Dan Allford has continued innovating since he started his company, ARC Specialties, nearly 40 years ago from his garage. Over the course of his professional journey, he has excelled as an entrepreneur in the manufacturing industry with his hands-on attitude towards learning.
Allford is a 1985 graduate from the College of Technology with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology. While attending the University of Houston (UH), Allford built and sold manufacturing equipment and robots from his garage under the name ARC Specialties in 1983. Since then, Allford has developed ARC Specialties into a company that leads in the manufacturing industry with facilities in Texas and Ohio and customers in 32 countries worldwide.
ARC Specialties has integrated a deliberate approach to manufacturing in all of its processes and is something Allford readily embraces when discussing its development.
“The difference between when I started ARC specialties and now is exposure and credibility. I am the same guy, but we now have more places to work and more opportunities to work,” said Allford.
When we think of innovation, we picture it as brief moments of creativity, as outliers in thinking. The philosophy Allford adopts has made it a commodity at ARC Specialties.
“Innovation is the reapplication of a solution that you have used in a seemingly different problem,” he explained. “We are in every industry because we will take an idea from one industry and apply it to another.”
This way of thinking, which Allford refers to as “analogous thinking,” makes ARC Specialties a key player in manufacturing and robotics for companies in industries ranging from oil and gas, electric vehicles, the medical industry, agriculture, and others.
More recently, ARC Specialties is developing new technologies for the medical industry, such as creating new implant materials for surgery.
“The army wanted to make titanium bullet-proof, so we came up with a bullet-proof coating for titanium,” explained Allford. “Now, we are doing robotic surgery on humans. I want to make the implants out of titanium because it is biocompatible, not carcinogenic (toxic) like chromium cobalt [implants].”
Allford credits his success as an entrepreneur to his dedication early on as a college student and young professional, a dedication he’s maintained throughout his career.
“The machine tool experience I received at UH was invaluable because the machine tool guys were years ahead of every other form of automation,” said Allford. “During the day, I was working in a welding research lab, and I was getting to do electron beam and a lot of cool stuff. At night, I would weld under the name of ARC Specialties.”
He also sites his involvement with organizations and professional societies, like the American Welding Society (AWS), as formative for his professional development and emphasizes the value it presents to students.
“One thing I tell students is you need to go to professional society meetings for a couple of things: for technology and networking,” shared Allford. “When I was first in Houston, I could not even afford to go to professional society meeting dinners because I could not afford the dinner. What I would do is I would go in after the dinner to watch the technical presentation. I’m now a life member [at AWS], and my meals are free.”
His outlook on the future for young professionals is optimistic. He sees significant potential for growth in the manufacturing industry. Reflecting on his experience, Allford believes that building a career as an entrepreneur means always putting value on new ideas.
“You need to be versatile,” said Allford. “Out of every 10 ideas we come up with in the lab, six of them work, and two of them sell. But if you don’t start with 10, you don’t find those six, and you don’t sell the two.”