Four years ago, much of the global economy fell into a rut, but Randy Bentley added a second shift. “We’ve been running two 12-hour shifts close to five years now with no slowdown in sight,” he says. Bentley is a vice president at Numerical Precision Inc., a machining business based in Crosby, Texas, just outside Houston. GE is his biggest customer.
Numerical has been milling and lathing oil and gas equipment for GE over two decades. At the start the company had 30 workers. It now counts 84 employees who operate 20 advanced CNC mills and lathes. “We’ve grown by 20 people over the last two years alone,” Bentley says.
Take me for a spin: Lufkin’s gearboxes like this one can transmit over 80,000 horsepower from a GE gas turbine to an electricity generator. GE has 8,200 employees in Texas. A new economic impact study found that every 100 GE jobs support 213 additional jobs in the state. GE helps generate $5.6 billion per year for the state’s economy.
Numerical trains its own talent and is ready to hire more. “We run two shifts and we have to find people willing to work those many hours,” Bentley says. Managers pair up trainees with skilled workers for up to eight weeks, before they turn them loose. “We always want to have trainees in the system,” Bentley says. “It seems like we’re adding machines monthly now.”
But the GE buck does not stop in Crosby. Numerical farms out specialty operations like coating and cladding to other local businesses. “I’ve always felt that we had a very loyal relationship with GE, especially with the guys down here in Houston,” Bentley says. “They’ve always taken care of us in downtimes.”
GE’s Houston ecosystem reaches as far as Lufkin, Texas, population 35,000, two hours to the north. With 2,000 employees, Lufkin Industries, Inc. is the city’s largest employer. Some 600 workers regularly handle GE products, including multi-ton gear boxes manufactured to aircraft-precision tolerances that transmit over 80,000 horsepower from GE’s aeroderivative gas turbines to electric generators. “Our gear box is a vital part of the package that GE builds for its customers,” says Shawn Calhoun, general manager in Lufkin’s power transmission unit. Like Numerical, Lufkin uses CNC lathes, boring mills, “ultra-precision” gear tooth grinders, and other machines operated by highly –skilled workers, many driving from as far as an hour away to work.
Since Lufkin started manufacturing turbine parts for GE’s Houston plants, its business has multiplied, from 10 machines per year to as many 60 in a good year. As GE changed design and boosted turbine power, Lufkin invested heavily in new machinery and equipment and refined manufacturing processes and labor skills. “We work closely together as a team and make sure we provide the best products in the industry,” Calhoun says.
Lufkin now makes high-performance machinery for several other GE units, including GE Oil & Gas in Houston, Wisconsin, and Florence, Italy, and GE Energy in Atlanta. GE technology, with its global customer base, takes machines made by Lufkin’s Texas workers as far as the North Sea and the coast of Africa.