From Concept to Completion
ACM Innovations provides complete package for aluminum composite materials
After suffering a motorcycle accident, Josh Hillard’s life and career were turned upside down—but not in the way one might expect. As fate would have it, that accident set him on the path to founding his own company, ACM Innovations.
Hillard, President of ACM Innovations, had been employed as a cement finisher for seven years until the crash left him with a minor head injury and unable to work for four months. When Hillard was finally able to return to work, he heard about an opportunity installing aluminum composite materials (ACM). “I wasn’t in the best shape after being laid up for months, so I thought, ‘I’ll try this instead.’ “
Hillard not only tried it, he took the opportunity and ran with it. In 2010, armed with only a Harbor Freight drill and a Ford Ranger that his mother gave him, he set out to establish his own aluminum composite materials installation company, which he initially named CPI.
Hillard started out performing installations only, but soon found the ACM industry was a natural fit. Or, in his words, “I took to all areas of the business like a fish to water.” With even the highly technical aspects of the business well within his expertise, Hillard expanded to fabrication, and in 2013 changed the name of the business to ACM Innovations.
Today, ACM Innovations does it all, providing aluminum composite panel design, fabrication and installation for all of Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania and Indiana.
As Hillard explains, not all fabricators can install, and not all installers can fabricate—but ACM Innovations does both. The benefit: ACM Innovations can dramatically reduce lead times and save its customers money.
Hillard says, “Having all of the work under our belt alleviates some of the issues that can happen on-site. There’s no back and forth between the fabricator and the installer. There’s no finger pointing with us.” There’s also no loss of communication from the fabrication to the installation process, and if the material needs to be adjusted last-minute, Hillard and his team can take care of it.
The firm’s hands-on approach is another characteristic that sets ACM Innovations apart: “We hand measure everything,” Hillard says. “Some competitors use laser scanning equipment, but we find that putting our hands on the material tends to provide a better result.”
‘They Draw It, We Build It’
ACM Innovations specializes in unique and complex design-build projects that take a high level of specialization.
As experts on the material, Hillard and the ACM Innovations team work hand in hand with architects, engineers and general contractors throughout an entire project—from the design phase through fabrication and installation.
As Hillard explains, architects and engineers have so much on their plate when they design a project. Sometimes the details aren’t correct or are missing in the design of aluminum composite materials.
That’s where the ACM Innovations team excels. “There are some limitations that come with aluminum composite, and many architects are unsure of the limitations,” Hillard says. “We help them choose a system that will work best with their design and explain everything the material can do.”
As some of ACM Innovations’ projects have proved, the material can do a lot.
For example, when ACM Innovations was approached to fabricate and install panels for Blackhawk Intermediate School in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, there was one challenge: The building was designed around the Fibonacci sequence, and each panel had to be installed at an 18-degree angle. And it had to be done in such a way that the pattern ran fluidly across the building with no break. Hillard and his team made it happen.
“It was very important for us to hit the mark during that project, and we did.”
The result was a one-of-a-kind school building that doubles as a hands-on learning tool. Students can go outside to measure the wall and learn about the Fibonacci sequence.
The Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s King Road Branch also has an intricate design that ACM Innovations executed. The library was built to look like a book, with its pages unfurling from the side of the building.
Hillard’s approach to this unique and challenging concept is simple and matter of fact: “They draw it, we build it.”
The Panel Guys
Of course, Hillard isn’t a one-man show. Although he began the business with just one employee, today he’s proud of the tight-knit crew of six that make up his team.
Hillard describes them as “The Panel Guys,” a small, close-knit group of professionals, focusing on a small scope of work.
“These guys are in it,” Hillard says. “They are dedicated to improving the business. They’re not 9-5 guys. They don’t come in just for a paycheck; they are fully involved. They care about the quality of work and take a lot of pride in what they do.”
He adds, “I wouldn’t be sitting in my chair at my desk if it weren’t for them. Each one plays a serious role in the progression of the business.”
Hillard is also quick to credit the company’s success to the many mentors he’s had to help him learn the ropes and grow in the industry—from his landlord who owned a metal roofing company and took him under his wing, to his neighbor, an entrepreneur who shared valuable business insight.
“I’ve been fortunate to have people along the way to steer me in the right direction.”
One of those people has been Deborah Wilson, Business Development Manager for The Blue Book Network. When Wilson first reached out to Hillard, he didn’t think she could help him.
“I told her I was too much of a niche service. But Deborah took the time to get to know me and my product and ways she could connect me in the commercial market.”
After joining The Blue Book Network, Hillard says his business started to take off. Even though ACM Innovations’ web presence was lacking at the time, calls started coming in. “The only way any company could have found us was through The Blue Book! My business wouldn’t be where it is today without Deborah.”
As the company name implies, Hillard and the ACM Innovations team are never satisfied with the status quo. “We’re always innovating,” Hillard says. “We like to do what everyone else hates to do and is afraid to do. We’re not scared.”
With a few new systems in the works that Hillard describes as potentially “game-changing,” the ACM Innovations team is looking forward to continuing to excel and propel the business forward. And if customer reviews are any indication, they are right on track. Each testimonial on the ACM Innovations website speaks to the team members’ work ethic, professionalism, knowledge and craftsmanship.
When one review in particular—written by Gregory A. Kittridge, President of STONEMILE Group, LLC—came in, a humble Hillard admits he was blown away. “I had to read it about five times, call him and personally thank him. I couldn’t believe someone had thought of us so highly.”
Even as Hillard looks to the future of the business, he’s clear that growth in terms of size isn’t necessarily a marker of success. To him, success is being able to continue nurturing personal connections and building relationships. “We don’t want to get too big. That’s not the goal. We want to be small enough to maintain that personal touch, both with employees and customers. That’s something that separates us from everyone else.