ROCKFORD – Seven years ago B/E Aerospace Aircraft Ecosystems was a two-man startup working to cultivate a concept for more efficient toilet systems in commercial jets.
Today, it employs about 75 people and serves the biggest aerospace companies in the industry.
Not bad for a company that executives say is just now entering a phase of accelerated growth.
“We’re starting to increase the production volumes here,” said Mark Pondelick, vice president and general manager of B/E’s Rockford division. “Those will continue to grow over the next four to five years at a pretty rapid rate.”
The company moved into a new 38,000-square-foot building east of the Chicago Rockford International Airport in mid-2012 as it ramped up production of its potable water and vacuum waste systems. At a public showing of the space at 5795 Logistics Parkway in 2012, B/E CEO Amin Khoury said the company could make $50 million a year selling toilets to business and commercial jets within the next five years.
The company is fulfilling orders from nine business jet-makers today, including the world’s largest aerospace company Boeing, which is buying B/E’s system for its 737 program.
B/E is a top-tier industry that’s helping build Rockford’s aerospace reputation and diversifying the type of products produced locally, said Eric Voyles, vice president of National Business Development for the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.
“It’s always great to have a company with that kind of reputation in our market,” Voyles said. “Even better, it’s fantastic to see the commitment they made when they decided to build a new building here to operate this new business.”
The company holds eight patents issued between June 2010 and December 2013 for its potable water and vacuum system. B/E’s new vacuum toilets are lighter, easier to maintain and more reliable than competitors, Pondelick said. It weighs half that of other systems and uses just 5 ounces of water per flush.
Pondelick said the company focuses on designing and developing a product to fit each customer’s unique situation. It also puts an emphasis on supporting the customer to make sure the product meets expectations.
“It’s not just initial design and development and making the parts, but how you support it in the field,” Pondelick said, noting the company is a Federal Aviation Administration approved repair shop.
B/E’s Rockford division was built from scratch in 2007. It’s not the typical approach for the international company based in Wellington, Fla., that’s more used to buying than building businesses. B/E attempted to buy Machesney Park-based vacuum toilet systems-maker Envirovac in 2004, but lost out on the bid to Monogram Systems. Three years later, Monogram’s former president Bob Shafer retired and was recruited to start the new division of B/E.
It became a tenant at EIGERlab, a business incubator at 605 Fulton Avenue that provides reasonably priced lease space and access to rapid product development services. It became the first EIGERlab client to move into a build-to-suit facility and within four years was ready to move into its own space near the Chicago Rockford International Airport.
“They were able to come into EIGERlab and grow their business from the day they walked into the door,” said Dan Cataldi, EIGERlab’s executive director. “They were able to create some pretty good jobs for the community and create a pretty nice business.”