Issue Nov Dec 15
Established in 1993, Genesis Engineering (GES) has been a major contributor to some of the most exciting advances in aerospace. For more than 20 years, the company has excelled in technology development and commercialization, providing solutions to federal government programs, as well as domestic and international private businesses. As a primary supplier to NASA, GES has helped launch 150 critical parts for the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit with its sophisticated protective enclosures. GES engineers also participate in ongoing projects for NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory, the Composite Crew Module and the James Webb Space Telescope, to name a few.
As proof that GES is one of the best in its class, the company has two impressive awards in its portfolio. It was recognized by the Prince Georges TECH Council in 2006, winning the Small Business Award. More recently, NASA’s office of Small Business Programs awarded Genesis as GSFC’s Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year in 2011. The engineering firm also holds an ISO 9001 certification and manages three facilities.
For years, GES has predominantly performed mechanical and systems integration work for the James Webb Space Telescope, as well as supporting all service repair missions for the Hubble Space Telescope. The protective enclosures designed and built for Hubble are an example of the company’s product lines. They have given 150 items a smooth ride into orbit, protecting hardware valued at hundreds of millions of dollars via environmentally controlled conditions. Some of these containers are capable of providing health and status monitoring of the objects inside.
Two years ago, Genesis began a major push to expand its capabilities. In 2011, two years before Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dwight Yoder came on board, GES built a 35,000- square-foot building. With big plans in mind, the new facility was set up with a Class 10K cleanroom and a Class 100K cleanroom. It was also purposefully built just outside the gates of the Goddard Space Flight Center, perfectly positioned to service NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD). In the world of aerospace engineering, the use of cleanroom facilities is a significant component to controlling the contamination of spacecraft. Class 10K cleanrooms, Class 100K cleanrooms and ISO certification are a necessity for working with the top agencies involved in the manufacturing of space avionics. Installing these cleanrooms was a strategic step in furthering GES’s offerings to its largest clients.
With the new building in place, Genesis is able to carry out new endeavors. Up until this point, the company focus had been on mechanical and spacecraft thermal blanket and harness work. Since the expansion, GES has been able to install a manufacturing line to manufacture space avionics, as well as new systems for electrical avionics design work. “What we’ve accomplished in the past two years is install a state-of-the-art manufacturing capability for space flight hardware manufacturing, including some of the latest technologies for NASA programs,” Yoder says. “That’s the major change we’ve implemented over the last couple of years, specifically high-density column grid and ball grid arrays for space applications.”
Edging Out the Competition
Although the type of work Genesis performs is extremely complicated and highly specialized, there is significant competition. A few companies offer similar services; however, for NASA Goddard Space Flight programs, the majority are located in the western part of the country such as Colorado and along the West Coast. “When I was a program manager for NASA avionics, we went to California to get some of this work done,” Yoder notes. “That’s why we invested this capability on the East Coast, close to NASA Goddard. The NASA design engineers prefer to have their hardware manufactured in close proximity in the event design changes need to be incorporated into the hardware.”
Beating out the competitors takes more than a convenient location. More importantly, GES is recognized for handling the highest, most complicated column grid arrays and ball grid arrays in the area. This expertise, along with its recent moves toward becoming more service-oriented and producing new high-tech product lines, are what differentiate Genesis from others.
“In the DoD and NASA environment, NASA Goddard is pushing the envelope for space technology, and we’re right beside them,” Yoder says. GES is currently making plans to collaborate with the several agencies on work that includes exciting programs through vehicles such as a Space Act Agreement or other types of strategic relationships. “Some of the latest technology the space industry overall requires [i.e., commercial, federal or DoD] is developed at Goddard, and we’re partnering to help manufacture that,” Yoder notes.
As the commercial space industry grows, Genesis assesses its role in that market. According to a 2015 report from Epoch Times, in 2014, the space industry was worth $330 billion. Of that, the U.S. government’s space budget accounted for only 13 percent ($42.96 billion), and other states another 11 percent ($36.21 billion). The remaining 76 percent of the space economy, or $250.83 billion, was commercial space activity. The engineering firm has been in discussion with NASA headquarters to investigate the potential for GES to partner with technologies in this market segment. “We believe it’s a market that we want to be a supplier to,” Yoder says.
The fact that Genesis is a small business with many of the manufacturing capabilities of a large company only works to its advantage. It’s a combination that is exceedingly attractive to clients who don’t have to wait on a slow corporate overhead structure to make decisions or take action. Even with its recent growth, the company is still considered a small business.
GES revenue nearly doubled in the last two years to $25 million due to the aggressive changes that have been realized in that time, particularly the move to implement new avionic capabilities. “Think of it this way,” Yoder explains. “We were largely a mechanical house doing mechanical work, and now, by adding the electrical and space avionics capabilities, it has brought a whole new business area to our company.” Consequently, the company has been hiring a large number of employees as well.
This push to grow the business comes with an expansion of services, increased staff and new equipment. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested to set up the equipment and capability to manufacture space hardware. According to Yoder, that’s where some of the largest growth has and will continue to come from. In most cases, it takes a business a minimum of five years to make the money back on a major machinery investment – if they make it back – but GES has regained most of its investment already. It took a year to install the new capabilities. In year two, which the company has just completed, it received significant manufacturing orders to build spaceflight hardware, and in year three, the firm anticipates developing and marketing products.
The future is bright for Genesis. “In year three, we’re looking at increasing our capabilities for environmental testing so we can be a one-stop shop,” Yoder says. This means the firm will step up its focus in circuit card assembly and avionics boxes to include thermal vacuum cycling and vibration testing. The company is already looking at developing some of these products for NASA and DoD. As it migrates from predominantly services to combinations of services and products, GES continues to invest capital money to install the capabilities that will lead to providing more high-end solutions.
The new building built by Genesis is partly leased out until the company completes its growth plans. Currently, GES is preparing to expand and use the full 35,000 square feet. One of its most recent uses of the extra space came in September 2015, when the firm expanded its manufacturing department with new equipment for designing and manufacturing additional space craft thermal blankets and circuit card assemblies. Now, GES is making room for additional circuit board assembly as well as engineering space. The new facility in Maryland is not the company’s only location. It also has 3,000 square feet of room in California where it is handling some prototype work with CubeSats – small satellites in a 1U to 6U form factor – alongside Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Facing the Challenge
Every day is a unique challenge for businesses in the aerospace industry. “Engineers by nature are problem-solvers,” Yoder comments. “We’re always pushing the state-of-the-art, looking for better ways to do things and to make things more efficiently.” One example is the company’s current ambition to improve its component density to 1 mil or less, pitch column grid arrays and ball grid arrays on both sides of a circuit card. Setting up the equipment, getting it running and producing the hardware in less than two years is a testament to the drive behind GES. “We tackle anything; we’re very motivated,” Yoder notes.
Now that Genesis has grown its avionics division, the company has seen the need for a higher capability MRP system. GES will increase its fidelity of tracking parts. An MRP system has become especially necessary as the firm increases manufacturing with higher part counts. In many cases, it receives numerous hardware and electronic parts from Goddard.
“We have to have a system that blends what we buy with what they deliver, as opposed to a house that does everything on its own,” Yoder explains. It is, yet, another example of the benefits of being a small company. GES is able to remain flexible and adaptable. It can either buy all the parts or take partial kits from the customer to supplement with purchased parts.