Ingenium Aerospace LLC was established in early 2006 after listening to the collective voices of the aerospace, military, and defense marketplaces. Darrin Kopala came from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago where he had worked for MPC Products Corp also in the Aerospace and Defense industry. During his 21 years with MPC the company had grown from 78 employees and $17 million in sales to 1200 people and $250 million in sales, before selling its business to then, Woodward Governor. He says at the time he created Ingenium Aerospace “the company was just a concept, and the company’s beginnings were simply a blank sheet of paper on which we laid out the business plan.”
Darrin later teamed up with Steve Carter, who had retired as CFO several years earlier from Woodward, and together they are the current owners of the company. Steve is president and CFO. Darrin is vice president and general manager. Darrin says their skills are complementary and he notes Steve’s motivations include providing good wages and highly skilled jobs in Rockford, where he has lived his entire life. Ingenium Aerospace now has 25 associates on the team.
Darrin knew the market and capitalized on the desire of customers for an industry partner focused on low to mid to volume production of highly engineered custom motion control products.
Ingenium Aerospace can lead, partner, collaborate, integrate, private label or even co-develop projects and products with expertise that spans commercial and defense markets for space, air, land, and sea. Ingenium’s team is comprised of highly experienced professionals with tremendous hands-on experience and a history of developing innovative technology. Many of the team members have more than 30 years of experience and have been involved in the design and certification of hundreds of unique motors, sensors, rotating components as well as linear and rotary motion control components and systems from 5 Watts to 50 Horsepower.
Ingenium Aerospace conducts all design, engineering, sub-assembly, final assembly, test and aftermarket support activities in their 20,000 sq. ft. facility located on five-acres in Rockford, Illinois. The facility is AS9100D compliant and maintains a FAA Repair Station License.
Serving customers in the aerospace field has resulted in Ingenium’s products being included in some very leading edge and exciting projects including selling products and services to The Spaceship Company (TSC) and Virgin Galactic. Those companies are owned by Richard Branson, an international icon in the future of space tourism. The company has booked over 700 high profile passengers deemed “future astronauts” that want to fly into space on TSC’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) vehicle, and predictions are that passenger flights will begin soon. Ingenium has several flight controls currently in-flight test for this project. These flights will carry passengers to approximately 360,000 feet (~68 Miles) into the Thermosphere. At this altitude the full view of earth will be amazing and will provide the space tourists the opportunity to experience weightlessness.
Ingenium Aerospace was honored in 2018 to receive the first-ever Supplier Partnership Award from The Spaceship Company. This customer relationship is one of the longest for Ingenium Aerospace LLC. They were referred 12 years ago when Darrin was developing the business model and was working out of an 8-foot by 8-foot office space. It’s easy to see the maturation of this start-up company, “born and raised” in our Rockford community.
Another example of Ingenium Aerospace’s involvement in future aerospace technology is their work being done on the Attritable Drone, which has been called “the most advanced drone in the world,” by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. One mission of this drone is to fly with manned fighters into combat theaters of operation.
Darrin and Steve made the decision early on to take advantage of the extensive network of machine shops in the Rockford area. Since that skill was available from local suppliers, Ingenium Aerospace concentrated on design, assembly, testing, certification, production and aftermarket.
Darrin says, “Rockford is the perfect location for an aerospace company.” The company has been well served by the availability of skilled engineers and entry-level engineers in the Rockford market. Oftentimes, the company hires an engineer with multiple years of experience. This individual may be looking for a new challenge and the culture changes a smaller company offers where Darrin says “we all wear many hats.” In addition, Darrin says “we work closely with Rock Valley College supporting their internship and minority leadership programs.” The company also supports the NIU@RVC mechanical engineering program, where graduates can obtain a four-year engineering degree for $40,000 while staying in the Rockford area. He says when he posts a job opening, he usually receives at least 200 applications.
Darrin added, “the company usually gets to choose from many applicants with extensive experience. This is great for the company and for our associates. Every day, associates are asked to put all their experience into the process of finding customer solutions.”
Darrin sees many advantages to their location in the Rockford area, including the availability of new associates, the aerospace infrastructure, and a manufacturing network and supply chain eager for work. He recognized that when larger companies outsourced their manufacturing overseas, the local suppliers they had been using were eagerly looking for other customers like Ingenium Aerospace. Ingenium Aerospace now forms a strong network with local suppliers to produce custom motion control products to the aerospace industry.
The Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) has determined that the Rockford area is the sixth largest concentration of aerospace suppliers in the United States. Ingenium Aerospace LLC is one of those companies, now only 12 years old, that is building part of that critical mass of aerospace companies in the Rockford Region. Darrin says Ingenium has “benefitted by working at the highest level with RAEDC, RVC, and NIU. There is good cooperation between industry, government, and academia in Rockford.”
By JAC, RAEDC Correspondent