If someone is willing to spend $65 million on a private jet, chances are he will want the absolute finest fit and finish throughout the aircraft, down to the seat buckles and ashtrays.
And that’s where HighTech Finishing in Houston comes in. Want a gold-plated sink for your Gulfstream G650, the aforementioned $65M corporate toy? Maybe you need
refurbished seatbelts for your Learjet 85, which costs a cool $18 million?
Then head to Houston and see HighTech’s CEO Carl Bartuch, President Lee Whitley or VP of Sales and Marketing Rick Niefield. Chances are, they’ll give you a good price that won’t break your budget … assuming there was a budget to begin with.
“These aircrafts are truly luxurious and have the best of the best,” says Niefield, who has more than 23 years of corporate aviation industry experience. “But that puts added pressure on us to deliver a world-class finish to these customers. They won’t settle for anything less.”
For more than 25 years, HighTech has been supplying decorative metal plating for interior hardware and trim parts for business and head-of-state aircraft from around the globe.
The company’s plating and finishing offerings are vast because of the often unique demands of its clients; it offers more than 130 standard finishes and unlimited custom-matching capabilities, Whitley says.
“We have the largest available processing capacity in the aviation market,” he says. “We are here to serve our customers.”
HighTech says it is the only aviation decorative plating supplier to have received both the FAA Part 145 Repair Station and ISO9001/AS9100 quality management system certification designations, meaning it is authorized by the FAA to issue “return to service” form 8130-3 for decorative plating of aircraft parts.
HighTech Finishing got its start back in 1984, when the owners purchased a small plating shop specializing in industrial work, tea sets and miscellaneous hardware.
In 1991, the owners caught wind that business jet plating was big business, so they attended the National Business Aviation Association trade show. When they realized they were one of only two plating companies in attendance, they thought that servicing business jets would be a great niche to go after. After putting in place a stringent quality control program, HighTech was off and running.
“We learned quickly here that the secret to truly getting a good finish is in all the steps before a finish is actually applied,” Niefield says. “With all the finishes we offer, it makes it that much more important to make sure that the base surface is prepared and ready to accept whatever finish has been selected. It’s a lot of work to get it right.”
That includes working many of the parts by hand, either through polishing with buffers or simply having workers rub and polish intricate parts with cloth, a time-consuming process that HighTech’s customers have come to appreciate.
Supplier of the Year
The quality of work has not gone unnoticed. Gulfstream Dallas recently selected HighTech as its “Supplier of the Year.”
“Gulfstream Dallas decided we wanted to show appreciation to our suppliers; we did an internal survey along with delivery performance and quality, and HighTech was Dallas’s top supplier,” says Regina Tovar Compton, Dallas procurement manager for Gulfstream Dallas. “They go above and beyond and always do their best to turn parts needed ASAP.”
The award was hugely appreciated by HighTech’s 150-plus workers in its 35,000-sq-ft plant deep in the heart of Texas.
“To hear them say that our superior customer service is far above what they typically receive is so gratifying, as we strive every day to not only give each client the best aviation decorative plating available, but to also deliver every order with industry-leading customer service,” Whitley says.
Niefield says HighTech has four categories of customers: aircraft manufacturers, completions centers, refurbishment centers and designers—all in the business aviation sector.
Whitley adds that HighTech has the ability to do more work for commercial aviation companies such as airlines, but rarely do airlines have the need to add higher-quality plating finishes to any of their products.
“They don’t need to upgrade to gold, brass or bronze fittings,” Whitley says. “It’s usually only the business aircraft that get that type of treatment.”
Think the private jet sector seems like a small niche market compared with that of larger commercial jets? Think again.
39,000 Private Jets
A report by the American Statistical Association last year says there are more than 39,000 private aircraft around the world, a number far outweighing jets owned by large commercial airlines, such as Delta with 1,273 planes, United with 1,242 and American with 869.
NetJets, owned by investment guru Warren Buffett, says the private aircraft industry in the U.S. employs more than 1.2 million people and adds $150 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
Honeywell, which makes engines and other parts for the private aircraft industry, estimates that as many as 10,000 new private jets will be ordered over the next 10 years, meaning the industry looks stable for the foreseeable future.
HighTech has been riding that wave, having been specified in 2012 to provide plating work for three major aircraft manufacturers: Gulfstream Aerospace, Dassault Falconjet and Embraer.
Part of the company’s ongoing business strategy is a strenuous quality control system. HighTech’s 50-step process includes 17 quality assurance checks.
Whitley says the process includes closely monitoring chemical procurement, plating bath chemistry, equipment calibration and temperature control devices, in addition to numerous visual inspections as each part is hand-worked through its route in the HighTech facility.
Those quality checks are needed because of the company’s aforementioned large offering of finishes: more than 130 in gold, white gold, black, copper, nickel, brass, silver, bronze, platinum and chrome.
“The most popular are the lighter colors, compared to a few years ago when gold was the standard,” Whitley says. “People are getting a lot more creative in what they want.”
Since 2007, HighTech has used products from Uyemura for its decorative gold, satin nickel, and platinum chemistries, as well as a brass formula that remains tarnish-free for many years thanks to a high concentration of gold.
Whitley says the advantage of the Uyemura platinum is that it looks like the rich white metallic everyone associates with platinum. He says the platinum chemistry from a former supplier had a slightly gray, washed-out tone.
Try as they might, the HighTech technicians could never determine why it was that way, and went through several rounds of testing with the previous supplier trying various shades and chemistries. When they never could achieve the desired aesthetic, in came Uyemura, which was able to produce the desired result right after the process was installed.
“We had heard from several sources that tech support would be stronger and more responsive with Uyemura, and that’s been our experience,” Whitley says. “We have an excellent working relationship with the lab in Connecticut, which is oriented toward our specific applications.”
The newest tones are customer-driven. Oil-rubbed Bronze was based on an inquiry from Airbus for a specific appearance, Niefield says. It combines the company’s normal plated product with a “cold staining” process to achieve the desired look.
Also new is Spanish Bronze, which Niefield describes as a variation of Oil-rubbed Bronze, but with a more visible brushed pattern. Crescent Gold was developed after several European completion centers asked HighTech for a plated finish with a distinctive color and accurate color consistency; it is available in polished, satin, pearlite, frosted and hammertone textures.
In the last few years, HighTech has been striving to stay ahead of the design game by working more closely with aircraft designers on materials and finishes in order to offer them whatever a customer decides it wants in terms of the latest trendy tones and colors.
“It works well this way because we can start seeing trends and then use our own R&D to make sure we have products that will best serve the market,” Niefield says. “That may take a few months of research on our part, but it is a good scenario because we want to stay ahead of that trend.”
The latest trends in aircraft size, meanwhile, are showing that more customers are buying larger business jets. Honeywell Business and General Aviation say the company expects that about 70 percent of all expenditures on new business jets will be for larger-size aircraft.
That sits just fine with the management team at HighTech, which has seen more business come from overseas in recent years.
“The people we work with range from wealthy individuals, to corporations who want to fly their executives all over the world, to heads of state who have their own fleets,” Niefield says. “It’s a wide range of people we are dealing with who want only the best for their aircraft, and we’re happy to deliver it to them.”
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