By April Dudash
Alotech is in the business of making other companies look good. Small metal bits stacked on racks will soon be used to make Moen faucets. Piles of unopened packages of Revlon hair dye are possible thanks to Alotech's assembly line technology. Workers blast classic rock as they mold small plastic pieces that will eventually hold perfume bottles at the nearby Coty plant assembly line.
And now, the Air Force has purchased a system of Alotech brackets to help guide F-16 fighter pilots.
The brackets will be used on a pilot's helmet, in a system that "displays situational awareness and weapons-cueing information" directly in a pilot's field of vision, according to Raytheon. F-16 jobs could bring Alotech as much as $4.5 million, including a second task order that Alotech is competing for now.
Perfume bottles to jets, Alotech prides itself on diversity.
In Asia, the company is know for the water purification systems it builds. An Alotech system on Cambodia's Tonlé Sap, the largest lake in southeast Asia, provides clean water to 15,000 people a day.
Until now, the company landed what Francis Chester, vice president of sales and marketing, calls "small potatoes" defense projects, orders of less than $100,000 worth of work from the Coast Guard, Army and Navy. Then, Alotech hired Chester, an expert in federal procurement, to craft contract proposals. It applied to become a HUBZone small business, a company that operates in what the Small Business Administration calls a historically underutilized business zone.
This summer, Alotech and two other HUBZone companies were awarded the F-16 contract. But the first job went to Alotech, which has already shipped the brackets to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, said Chester and Tommy Kirk, Alotech's chief operating officer.
But the company hasn't stopped looking for new work. In fact, its 12,000-square-foot workspace is a gizmo lover's dream.
"You'll have to excuse the mess," Kirk said as he skirted giant metal spools ready to be shipped to Fayetteville's Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant. "There's literally stuff everywhere."
These are the "slingshots" used to take down the Goliaths of their industry, Chester says.
Alotech produces water purification systems ranging from the size of a suitcase to systems the size of shipping containers capable of producing clean water for thousands. Alotech employees travel the world distributing these systems, working in Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Uganda.
Two days after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Alotech employees were on the ground distributing 12 water purification systems to an AIDS clinic in Port-au-Prince. Kirk remembers the chaos, death and surgeries conducted outdoors and in hallways.
On the Tonlé Sap, families live in stilt houses and on boats in the lake, with no access to clean water. "They're born and raised on the water, and they die on the water," Kirk said. "It's the wildest thing you've ever seen."
Kirk manages two other company locations, a 200,000-square-foot warehouse in Goldston and a 40,000-square-foot plant 700 yards from the Sanford headquarters that is primarily used to rebuild heavy truck clutch bodies for Eaton Corp. Alotech receives 400 clutch bodies a day to tear down, sort and clean.
Now, the company is eyeing the Humvees coming home from war that are filtered through the military reset process, which restores worn equipment used overseas.
"One thing we'd love to do is rebuild all of the clutches for the military," Chester said.
About 10 percent of Alotech's business comes from the military now, but company leaders would like to see that grow. Their broad range of research and development capabilities could benefit the Department of Defense, they said.
"They know what they want," Kirk said of some customers, "but they don't know how to describe what they want. We draw it out of them."