Tad Robinette, owner of Liberty Hill Company, is working to expand his Huntington metalworking operation. In business for less than two years, Liberty Hill produces components for a variety of industries, including the energy and defense sectors.
With assistance from the Marshall University Advanced Manufacturing Center (MAMC), Robinette secured a small contract to produce parts for defense and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman. The prospect of additional and larger contracts with Northrop Grumman and other manufacturers would hinge on his business attaining certification to the international quality standards often required to do business with large manufacturers and government agencies.
MAMC Director Derek Scarbro suggested Robinette pursue AS9100 certification, the international aerospace standard, which also incorporates ISO 9001, the broader manufacturing certification. MAMC offered to help Robinette and was able to provide a grant to cover the cost.
“The Northrop Grumman procurement officer I worked with on the first contract encouraged me to work with MAMC to achieve the aerospace certification,” Robinette explained. “In those discussions, it was implied that there would be more opportunities with Northrop procurement if I achieved the certifications.”
Robinette huddled with Erica Cheetham, MAMC director of Quality Services, intermittently for several months to prepare for the third-party audit required for certification. “I learned that Erica was nationally recognized for the training she has done both with prime contractors and large corporations. I felt very fortunate to work directly with her.”
First, the pair developed a quality manual for Liberty Hill then drafted specific policies and procedures that go hand in hand with the manual. Finally, Robinette had to implement those policies and procedures in his manufacturing workflow. Because Cheetham is a certified auditor, she was able to conduct a pre-assessment to identify any deficiencies and suggest corrective actions prior to the registration audit.
To pay for the $3,750 third-party audit, Robinette turned to the West Virginia Jobs and Investment Trust, an organization he described as “outstanding.” “I approached them and explained my situation: a small service-disabled veteran-owned business with limited cashflow that had received training at MAMC and needed to get the certification audit. Madeline Coffman and the folks there were very proactive in communicating with me. They were flexible and checked in with me at every step. It was a very easy process to secure the grant.”
Liberty Hill passed its AS9100 audit and was awarded certification this summer. Robinette believes he is one of the few – if not the only – service-disabled veteran-owned machine shop in West Virginia to achieve the aerospace certification. The certification has opened a lot of possibilities. Liberty Hill has begun pursuing even larger manufacturing contracts that require the supplier to be AS9100 certified.
Liberty Hill is but one of the dozens of businesses in West Virginia and beyond that MAMC has helped achieve AS9100, ISO 9001 or any of the other industry-specific certifications required to do business with major primes and government agencies. For many of these companies, the MAMC-assisted certifications have led to additional contracting opportunities and business expansion.
Other state and regional companies that MAMC’s Quality Services team has assisted in 2023 with quality management include Cogar Manufacturing of Pearisburg, Va.; Industrial Bolting Technologies of Charleston; U.S. Bearing & Power Transmission of Scott Depot; and Cyclops Industries of South Charleston.
Kim Mack, president of Cyclops, which earned ISO9001 certification earlier this year, said for decades companies in her industry had to be Factory Mutual certified but customers increasingly want companies such as hers to be ISO certified. “We saw the writing on the wall,” said Mack, “so we decided to work with the Marshall Advanced Manufacturing Center to pursue our certification. We couldn’t have done it without Erica (Cheetham) and Carmen (Archer). They’re the best. They really know what they’re doing and that’s a big plus.”