Hycomp Inc.: Customized Compressors

Hycomp Inc. (Hycomp) is a small, family-owned manufacturer based in Hyde Park, Utah. Robert James, president of Hycomp, has owned and operated the business since 1997. Robert’s father, William, founded the company as Aeroflow in 1969 and the business left family hands for a few years in the early ’90s. “I cut my teeth on this company,” says Robert, who went to college and graduated with an engineering degree.

“Actually, I cut more than that,” he laughs. As a child, Robert would come to work with his dad on the weekends. “I always found something to get into,” he says. “I still have scars from some of that trouble.”

He worked in the family business part-time through both high school and college. When the business changed hands, he says, “It only took the new owners a few years to run it into the ground.” After completing his graduate studies, Robert says, “I came out of school to find the company up for sale on the auction block.” With a little help from the bank and his family, Robert bought it. “For the few years we didn’t own it, a lot of the work processes, practices and tribal knowledge had just disappeared,” he recalls. “It was the family business. I just thought, ‘I have to go get it.’”

An Unusual Education in Business

“I went to school for engineering,” says Robert. “I had no background in business, and in the first few years I almost ran the company into the ground myself.” Robert maintains that he is still much better at building compressors than building businesses, but he has made a remarkable turnaround and Hycomp has seen consistent growth for nearly a decade. “For a few years while we were still figuring it out, we were getting by on selling parts,” he recalls.

Hycomp has found a niche in manufacturing, and one that seems to be impenetrable even by the recent economic slump. “Our quotations numbers never fell,” explains Robert. He says that, while many companies were putting projects on hold, the Hycomp team has worked hard to bring exposure to the company. Hycomp supplies industrial, oil-free gas compressors to corporations and government agencies with specialized needs that can’t be met by those compressor manufacturers that build stock equipment.

“It’s kind of like buying a car with most compressor companies,” explains Robert. “You go to a dealership, maybe they have three models of this car in four different colors, and you pick the one you like best, even if it doesn’t necessarily have everything you want or need. We don’t have any preassembled production line cars. We have engines, bodies, doors, steering wheels tires, the transmission; you get the idea. You tell us what you want and we’ll build it for you after it’s been ordered.” Hycomp’s approach is more complicated and therefore offers higher value, but Robert’s clients need the level of attention the company puts into every compressor unit sold.

Technology Applied

Of these clients, Hycomp’s biggest markets are healthcare and energy. “We’ve built compressors for probably every major pharmaceutical company,” says Robert proudly. The company operates internationally and has been contracted to build specialized equipment for everything from oil fields to landfills. “We just did a big project in Algeria,” says Robert of the oil field operation he and the team helped to set up in northern Africa. “It wasn’t a terribly exciting project, but we learned a lot about working in a country that is only just beginning to industrialize.”

Hycomp was chosen for the team’s ability to meet a wide range of specifications, and the company succeeded in meeting the regulations put in place by local authorities. Hycomp has built several custom compressors for businesses that are recovering gases from landfills to turn into usable fuels. “It’s pretty cool,” says Robert.

Hycomp is working with a contractor on a Kentucky-based U.S. Army chemical weapon destruction facility. The Army is slowly deconstructing stockpiles of mustard gas and nerve gases developed during the Cold War and earlier. “We have a couple of units going into the facility,” says Robert. “It’s nice to be involved in something like destroying chemical weapons as opposed to their production.”

Tight security has made the project challenging, and Robert says that Hycomp usually sends representatives to sites for the design and installation process, but on this project access is restricted and with good reason. Instead, the military will send representatives to Hycomp’s facility to perform final inspections and pick up the compressors.

The company has built a reputation for its custom capabilities. “We put a huge emphasis on our personnel,” says Robert. “We try to make Hycomp a better place to work than any other company in this business.” Hycomp has succeeded in building a positive atmosphere for employees, and Robert says the business has developed a reputation locally for being a great place to work. The local applied technology training center is turning out great candidates for positions at Hycomp, such as machinists, inspectors and drafters.

Hycomp has plenty of room to grow, and Robert says that’s the plan. He has seen a steady increase in revenue for a long time and the trend seems to be continuing. While the company serves a very specific demographic, the team is innovative. “We sat down one day and figured out that we’re capable of making between 80 and 100 different compressors with what we have,” says Robert with a smile. This small-scale diversity in service is what allows Hycomp Inc. to stand out, offering the highest level of service to clients all over the world.