Hydraulic repair company keeps customers up and running; Euless entrepreneurs create sleep solutionsAugust 8, 2014
Steve Drilling and his daughter Tamara Drilling of ACS Hydraulics and ZZZ in Euless.
Photo by Alyson Peyton Perkins
ACS Hydraulics Inc.
1101 Stanley Dr.
A successful entrepreneur for most of his professional career, Steve Drilling has engineered himself into not one but two family-owned businesses that fill a certain industry niche.
Drilling is president of ACS Hydraulics Inc., a hydraulic repair company located in Euless that provides services worldwide. He founded the company in 1976 based on a customer’s need.
In the early ‘70s, Drilling worked for a distributor of hydraulic components in Orange, Calif. The distributor didn’t offer after-market support or repair services. When a customer showed Drilling that the pumps he had bought were improperly made and needed rebuilding, Drilling had his aha moment.
“That’s when the light bulb went off for me. Somebody needs to represent the customer,” he said.
Drilling launched ACS Hydraulics with a partner who was a design engineer specializing in electro-hydraulic servo valves. ACS began rebuilding servo valves exclusively for manufacturing companies representing almost every industry throughout California.
“We just grew like crazy. At one time we were one of the fastest growing companies in California,” Drilling said. “Our customers began asking us to service pumps and motors and we continued to expand.”
In 1980, Drilling decided to add a second location, this one in Texas. ACS Hydraulics first opened in Arlington before relocating to Euless. The company has since opened a facility in Eugene, Ore., and one outside Atlanta, Ga. ACS rebuilds servo and proportional valves, pumps, motors, gear boxes and cylinders from almost every major manufacturer, including the Bosch Group, Moog Inc., Vickers-Eaton, Schenck Pegagus Corp. and Abex Corp.
“We’re always looking for products where customers may have a problem that they can’t resolve. If they come to us, typically, we can solve that problem for them. There are always things that can be made better,” Drilling said.
A family tradition
Drilling’s mechanical expertise and entrepreneurial ambition comes naturally. He grew up in Dearborn, Mich., the son of the late Frederick Morris “Morrie” Drilling, a design engineer and innovator. Morrie Drilling was the co-inventor, along with wealthy Australian inventor Arthur Bishop, of variable ratio power steering for automobiles. He also built and patented the first-of-its-kind self-lubricating bearing for the Lunar Lander vehicle’s main thrust engine.
“My father had gotten a job with an aerospace company in California so we moved there in 1959. He used to come here to Fort Worth to General Dynamics. I would help him pack his car for the trip,” Drilling recalled. “We had the first vehicle to have variable ratio power steering. My father later sold it in California. Someone’s driving around in that 1955 yellow T-Bird convertible. I would love to find that car today.”
Sharing the pioneering journey with her father is 34-year-old Tamara Drilling, who has found both her niche in industrial automation and in the family business. She serves as vice president of ACS Hydraulics.
“I’ve grown up in this business. When I was little I took naps in the shop in Orange,” she said. “I’ve always found this business interesting. My dad and I have always been close. I went to college – at UC Santa Barbara – and came back to work with him. I’ve been here ever since.”
ACS Hydraulics stands out, she says, because of the company’s commitment to service, quality, fast turnaround time, and engineering and machining solutions that meet customers’ needs.
“There are few companies that repair servo valves. There are distributors all over the country but few companies like us who repair,” she said. “Not only do we have the capability, our overhead is less and we rebuild parts that meet or exceed manufacturer’s specifications so we end up with a superior product that costs less. And we stand behind our warranty.”
In 2000, American Airlines came to ACS regarding hydraulic problems on its flight simulators. As a result, ACS created a flight simulator services division providing comprehensive simulator motion leg refurbishment, component rebuilds, and full testing and documentation for civil and military aviation worldwide.
“The difference between us and any other company in the U.S. is that we’re the only one that has expertly trained hydraulic simulation technicians,” Steve said. “It means we not only have the ability to do the job better because we have the trained technicians who know the problems associated with these simulators but we can help troubleshoot their system over the telephone. And we understand both the electrical and the hydraulic.”
Most of the time problems can be handled over the phone, Tamara said, saving the customer time and money.
“We have a lot to offer in this field because there are so few who can repair simulators,” she said. “We’re able to rebuild all components regardless of the manufacturer. We can rebuild everything. You don’t have to go to other sources.”
Adding the flight simulator services division has helped grow the company’s business significantly, Steve said. Sales in 2013 were well ahead of sales in 2012, and the company is on track for double digit growth this year over last year, he said.
“Flight simulation really has boosted our revenue,” he said. “After 9/11 that market has been up and down. But the economy is getting better. We’re looking to expand that side of the business.
Flight simulation is just one part of what ACS does,” he said. “It happens to be the highest technical required area. If you can do that you can do anything.”
ZZZ better sleeper
With all their entrepreneurial spirit behind them, the Drillings started a sleeper chair business about 10 years ago. Called ZZZ Chair (“Catching Zzzs, one, two, three,” Tamara explains), the company manufactures a sleeper chair and a chair-and-a-half built on a patented platform and rail system Steve Drilling developed.
The idea came from Drilling’s stepfather, a carpenter, from a hideaway bed he designed for home use.
“He made this first unit and was so proud of it because even my 85-year-old mother could operate it by herself,” Steve said. “I took one look at it and told him it was not for the home market.”
Drilling made a few patented modifications, including the innovative rail system that has no rollers or bearings, and began selling the ZZZ Chair commercially, primarily targeting the health care industry. The chairs are fully customizable, made with anti-microbial fabrics in optional designs that are easy to sanitize, are cost effective and weigh less than similar chairs on the market. The furniture is hand-made from quality wood in a 40,000-square-foot facility in McGregor, Texas, outside of Waco.
“The genius behind it is in the design,” Tamara said. “Sleeper chairs in hospitals and hotels today are uncomfortable, difficult to operate and take up space. With our rail system all you do is slide out the base and flip the cushion back and you’re in bed. And it’s a flat bed with no bars or springs so it’s comfortable. It’s so important for caretakers to get a good night’s sleep.”
Tamara said sleeper chairs are becoming a greater need for caretakers in the home health care field, and are becoming increasingly popular in hospitals, assisted living centers, hospice facilities, pilots’ lounges in airports, even corporate housing.
“The uses are endless,” she said. “Now if only we had a hydraulically lifted ZZZ Chair.”
ACS Hydraulics Inc.
1101 Stanley Dr.