What drives the creation of a business?
Some business owners are left caring for a company that’s been passed down like a cherished artifact from one generation to the next. Others have a happy accident that turns into a household name. And for some, it’s just a matter of improving upon what already exists.
“My partner, Dennis Sand, and I started back in 2007 on a whim that we could build a better mousetrap,” said Ty Plowman, CEO of Blue Wolf, Inc. “It helped that it brought in a little extra beer money, too.”
The mousetrap Ty refers to is a suite of lighting products used primarily for civil and commercial aircraft, military aircraft and ground vehicles, border patrol, naval transportation, and more.
“The particular lights we manufacture are made to be used with night vision goggles,” said Ty. “It allows the people wearing the goggles to view illuminated instrumentation without blooming or harming the goggles.”
Although these lights aren’t the first of their kind, they’re fashioned from aluminum-based materials instead of plastic, making them uniquely rugged, compact and power-efficient. Each tiny light is equipped with a filter worth its weight in gold, that cuts out infrared light rays from the LEDs to make them compatible with night vision goggles. “These lights are very durable – they just don’t break,” said Ty. “That’s unfortunate in some regards because we don’t get many repeat sales, but on the other hand, every time someone holds one of our lights, they comment on how nicely its engineered and they can tell right away that it surpasses what our competitors offer.”
Blue Wolf’s production isn’t limited to clients in the aerospace or military sectors. In fact, you might see their engineering innovations on a nearby lake or in a friend’s entryway. In addition to their signature tactical lighting solutions, the company manufactures underwater boat lights for wakeboarders and surfers as part of their Lifeform LED line. The team also recently launched Furl, a high-end consumer light that incorporates movement into its design.
“I’m an electrical engineer and my partner is a mechanical engineer, so it’s fairly common to also have people ask us for help with circuit boards or enclosures, or to support machining needs,” Ty said. “We really specialize in electromechanical design and build, so if you’ve got to make something that moves, or something that needs a board or box, we can help with that.”
Ensuring a solid, diverse cash flow has been instrumental in Blue Wolf’s survival during the global pandemic. As Ty puts it, having a plan, a backup plan, and one more plan after that will help your business adapt as the industry ebbs and flows.
“We don’t take a lot of risks, but we do like to go after low hanging fruit which is something not a lot of companies do,” Ty explained. “We excel at small production and make a lot of customers happy by picking up those short runs that are too costly for other manufacturers.”
For a company with roughly half a dozen employees, these quick hits provide opportunities to learn new skills and build networks that increase Blue Wolf’s exposure to customers, collaborations and industry resources.
“That type of networking is what ultimately brought us to SWIMA,” Ty said. “We read about the organization and heard about it from other companies in the aerospace industry. Joining felt like a good way to help get our name out there and find new contacts.”
Since becoming a SWIMA member in early 2020, Ty said he’s appreciated the time the association invests in keeping members up to date on local manufacturing news. Providing members with a single stop for resources, policy updates, events and projects, like the recent expansion of StanCraft Jet Center, is a time-saver for manufacturing companies of all sizes.
“It helps us know what other people are doing, and that’s important to us,” said Ty.
To learn more about Blue Wolf, visit www.bluewolfinc.com.