CHARLOTTE–OpSource Inc., a spinout from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Center for Metrology in 2001, is hot on the heels of contracts that may make venture funding unnecessary.

Robert Wilhelm, a vice president and founder of Op-Source tells Local Tech Wire the company is deep into sales cycles with major aerospace companies and may close some deals that make it unnecessary to take venture backing. Wilhelm and founding president Scott Smith are the company’s only full-time employees.

OpSource, Wilhelm says, “Can produce machined aluminum, titanium or other metal parts at a productivity level always twice the industry norm and in some demonstrated cases, 40 times the industry norm. We have a collection of patents and trade secrets that let us run machining processes in a repeatable, scientific way as opposed to the traditional craft methods which are trial and error oriented.”

Wilhelm says the company’s technology not only machines parts faster and more efficiently, it can “make things nothing else can.” The technology is science-based and maintains very high quality levels at extremely fine tolerances required in aerospace manufacturing, he says.

The improvement is similar to what has happened in the printing industry, Wilhelm suggests. “It was not so long ago that high volume and complex printing was done by craftsmen who knew how to navigate between what people wanted and what was possible.” Now a lot of that work is done perfectly by machines from information fed to them by computers.

Parts for F-18s

OpSource has provided parts for F-18 fighter jets and C-27 transport planes, Wilhelm notes. “We’re currently bidding to make parts for Airbus commercial jets and a new commercial jet being built by Eclipse. They’re trying to build a smaller air taxi, a six to 20 seat plane.” The cost of running the smaller jet could be as low as a dollar a mile, compared with the industry norm now of $5 to $10 a mile.

“U.S. Air, United, they’re happy if they get below a dollar a head per mile in terms of costs,” Wilhelm says.

Boeing Corp. incubated OpSource early on and supported it with an investment of a bit more than $100,000, Wilhelm says. The company also received support from the Ben Craig Center.

Wilhelm is also director of the innovative UNCC Metrology Center, which also spurred creation of two other spinout companies, MixSig, and U.S. Metrology. Metrology is the science of measuring. The center focuses its research on precision instruments and tools.

Founded by Robert Hockens and Jay Raja in 1989 and joined by Wilhelm in 1993, the Metrology Center “is a big operation,” he says.

Daily Space Flights?

“It spins out companies, graduates a lot of students who work in key industries, and does a lot of industrially oriented contract research. “Typically, between 10 and 20 companies fund research there at any given time. They include Kodak, Caterpillar, Boeing, and numerous others.

Wilhelm says the OpSource has had some discussions with German International Space Station contractors, but found “A different culture in that industry. We could certainly build things at a lower cost scale, but that’s not their big interest.”

Wilhelm says political and logistics costs take priority over manufacturing costs in space tech. “If they get to where there are many flights per day, our technology would be applicable,” he says.

It is applicable to the defense industry and the company has done some work on unmanned weapons systems, where Wilhelm sees “a lot of opportunity.”

He says the company also has contracts with automotive industry clients and sees opportunities in heavy transport and cooling systems for semiconductor processing.

The company relies on a network of contractors it uses when it takes on jobs, but hopes to grow to 10 to 20 people on staff in the next year, Wilhelm says.

Although the company has been looking for venture backing in an undisclosed amount, it may not have to take on money if contracts in the pipeline close, he says.

OpSource Inc.

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