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Merrill Technologies Group:
   Taking Aim at the Defense Marketplace

February 2014

You’ve heard the story enough by now: declining defense spending; increased vertical integration; heightened concentration of DoD contracts in the hands of a few massive prime contractors; and the withering and disappearance of the small, second and third tier vendors. 

But with an impressive display on the floor of last week’s Association of the U.S. Army’s Winter Symposium and Exposition (AUSA Winter) in Huntsville, Alabama, and talking a compelling game about its approach to the sector, was Merrill Technologies Group (MTG), a family-owned and operated design and manufacturing enterprise that’s making a run against the big boys for the attention of the world’s biggest customer, the Pentagon.

MTG's CEO & Owner Bob Yackel

Founded in 1968 with only a Bridgeport milling machine, a small lathe and a grinder, the company founders, Gary and Mary Kay Yackel, began as Merrill Tool & Machine, specializing in detail work.  The company operated from a three-room, 3,000 square foot facility in Merrill, Michigan, which spawned the company’s name.  Their son, Bob Yackel, Merrill’s current owner and President, has grown the business extensively, including a bold foray into high tech defense and aerospace sectors.

Today, MTG is headquartered in Saginaw, Michigan, with a business unit in Springville, Indiana.  Merrill Aviation & Defense, one of four MTG companies, and the unit pushing its wares at AUSA Winter, works in support of the U.S. Army’s Tank-automotive & Armaments Command (TACOM), Naval Surface Warfare Command-Crane, and key aerospace contractors including Boeing, General Dynamics Land Systems, Goodrich, Pratt & Whitney, and UTC Aerospace.

For a manufacturing concern of modest size (496 employees), MTG is remarkably diversified across industry sectors.  Merrill’s four business units deliver innovative manufacturing solutions to Aviation, Defense, Heavy Equipment, Energy, Robotics and Machine Tool industries.  Broad capabilities and the company’s AS-9100/9110-certified million square feet of manufacturing floor space allow MTG to be a single source manufacturer of complex fabrications, precision machining of components and assemblies, mission-critical aviation and defense equipment, special purpose manufacturing systems, utilizing innovative engineering comprehensive project integration. 

Company CEO Bob Yackel tells DSJ that today approximately 25% of MTG’s $125 million in annual revenue comes from aviation and defense sales, with 10% deriving from civil aviation and 15% coming from defense contracts/subcontracts. He notes that MTG is a certified small business in all of its areas of activity, a circumstance that Yackel concedes helped the company access the federal market space.  While it is no accident that MTG has kept its workforce below 500 to ensure that it captures this advantage, Yackel notes that MTG needs to grow and says that he and his colleagues are weighing the puts and takes of adding needed personnel and moving up a weight class to the “below 750 employees” level.

Merrill's New FMWS Prototype

Stabilized and Remote Weapons Stations

The cornerstone of MTG’s foray into Federal Government contracting has been the company’s development and production of its Made-in-America stabilized weapon stations, including Remote Weapon Stations (RWS).  

Erik RosvoldMTG's Chief Technology Officer, tells DSJ that the company has designed and produced over 4,200 stabilized and non-stabilized weapon stations to date, mostly in association with General Dynamics Land Systems. These systems include:

            --   The M1A1 Track & Skate Assembly Loader’s Armored Gun Station – LAGS/LAGS II (over 2900 units produced);

--   The M1A2 0.50 caliber/7.62mm Remote Stabilized Improved Commander’s Weapons Station (RSICWS);

--   The Stabilized Common Weapon System (SCWS), depicted here, a system that supports the M2 and M240 guns on the M1 Abrams tank (over 1300 units produced); and   

--   The Stabilized Improved Common Weapon System (SICWS), a modification of the SCWS that uniquely incorporates enhanced commander visibility, integrated thermal viewer and back-up protected manual mode in a low profile turret to supports the M2 and MK19 guns in addition to the M249 and M240 guns.

The centerpiece of MTG’s AUSA Winter exhibit was a “do not photograph” prototype of its newest development, the Family of Modular Weapon Stations (FMWS), a remote control turret that can be customized for integration with any military vehicle. 

Funded by, designed and engineered wholly within Merrill Aviation & Defense, and patented just prior to its unveiling at AUSA Winter, the 360-degree-capable, fire-on-the-move FMWS adds the M134 gun to the weapons it can support and integrates an internal ammo feed system that does not expose the loader to enemy fire.  Additional differentiators include a light weight design with a high degree of modularity and flexibility.  Mr. Yackel said that the FMWS will be demonstrated and its performance validated at a test site during the last week of February 2014. 

It wasn’t lost on Mr. Yackel that a late opening for Merrill Aviation & Defense to exhibit at AUSA Winter came only when, just weeks prior to the event, overseas competitor Kongsburg, the broadly acknowledged industry leader in the design and production of remote control weapon stations, backed out of participating.  Time will tell if Merrill’s emergence – and its new FMWS – presage a shift in the RWS competitive landscape.

For more information on Merrill Technologies Group visit: www.MerrillTG.com