At a basic level, the company designs and manufactures high-performance rotating machinery, whether that’s a gear box, a load carrying spindle, a drive train or a test stand for a company.
Dan says companies reach out when they are developing a product, such as new components in a propulsion system, but off-the-shelf test stands can’t simulate the speeds and torques of a jet engine to conduct the necessary testing. Burgi has made its mark by packing in more power and higher speeds into smaller designs in order to fulfill this niche.
“We design highly customized, special machinery where we have to push the limits of the materials and components we have to work with,” Dan said. “We can build test stands that are above what’s available today so these companies can continue to improve products.”
Dan, who worked at the company in high school and college, became a partner in 2013. The company has been expanding rapidly in the last few years, and now has two facilities, the Evergreen warehouse and a machine shop in Columbia Falls. The vertical integration has allowed them to hire more engineers and machinists.
In the last three years, Burgi has nearly doubled its workforce to 15 employees. Dan notes that while they’ve been able to find top-notch machinists and engineers to join the company, one of the difficulties in conducting a niche business in Northwest Montana is a smaller labor pool than other technology and manufacturing hotspots. He emphasized that with continued growth comes a continued need for new employees.
Over the last four years, the company has also tripled its export market across four continents, which earned it recognition as exporter of the year from the Montana District Export Council (MDEC).
“I am humbled to see the quality not only of manufacturers we have in our state, but the sophistication of their export process,” Barry Wood, chair of the MDEC, said in a press release.
While international sales have rapidly scaled up, they only account for about 15% of Burgi Engineers’ total sales, due to federal restrictions on technology trade.
“There’s a lot of paperwork to go through,” Dan said. “This stuff is used to test and develop the most advanced technology in the world. You have to be careful who you talk to — not every country is allowed to have machinery that goes this fast.”
One big market sector that has driven expansion in recent years is the recent popularity in electric vehicles. According to the Burgis, a lot of the electric motor technology being developed and tested uses Burgi test stands, which is “really cool.”
“Technology is always developing, so they’ll always need to keep testing it,” Bob said.
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