When the USS Gerald R. Ford was commissioned recently, a piece of Montgomery County went with it.
Thousands of pieces, in fact.
Hatfield Township's Inofast Manufacturing supplied fasteners used throughout the ship, from the pumps and valves to the aircraft launching and arresting systems.
"Ours are highly engineered fasteners, made out of pretty exotic materials," said sales manager Rich Oldham. "They have to be extra strong. They have to be corrosion resistant to withstand what they're faced with onboard ship."
Inofast wasn't the only local company involved in the creation of the USS Ford. Over the past five years, more than 100 Pennsylvania companies provided $282 million worth of parts and services to build Ford-class aircraft carriers and overhaul Nimitz-class ships, according to the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, a trade group for companies that supply parts, equipment and services for aircraft carriers.
Just under $10 million was awarded in that time frame to companies in Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district, which includes Bucks and a portion of Montgomery counties.
Those companies ranged from specialty metals manufacturer Castle Metals in Falls to fellow Hatfield fastener manufacturer B&G Manufacturing.
“Bucks and Montgomery County businesses are among the best in the nation and often on the cutting edge of their industries — from aerospace engineering to widget manufacturing," U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, Middletown, said in an email. "It's no wonder why the military and other federal agencies are eager to partner with them to accomplish important national objectives like equipping our armed forces."
The technologically advanced Ford, which cost $13 billion to build, represents a new era for the U.S. Navy's carrier fleet. It's the first with electromagnetic catapult and advanced arresting systems that help launch and land airplanes. It'll require a smaller crew because of its technology, the Navy has said.
"American steel and American hands have constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world: American might is second to none!" President Donald J. Trump said during the Ford's recent commissioning ceremony, and on Twitter.
Other local companies provided services -- including Warrington's Sabre Systems Inc. It provided engineering and program management support to the government during the development, testing and production of the ship's catapult and arresting systems.
“We are so proud of the Sabre professionals who contributed so importantly to this historical naval aviation milestone,” Sabre’s president and chief operating officer Glen Ives said in an email. “Their hard work and tireless commitment reflect Sabre’s dedication to naval engineering and innovation and ultimately in the safety of our warfighters who rely on these systems. ... We see these two systems critical for the Navy as the Ford-class realizes their full potential into becoming the formidable warfighting platforms they are designed to be.”
The USS Ford doesn't just represent a new era for the Navy. It also represents a new era for companies like Inofast.
Founded 35 years ago by fastener distributor Scott Bardsley, Inofast draws almost all of its business from defense contracting. With just 18 employees, the company prides itself on being able to answer customer demand quickly.
Oldham estimated that the company supplied more than 50,000 fasteners of varying sizes and uses, both directly to the shipyard as well as to pump and valve manufacturers that use Inofast parts on their products that were installed on the Ford.
"There are many suppliers that supply parts that build these carriers," he said. "We're one of many, and we're one of many fastener suppliers. We have a niche. Part of that niche is our ability to react quickly. The other part is, we're not afraid to take on a challenge for the most difficult parts in the most difficult materials, with the most difficult specifications and tolerances. Other companies would look at that part and say, 'No, we're not going to touch that part.'"
Oldham said the company expects business to grow 40 percent over the next few years — with carriers as well as submarines. The Ford-class carrier USS John F. Kennedy is being built; the USS Enterprise will follow. And construction begins on a new class of submarines, known as the Columbia class, in 2020.
"Can you imagine how many fasteners it takes to hold one of these things?" Oldham said. "To holding the captain's chair in place so he doesn't tip over, or holding a nameplate on the door, these are all fasteners. In our Navy niche, we see shipbuilding as sitting on a goldmine right now, for us."