Chris DiPentima sees the wave.
Pegasus Manufacturing Inc., his 75-employee machine shop in Middletown, will need to add a shift. He expects the company to double its revenue by 2018, at which time he expects to have close to 100 more employees.
Amassing record backlogs, the country's largest aerospace manufacturers, like Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier, are turning to their suppliers to fill a volume of parts orders not seen for decades, with Connecticut's small and medium manufacturers positioning themselves for a place at the table.
"It's a giant tsunami just brewing," said Kevin Flanagan, director of sales and marketing for Glastonbury-based Flanagan Industries, which makes parts for commercial and military engines.
In September, there was $920 billion worth of commercial aircraft waiting to be built, according to Bloomberg statistics. Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp, expects to double engine production by the end of the decade, rivaling levels not seen since the 1980s.
At Pegasus Manufacturing, DiPentima expects 340,000 man-hours of business when production peaks, probably in 2018. Last year, Pegasus did 90,000 man-hours.
"They are looking to go zero to 60 in two years," DiPentima said. "We normally would take seven years."
That loud rushing sound of aerospace work, however, translates to real challenges for Connecticut's machine shops. They will need to find or train more skilled workers, need to manage unprecedented levels of material and parts, and need to find ways to be more efficient.
And if the shops can't deliver, some say that the companies like Airbus, Boeing, and Pratt won't hesitate to send the work elsewhere.
"If it can't be done here, it will be done someplace else," said Elliot Ginsberg, chief executive of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, a nonprofit group that assists manufacturers with technology.
"There will be pressure on them to be incredibly innovative and use technology in an effective way," he said. "It is an industry dilemma that has a tremendous opportunity for the small companies here."
Manufacturing executives, like DiPentima, say that the state could do more to help promote a pipeline of skilled machinists.
"We need to stop the flavor-of-the-month approach and develop a strategic plan to manufacturing in Connecticut," DiPentima said during a panel discussion about the state of manufacturing at a Connecticut Business and Industry Association conference Tuesday morning. "We need a more competitive workforce to do jobs in less time so we can be cost-competitive."
In Glastonbury, Flanagan Industries has already put more than $6 million into the ramp-up. For Flanagan, if you're not investing now, you're losing ground. Some machinery took eight months to arrive, he said, with staff training also a large investment in time.
A state loan has enabled Flanagan to consolidate operations and add production capacity in a larger facility. He expects that, by 2015, his business will grow 30 percent from last year's levels.
"Maybe we are a little too aggressive. Maybe we spent a lot of money prematurely," Flanagan said. "But if we don't have these assets ready to go … we're going to miss the boat."
DiPentima said that Pegasus' customers, such as Rolls-Royce and GE Aviation, are closely watching how he dials up the work hours and head counts.
The unique speed of the production increase is driven by a number of factors. For one, many production programs are coming online at the same time. Also, aerospace companies are looking to quickly recoup the research and development investments that they made into new programs, according to Ginsberg and DiPentima.
Lastly, Pratt & Whitney, as one example, relies much more on suppliers for parts than it did decades ago, when the majority of the company's engine parts were made in-house. Ginsberg said that this change is "putting a lot of pressure on small manufacturers," whose primary concern is usually "getting the product out by the end of the week."