Farrar looks to break into aerospace

By Corene Brisendine

As Manhattan looks to position itself as a center of animal health, one local company is trying to gain a foothold in an industry not typically associated with this part of the state: aerospace.

Farrar Corporation, a Manhattan-based iron foundry and machine shop, recently signed a contract with Cessna to make prototype parts for its corporate jet line. Company officials hope this initial opportunity will lead to more work in the industry — and eventually to an expansion of facilities and the creation of more jobs.

Kraig Vondran, chief financial officer and chief strategy officer for Farrar, said the company decided to “go after a new industry” in an attempt to diversify and grow the machine shop in Manhattan. The company, which has specialized in iron, has begun working with aluminum as it looked to break into aerospace.

Vondran said they hired a new sales manager, Rusty Rainbolt, with connections to the aerospace industry to facilitate that opportunity. Rainbolt spent eight years working in sales for an aerospace machine shop before moving to Manhattan.

Rainbolt helped the company secure the Cessna contract in January. He said Farrar has not only finished making the prototype parts, but also completed them ahead of schedule and under budget. (He said he couldn’t say exactly what parts the company was producing.) Should Cessna decide to use Farrar produce the parts, the company would be making a few hundred a year.

Rainbolt said that, using this project as a test run, he has been reaching out to other contacts in the aerospace industry to get Farrar more contracts for jets and airplane parts for other manufacturers. Rainbolt said expansion and job creation is the long-term goal of the company in branching out into the aerospace industry.

Farrar Corporation began in 1933 as a blacksmith and repair shop. Since then it has grown into a company known nationally for providing “machined ductile iron castings and assemblies,” according to its website. Until this year, Farrar Corporation has only machined parts from its ductile iron foundry in Norwich. Rainbolt said ductile iron is the most common iron type used because it is as strong as steel, but made at a significantly lower cost.

“In the foundry industry, they say you are never any more than 10 feet away from an iron casting at any given time,” Rainbolt said. “Valve on the pipe: casting; manholes: casting; grate covers: casting. Your brackets inside buildings are different grades of castings.”

The foundry also produces ductile iron parts for things like lawn mowers, elevators, farm equipment, motor boat engines, military equipment and vehicles, oil and gas equipment, construction equipment and city water lines. Those parts are sent to Manhattan to the machine shop to be finished for use.

The Cessna contract has created a way for the machine shop to become as productive as the foundry by not only taking advantage of some under-used lighter-duty equipment, but also in broadening the type of material used to make parts.

Rainbolt said some of the equipment in the shop is not being used as much as it could, but because most of the parts in the aerospace industry are made out of aluminum, it creates the perfect fit for the equipment the company already has.

Although the use of the existing machines is a plus, it has not been an easy transition. He said one challenge the company had to overcome was separating the materials for recycling.

Rainbolt said Farrar is conscious of recycling and reusing its scraps. It reclaims iron scraps from the machine shop and returns them to the foundry for re-smelting. If any aluminum were mixed into the iron, it would ruin the batch. He said that’s because the foundry melts the iron at a much higher temperature than aluminum, and the aluminum would evaporate. That would create pockets of air inside the iron when poured and cooled, causing the casting to be defective.

But he said the company has overcome those challenges and is confident it will be able to reclaim or recycle both materials. 

Another area of concern is growth and expansion. Rainbolt said if Farrar is able to get larger contracts or if the contract with Cessna is extended to beyond the prototype, it will look to hire more machinists.

“We like to hire from within the community,” he said. “We may be able to hire machinists from the fort as well.”

He said company officials want to increase the number machinists by the end of the year, specifically for the aerospace industry parts.

Rainbolt also said they are working to institute some kind of class or training for machinists with Manhattan Area Technical College. He said they would like to help local students get the training they need to work in the industry — and hopefully for Farrar in particular.

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