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Guns Blazing

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  • | 7:33 a.m. July 6, 2012
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When it folded, Adel Jamil wasn't about to let firearms magazine manufacturer C Products go up in smoke.

An international marketer and exporter of small military weapons, Jamil had purchased firearm components from C Products for about two years. He called to place an order with the Connecticut-based company and learned it had shuttered.

The New York businessman had one question: Who's holding the assets?

C Products failed due to poor management, in Jamil's view. But as the inventor of more corrosion-resistant stainless steel magazines in an industry that relies mostly on aluminum, polymer and carbon steel, the approximately 10-year-old company's arsenal of products was invaluable.

Jamil purchased its assets from a bank. He declined to disclose the purchase price.

Reforming as C Products Defense, Jamil and his wife, Carol, vice president, were ready to trade the frenetic pace of 32 years in New York for slower, sunnier days and a lower cost of living.

Manatee County offered assistance with permitting and helped the company secure an approximately 19,600-square-foot facility in Bradenton prior to its move in September — much to the entrepreneur's surprise. “They (county representatives) are continually calling us to say 'What can we do for you? What can we do to help you?'” Jamil says. “In Connecticut, it's total opposite. You can stay or leave — they don't care.”

As it prepares to enter full production in mid-July, CPD is poised to bring on more employees at a time when many businesses seem fearful to pull the trigger on hiring. It is moving toward full automation and has completely retooled its products. Its CEO is even bringing additional, related operations to the area.

But the innovations haven't come without major delays.

A self-described perfectionist who earned his M.B.A. from American University of Beirut, Jamil tinkered with the design of the magazines — fired by military, law enforcement and recreational rifles — for 11 months.

“The smallest detail means a lot to me,” he says. “I'm very finicky about these things.”

Jamil knows what the defense industry — one of few industries that he says has been virtually untouched by global economic strife, due to ongoing armed conflicts around the world — is looking for in terms of weaponry.

When he came to America from Lebanon in 1980, Jamil exported automotive parts internationally. He's spent the bulk of his career exporting for arms manufacturers. In 1990, he launched Essex International Trading, a firm he still operates.

Jamil declined to disclose Essex's revenue but said the business has expanded into new markets, such as India. Sales grew steadily, doubling in 10 years, he says.

Global exporting, and the success of companies such as Essex, is rooted in old-fashioned due diligence, Jamil says.

“You have to know the product,” he says. “You have to have the right partners to work with in each country. You do that by asking around the country and checking on the reputation of the company before you start working with them.”

At CPD, Jamil is manufacturing what he believes are improved versions of the stainless steel magazines he's exported through Essex, along with aluminum magazines for old-school devotees. He says the company's stainless steel magazines — which range in weight from 3.1 to 7.2 ounces — are 20,000ths of an inch thinner than plastic or aluminum. The additional room gives ammunition rounds more space to function if dust or mud gets lodged internally.

The CEO didn't care for the reflective finish of magazines produced by the previous company. CPD developed a chemical process for a matte, scratch-resistant, smudge-proof finish.

The stainless steel magazines, manufactured for M16/M4 rifles, pistols and bolt-action rifles with snap-on anti-tilt followers, can withstand temperatures of 30 below freezing as well as extreme heat — in excess of 150 degrees Fahrenheit — without melting or jamming, Jamil says.

And, he says, the parts are highly durable. Jamil shows off a magazine he rolled over with his 4,500-pound BMW. The slim steel cartridge appears unscathed.

As CPD neared production for its redesigned magazines, however, tool builders did not deliver at promised times. The parts coming in weren't quite up to par. The sophisticated stainless steel cartridges and their springs were difficult to build, Jamil says.

“At some points, I was becoming skeptical,” he says. “Like, 'Is this possible? Can it exist? Can they build it to what I really want?'”

The company hoped to be fully functioning in May. But by that time, it was only testing samples. The phone began ringing with anxious distributors and would-be employees.

“We have a lot of people calling saying they've applied,” Carol says. “We've had to say, 'Sorry, we're really having problems.'”

Jamil and his wife remained confident, however — in the product and in their business plan.

“We're having faith in the company when everyone else is going 'Oh no, it's manufacturing. It's a nightmare,” says Carol Jamil, who will focus primarily on marketing when the company hires more employees and she can delegate some of the administrative duties.

The wait appears to have paid off. In about a month, CPD will be ready to go full blast on production.

It plans to produce about 55,000 magazines between mid-June and mid-July. Manufacturing will be semi-automated before transitioning to total automation in the next six months.

Automated growth
Originally, CPD — which has a staff of six — planned to hire about 100 employees over its first few years. But during sample production, a few assembly workers found they were experiencing back pain after shifts.

The company brought in stands for crates that hold magazine parts and propped the crates at 45-degree angles so workers wouldn't have to bend as much. Still, Jamil realized the tedious, physical demands of manual assembly, and the opportunity to rev up production through robotic welding. “If we are going to be labor-intensive, we'll never be able to compete with China or India,” he says.

Some employees now are assembling manually while others are using the company's four robots, working on a dual-shift schedule that eventually will transition to a single shift.

While assembly workers are able to build about 500 magazines manually, robots can produce about 5,000 of them during eight-hour shifts.

CPD hopes to hire about 20 people over the next six months. It still will need assembly workers to operate the robots, but will hire more engineers than anticipated. The company plans this year to purchase four more machines, which include two robots, two welding units and two controllers at a cost of about $275,000.

As part of its resolve to work with in-state companies, CPD may have found an ally in Hudson Technologies, a 72-year-old, Ormond Beach-based manufacturer of metal enclosures. The company is beginning to produce magazine parts that will be assembled at CPD.

“Quality and trust is very important to us, and it's something we quickly realized was very important to C Products Defense,” says Kate Holcomb, director of marketing for Hudson Technologies. “Every week we're working with them, we're in constant communication. It seems like a very good partnership.”

CPD performs function tests and quality control checks on magazines after welding, after heat-treatment, after plating and finally, after assembly. Jamil receives reports from robots daily and is able to count and examine failed magazines. Parts won't hit the market unless they meet all specifications, he says.

The company has made a few thousand sales during sample testing, says Jamil, who is applying for ISO certification. It is targeting annual revenues of $8 million to $10 million next year.

The entrepreneur is preparing to bring two more businesses to Bradenton — one for heat-treating magazines and the other for plating, both operations that would take place at the CPD plant. Plans are in the infancy stages and Jamil doesn't yet know how many jobs those ventures will bring.

Because he will need room to expand, Jamil is negotiating with sellers to buy the building he is leasing, or purchase and move to another facility in Bradenton in the coming months. The current facility could be expanded by about another 6,000 square feet.

Through his ventures, Jamil hopes to revive an industrial core that he says has waned in America over the years. It's more difficult to find U.S. products to export, he says.

But the entrepreneur is steadfast in his belief in manufacturing and his company's ability to export globally.

“To bring back the economy and bring America back to its position in the world as a leader, we have to have manufacturing in this country,” he says. “Shipping U.S. products internationally should be the backbone of our country.”

-Lindsay Downey | Contributing Writer


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