Valence Surface Technologies, headquartered in The Woodlands, Texas, is one of the largest independent providers of aerospace product finishing services. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a serious damper on the commercial aerospace sector, Valence has found a way to pivot and persevere. During the downturn this year, the company has garnered several new approvals, the latest of which comes from Honeywell Aerospace.
Valence Los Angeles, which encompasses 5 Nadcap and AS9100-certified facilities and over 325,000 square feet of processing space, has been granted approval from Honeywell for over 180 new specifications. The new approvals cover a wide range of key processes, including penetrant inspection, chemical film conversion coatings, Type I chromic anodize, Type II sulfuric anodize, Type III hard coat anodize, and painting and dry lube.
This is the latest of several such announcements from Valence this year. Valence — which claims to be the largest independent, fully integrated surface finishing company for the aviation, aerospace/communications and military/defense markets — has eight centers of excellence located across North America, maintains 12 facilities comprising 850,000 square feet/78,967 square meters of operating space, serves 3,000 global customers, and processes over 1 million parts per month. According to Chris Grapsas, Valence’s vice president of sales and marketing, while the company’s commercial aerospace business has dipped from about 50% of its business to around 30% due to the downturn of commercial aerospace sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, Valence has been able to weather the storm. The company has used the time to seek new approvals and put some additional focus on areas such defense and space.
“This year we’ve been really pushing to go out there and capture as many new approvals as we can with our current footprint,” says Grapsas. “We’ve been able to dedicate resources that might normally be doing quality on the floor and final inspections to help get approvals. A big initiative has been to continue to grow our offerings, adding processes for commercial programs, defense programs, space programs and advanced systems.”
In June, Valence’s Everett, Washington location received approvals for anodizing, NDT and additional support processes to the Boeing Defense (Saint Louis, Mo.) PS specifications, a move that will support military and defense programs, such as the F-15, F-18, T-X Air Force trainer aircraft and MQ-25 aerial refueling drone. Then, in July, Valence announced it has received several approvals specific to the space and aviation industries. The approvals include services for Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Cessna. In August, Valence’s Wichita, Kansas facility received approval from Safran Landing Systems (Vélizy-Villacoublay, France) for a range of finishing processes, including degreasing, dry grit blasting with aluminum oxide, etch inspection of high-strength steel parts, passivation of corrosion-resistant steels, chromium hexavalent plating and cadmium plating.
One of the things that has allowed Valence to fare better than many smaller operations is the diversity of its offerings. During the downturn in commercial aerospace, the company has been able to shift more of its attention to defense and space. “A lot of the businesses are pivoting into more defense work — we’re seeing a trend in the machine shops [in the Everett-Seattle area] starting to pivot away from Boeing commercial and going out and capturing work from Boeing defense, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Gumman and space work, including Blue Origin and Space-X,” says Grapsas. “Since we have those approvals already in place, we’re in a good position to be able to capture some of that business.”
Valence currently processes parts for space and launch vehicles for such companies as Boeing, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, Blue Origin and ULA. The company’s Garden Grove, California facility has decades of experience and expertise with critical finishing operations on precision machined parts, including precious metals, nickel and electroless nickel, phosphoric acid anodize and bond primer, RF and waveguide advanced plating, advanced communications, thermal management and weapon systems. The company has large part processing capability. Its Lynwood, California facility, which ranked first in Products Finishing’s 2020 Top Shops Benchmarking Survey for electroplating, boasts 110-foot tanks. The Lynwood facility currently process large fairings, longerons, tanks, domes and fuel tubes for major space OEMs and through sub-tiers. At its Springfield, Massachusetts facility, Valence performs large ring processing for many space OEMs.
With some locations focused more heavily than others on commercial aerospace, Grapsas says some of Valence’s facilities have seen decreases in work and others have seen increases during this time, depending upon their customer base and processing capabilities. “Our Garden Grove facility is having record sales months right now,” he says. “They have almost zero commercial aviation exposure, and they’re heavy into satellite, space, advanced systems, thermal management — and those programs are going crazy.”
As the manufacturing industries look towards the return of commercial aerospace over the next 24 months, production levels likely won’t be at the same rates for some time. Fortunately, defense applications and a new golden age of space flight are offering opportunities for diverse companies like Valence who can make the pivot.