Home Sections Archive by category Manufacturing

Manufacturing

Manufacturing

Tight Squeeze

President Trump has made no secret of his hope that a series of tariffs on goods from China and other countries will eventually force a more favorable balance of trade for the U.S. But in the meantime, the escalating trade war has posed very real, often negative impacts for manufacturers, particularly in the form of higher costs and a general sense of uncertainty that makes it difficult to pursue growth. And no one seems to have any idea when the situation will ease up.

A trade war can hurt business in more ways than one, Kristin Carlson says.

For example, as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, her manufacturing company, Westfield-based Peerless Precision, doesn’t buy a lot of foreign materials, like steel and aluminum — in fact, she buys about 95% domestic — so she hasn’t been subject to the direct cost increases on imported goods resulting from the volley of back-and-forth tariffs posed by President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“As a result of tariffs and increased pressure on domestic supply, we’ve had supply and demand issues. We’ve been seeing pricing going up 25% to 40% from what we have historically paid.”

But those increased costs of Chinese products have pressured the domestic supply chain, so she is, indeed, paying more.

“As a result of tariffs and increased pressure on domestic supply, we’ve had supply and demand issues. We’ve been seeing pricing going up 25% to 40% from what we have historically paid,” she said. “Costs are a big issue.”

Peerless Precision, which makes parts for the aerospace and defense industries, employs 32 people and has generated strong revenue in recent years, but profits are being squeezed by the trade war.

Kristin Carlson says manufacturers are dealing with price increases and supply-chain disruptions due to the recent tariffs.

Lead times are also affected, she added. “Because of this supply and demand issue on the domestic supply chain, companies are stocking up to make sure they’re getting the prices they need. When times are normal, we’ll get material in one to three business days, and that’s turned into one to four weeks.”

Trump’s trade war, now about 18 months old, has had a ripple effect on the global supply chain of many products, driving up the price of imported raw materials and finished goods. It’s not just manufacturers feeling the heat — for example, farmers have lost lucrative markets as well.

NPR recently reported that cranberry growers worked for years to develop a market in China, and sales of dried cranberries to China increased by more than 1,000% between 2013 and 2018. But after the White House approved tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in July, China immediately retaliated with tariffs on dozens of U.S. goods, including dried cranberries, and now growers — many of them in Massachusetts — are faced with a serious glut of product.

That’s just one example of the impact of tariffs, but for manufacturers, the equation can have even more moving parts (pun intended). Many shop owners say the uncertainty of the situation is causing them to hold off on hiring and expansion because they’re not sure how or when a deal will take shape.

“The imposition of 15% tariffs on $112 billion worth of Chinese goods on Sept. 1 underscores the uncertainty facing employers, particularly manufacturers, who do business in overseas markets,” Raymond Torto, chair of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Board of Economic Advisors, wrote last month. “At the same time, employers are beginning to see evidence from both customers and suppliers of a slowdown in the U.S. economy.”

Stirring the Pot

Robert Lawrence, professor of International Trade and Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School and a former member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, recently told the Boston Globe that, while U.S. strategy over the past century has been to use protectionist measures like tariffs sparingly, Trump has a more aggressive outlook.

“This is at odds with the entire thrust of our policies over the post-war period,” he said. “We’re acting unilaterally. We’re bullying the Chinese by putting these tariffs on them.”

The Trump administration has taken aim at China for a variety of economic reasons, from the nations’ trade imbalance to accusations that Chinese companies steal intellectual property from American companies. But, as Carlson noted, China isn’t the only affected supplier.

“When we submit a quote for a customer purchase, we’re locked into the price we quote them. If our cost changes, we have to suck it up. We can’t go back to the customer and say, ‘oops, materials went up 50%, so we have to raise the price.’ We don’t do that.”

“Tariffs weren’t just slapped onto China, but onto Canada, Mexico … maybe three to five countries in the entire world don’t have tariffs on them.”

Not all manufacturers see the impact the same way. Eric Hagopian, who owns Pilot Precision Products in South Deerfield, told the Globe that, while the price of domestic steel he buys has gone up 43% this year, the tariffs are boosting American industry as many companies are moving to American products as a result of tariffs on products from Pilot Precision’s Chinese competitors. “It actually helps our business,” he said.

Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., said he has heard from members with differing perspectives on the impact of the trade war.

“Some people, I think, are really impacted; they feel there are some pretty serious impacts on cost and competitiveness,” he told BusinessWest. “Then, if you go to someone like Eric Hagopian, he’s a little less adamant that it’s a big issue.”

MassBenchmarks, an initiative of the UMass Donahue Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, reported on economic trends in Massachusetts this week, pointing out that the economy is doing well overall, with low unemployment, but employment and output growth are decelerating.

“Growth in the global economy is slowing, and labor-supply constraints, softening demand, and rising international geopolitical uncertainty all signal concerns for the economy going forward,” the report notes.

Rick Sullivan says manufacturers — and other businesses — have differing takes on the pros and cons of a trade war, but no one likes the uncertainty it generates.

Board members focused on a number of broad sources of uncertainty in the economic and geopolitical environment and what they could mean for the Massachusetts economy. One board member said the current environment is characterized by “considerable internal and external disharmony,” which includes ongoing trade conflicts, as well as continued tension around Brexit, the apparent impacts of climate change, particularly as it relates to agricultural production in various places around the world, and increasing instability in global markets among advanced economies. Against that backdrop, Trump’s ongoing impeachment inquiry is yet another wild card.

But there’s a reason MassBenchmarks placed trade conflicts at the top of that list.

“I think they create an uncertainty, and they increase costs,” Sullivan said. “Certainly, costs are a concern, and competitiveness is a concern.”

Cost and Effect

Those costs aren’t easily passed on to customers, Carlson said, and manufacturers, by and large, would rather not do that.

“When we submit a quote for a customer purchase, we’re locked into the price we quote them,” she explained. “If our cost changes, we have to suck it up. We can’t go back to the customer and say, ‘oops, materials went up 50%, so we have to raise the price.’ We don’t do that.”

AIM releases its Business Confidence Index every month, gauging exactly that — how member businesses are feeling about the economic outlook of the state and their own businesses. The overall Index, which is scored on a 100-point scale, has lost 3.7 points since a year ago but remains within optimistic territory.

“For a long time, a lot of us have been eating the material cost increases. Everything I hear is there’s not really an end date. We’ll see what happens.”

However, September’s reading was weighed down by weakening sentiment among Bay State manufacturers. The Index’s manufacturing component dropped 2.4 points in September and has lost 7.9 points for the year. Non-manufacturers were more confident than manufacturers by a 6.5-point margin.

The results mirrored the national Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, which fell to its lowest level since 2009 last month. A separate report by IHS Markit showed that the manufacturing sector suffered its worst quarter since 2009, though activity increased during September.

“Manufacturers are bearing the brunt of both actual and threatened tariffs against goods imported from China,” Torto wrote. “Many Massachusetts companies have also become caught in retaliatory tariffs and are seeing significant weakening of their overseas business.”

Michael Tyler, chief investment officer at Eastern Bank Wealth Management and a BEA member, noted that the gaps in confidence between manufacturing companies and other businesses appear to be growing.

“Manufacturing has been hit by the steady increase in tariffs imposed by the United States, China, and other nations since 2018,” he noted. “The World Trade Organization estimates that the flow of goods across borders will increase by just 1.2% this year, and manufacturing companies are feeling that downdraft.”

Carlson is feeling it, for sure, and as president of the Western Mass. chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc., she knows others are, too.

“For a long time, a lot of us have been eating the material cost increases,” she told BusinessWest, conceding that the uncertainty around the trade war has been equally vexing. “Everything I hear is there’s not really an end date. We’ll see what happens.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing

Taking Flight

Since the announcement last month that defense and aerospace giants Raytheon and United Technologies will merge into one firm based in Eastern Mass., few other details have emerged, and questions remain about the impact on the companies’ workforce, particularly those currently based at UTC’s Connecticut plant. But some see potential growth in the merger, which may bode well for the many Western Mass. machine shops — and their 5,000 employees — that make components for those companies.

Rick Sullivan calls it the “invisible backbone of the economy” in Western Mass.

He refers to precision manufacturing, and he chooses each of those words for a reason. Machine shops — virtually all of them in the small (make that very small) to medium-sized range — exist in almost every community in the four counties of Western Mass.

“Those companies, if we could put them together under one room, it would be a giant company that gets everyone’s attention all the time — national attention. It’s that significant,” said Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council.

As for invisible? “These shops each have a real niche and do high-quality work, and you don’t see that impact every single day,” he went on. “But it’s a true center of excellence. It’s important.”

Among the work many of these shops do is supplying components for major companies — like Raytheon and United Technologies Corp. (UTC). And when two companies of that size announce plans to merge, as they did last month, it sends ripples of concern through that often-invisible but critical industry, simply because of the uncertainty it produces.

“Obviously, when anything changes out there, we have to evaluate that change in terms of what it’s going to mean locally,” Sullivan told BusinessWest. “No question, the relationship of Massachusetts manufacturers with both companies is significant.”

The merger — which will create one of the world’s largest defense companies, with combined sales of $74 billion — will close in the first half of 2020 after United Technologies completes the previously planned separation of its Otis and Carrier businesses.

The combined company, to be named Raytheon Technologies Corp., will be a major player in defense research and technology — not that the two companies weren’t already. In announcing the merger, the two giants said they will be able to develop new technologies more quickly, with combined research and development spending of $8 billion annually and more than 60,000 engineers.

In many ways, that’s good news, but there are workforce-related questions, state Sen. Eric Lesser noted the day the merger was announced.

Rick Sullivan says the economic impact of the region’s precision manufacturers is significant, even as it often flies under the public radar.

“The UTC-Raytheon deal means another major corporate HQ is relocating to Massachusetts, which overall for Massachusetts is positive news and will be celebrated in Boston,” he said, while quickly noting that a sizable portion of UTC’s current workforce lives in Greater Springfield.

“A quick drive past the huge parking at UTC’s facility across from Bradley Airport, for example, shows a lot of Massachusetts license plates,” he went on. “I personally know many constituents that work at the UTC facilities in both Windsor Locks and Farmington — engineers, electricians, accountants, salespeople, etc. — almost all very good and well-paying careers with great career paths at a variety of education levels.

“Long term, what will happen to those Western Mass. UTC jobs as a result of this merger?” Lesser asked. “If facilities are relocated to Metro Boston, what will losing those jobs mean for Western Mass.? It won’t be positive. We need good jobs at both ends of Massachusetts, and everywhere in between.”

The fact that Raytheon Technologies will be based near Boston drew a complaint from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who said he is concerned about the potential workforce impact on his state. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Blumenthal also urged the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other agencies to examine the potential impact on costs and competition in the defense industry.

Maintaining the Flow

Then there’s the matter of protecting the flow of work to the region’s small machine shops and their 5,000-plus employees. It’s an area of concern for Kristin Carlson in both her roles — as president of Peerless Precision in Westfield and also of the Western Mass. chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc.

She recently told BusinessWest that business is booming for Peerless and most other local precision manufacturers, and that the region has a reputation across the country and around the world as a precision-machining hub. The industries the sector serves — aerospace, defense, oil and gas, and some commercial sectors — are surging, and a report issued last year by the Precision Manufacturing Regional Alliance Projects suggests that the manufacturing sector statewide will need to fill up to 1,500 jobs this year, due to growth and retirement.

“Obviously, when anything changes out there, we have to evaluate that change in terms of what it’s going to mean locally. No question, the relationship of Massachusetts manufacturers with both companies is significant.”

So there’s a lot at stake when a move of this scale happens — and Carlson hopes the impact is a net positive.

“A lot of the machine shops are already suppliers to Raytheon or UTC,” she said. “From what I can see, this merger presents the opportunity for existing suppliers to those two separate companies to become suppliers to the new company, which can increase opportunities for local machine shops and other manufacturers — which means growth and more jobs.”

As for the move of UTC to Eastern Mass., where Raytheon is already based, Carlson doesn’t expect the company to move its entire workforce, although it hasn’t made those plans clear yet.

“I don’t know what the grand plan is,” she said. “My perspective is, I don’t think they’re going to be moving everyone to Eastern Mass. I anticipate some jobs might get transferred over to the new location, but I don’t think they’ll be shutting down or moving everyone over.”

Kristin Carlson says the Raytheon-UTC merger may present opportunities to increase an already-robust pipeline of work.

Raytheon Technologies intends to focus on hypersonics — vehicles and weapons that can fly faster than the speed of sound — as well as intelligence and surveillance systems, artificial intelligence for commercial aviation, and cybersecurity for connected planes.

Raytheon was founded in 1922 and makes missiles, including the Patriot system, and cybersecurity tools. United Technologies was founded in 1934 and makes products for the aerospace and building sectors, including airplane engines and spacesuits.

“Our two companies have iconic brands that share a long history of innovation, customer focus, and proven execution,” United Technologies Chairman and CEO Greg Hayes noted in a statement last month.

Hayes will become the CEO of Raytheon Technologies. Two years after the merger closes, he will add the title of chairman. Raytheon Chairman and CEO Tom Kennedy will be appointed executive chairman. The company’s board will include eight directors from UTC and seven from Raytheon.

Defense mergers are nothing new in recently years. In 2018 alone, there were eight mergers exceeding $1 billion in value, including an all-stock deal between L3 Technologies and Harris and General Dynamics’ acquisition of CSRA Inc., according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Building on Relationships

Still, in Western Mass., much of the focus has come down to jobs, and preserving the working relationships that exist between small machine shops and large players like Raytheon and UTC.

“Those relationships as subcontractors are vital to us,” Sullivan told BusinessWest. “I do think, moving forward, those connections can even be strengthened. In Western Mass., we recognize that we have an economy that goes east-west, but as importantly, and maybe even more importantly, it goes north-south also. We obviously will be watching closely.

“Raytheon is obviously a big player regionally in Western Mass.,” he added. “We need to grow those relationships, and I do think there are opportunities for growth.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Manufacturing

Leading Lights

Two Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) students are working as interns this summer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Defense research and development center in Lexington.

MIT Lincoln Laboratory selected Douglas Bednarczyk and Shane Richardson, students from the Optics and Photonics Technology program at STCC. They are interning at the Lexington facility through August.

Richardson earned his associate degree from STCC in May, but will return this fall to take additional classes. Bednarcyzk finished his first year in the two-year Optics and Photonics Technology program and hopes to earn his associate degree in spring 2020.

Students in the Optics and Photonics Technology program learn about the practical applications of light, optics, and electronics. High-tech applications include lasers, fiber optics, holography, laser materials processing, optical systems, and more.

“Students in the Optics and Photonics Technology program at STCC train on state-of-the-art equipment used in many commercial laboratories,” said Nicholas Massa, department chair for Optics and Photonics Technology. “There aren’t any other associate-degree programs like ours in the region. That’s why companies approach us. They discover our students know how to use the laser equipment and know the theory. They’re ready to go to work.”

Massa said there are not enough trained candidates to meet the demand for jobs in the optics and photonics industry.

“I get calls every day from companies asking about candidates for internships and full-time positions. Nearly all of my students who graduate from the program get hired, and they often get multiple job offers,” he said. “After you get a degree in Optics and Photonics Technology, you can land a job that pays between $40,000 and $60,000 a year to start, and you go up from there.”

Bednarczyk is a third-generation STCC student. His grandfather studied electrical engineering technology, and his father graduated from a biomedical technology program. He looked into the optics and photonics technology after reading an article about STCC’s program.

“I enjoy the program,” he said. “It’s really engaging and hands-on. I’m not the type of kid that was meant to sit behind a computer all day. To use the laser-etching and marking systems we have, I think that’s a blast.”

Meanwhile, Richardson came to the Optics and Photonics Technology program with a bachelor’s degree in theater from a university in California. At STCC, Richardson had the opportunity to study with a mentor, Eric Lim, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

“As a hiring manager, I’ve been impressed with the quality of students who came out of this program,” said Lim, who worked at a laser-technology company. “It was exciting to find a student who was hands-on and interested in laser physics, something I had trained for in my graduate days. So I was very happy to mentor Shane.”

For his class project at STCC, Richardson experimented with converting invisible infrared light into visible green light.

“In order to change light to interact with anything, we have to change the wavelength, and that is what this whole experiment was about,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy the program or how beneficial it was going to be. It was a nice fit. I like the people here, and I like the atmosphere. Not many people know about optics and photonics technology.”

Manufacturing

Scaling Up

CEO Bill Bither

CEO Bill Bither

Over the past five years, Machine Metrics, a company that specializes in predictive analytics for manufacturers, has been scaling up its operation. But with an infusion of $11.3 million in venture capital last fall, this process enters a new and dynamic phase. The company has nearly doubled its workforce, expanded with a new office in Boston, and become much more aggressive in efforts to educate potential clients about its game-changing software.

Bill Bither was asked where he wanted to take Machine Metrics, the five-year-old startup he co-founded that specializes in predictive analytics for manufacturers.

He paused for a second or two, and then, in a voice that brimmed with confidence and conveyed the sentiment that he’d been asked this question — and given this answer — before, said simply and almost matter-of-factly, “we’re really looking to build a billion-dollar company.”

That’s not a phrase you hear often from entrepreneurs based in the 413, but Bither, who launched this venture with Eric Fogg and Jacob Lazier and serves as its CEO, believes that stated goal is certainly attainable. And those who have watched this company grow quickly and profoundly since it first gained attention as a member of one of Valley Venture Mentors’ first accelerator classes would certainly agree.

The company develops software systems that measure manufacturing productivity. To be more specific, these systems analyze performance in real time and send out alerts to clients when production falls behind.

Clients generally see a 20% improvement in efficiency, and the phrase most often used in relation to the software and its overall impact within a given shop is ‘game changer.’

There are now more than 100 manufacturers around the world using the company’s products, and Bither expects that number to climb steadily as awareness of the software, its capabilities, and the results it has generated for customers grows.

Bill Bither, left, seen here with co-founder and CTO Jacob Lazier

Bill Bither, left, seen here with co-founder and CTO Jacob Lazier, says Machine Metrics is adding clients across the country and overseas.

“What we’ve discovered since 2015 is that the market that we’re in is really large, and that industrial technologies are moving very quickly,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s a really high demand for companies to digitize their factories, and the key missing component to doing that is getting data from the factory floor; that’s the first step in digitizing a factory, and that’s what we do very well.”

To continue to do this well on a much larger scale, the company needed to move quickly on a number of fronts — from expanding its customer base beyond this region and this country to greatly expanding its team of engineers, salespeople, and marketers, to being far more aggressive when it comes to getting the word out.

And it has moved forward on all those fronts thanks in large part to an an infusion of $11.3 million in capital late last year.

The company has put that money to work to expand its data-science and product-development teams while accelerating global sales, said Bither, adding that, while the company has been scaling up on an ongoing basis over the past five years, that process has essentially entered a new, more dynamic phase.

“Last year, we grew about 200%, and this year we’ll probably be around that same number,” he explained, adding that this is now a truly global company that continues to expand geographically and in all other ways.

Now headquartered on Pleasant Street in Northampton — a move necessitated by the growth of its workforce — Machine Metrics has also opened an office in Cambridge, and now employs roughly 50 people, a number that has almost doubled since the company announced that infusion of capital.

“What we’re doing now is going even faster, looking at international expansion; having more engineers on the team helps us fulfill our vision quicker. We’ve shown that we’re leading the space that we’re in, and we need to keep leading the industry toward digitizing their factories.”

“We’ve doubled the size of our executive team, we’ve almost doubled the size of the workforce, and our customer count is now over 100,” said Bither. “What we’re doing now is going even faster, looking at international expansion; having more engineers on the team helps us fulfill our vision quicker. We’ve shown that we’re leading the space that we’re in, and we need to keep leading the industry toward digitizing their factories.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Bither about the process of scaling up one of the most-watched startups in this region — and about the roadmap to becoming a billion-dollar company.

The Light Is Green

When he talked with BusinessWest earlier this month, Bither was in Toronto on vacation visiting family. Well, sort of.

“I have back-to-back meetings with clients today, which is what usually happens,” he explained. “A vacation trip turns into a work trip.”

There have been a number of work trips and vacations doubling as work trips for Bither and his partners over the past years, as they continue to bring awareness to a product that represents pioneering on a number of levels.

Indeed, while there have been production-monitoring software products on the market for some time, the software systems the company is now offering represent a huge step forward in what’s known as industrial IoT (Internet of Things) technology.

For clients, it has meant adding the phrase ‘being in the green’ to their lexicon. That’s the color that shows up on the dashboards, or large display boards, when machines are operating at or above the desired performance levels. An orange color means they are operating slightly below that level, and red means there’s trouble.

But beyond letting companies know how machines — or shifts of employees — are performing, the software can also predict when errors will occur and machines will fail, thus enabling manufacturers to avoid costly breakdowns that greatly impact overall productivity.

And as productivity improves, companies are better able to navigate what has long been the manufacturing sector’s most pressing — and perplexing — problem: a deep talent shortage that shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

All this explains why that phrase ‘game changer’ is being used so often by those who now have these systems operating in their plants. And it’s being heard both in this region — VSS CNC Inc. in Greenfield, Marox Corp. in Holyoke, and others are on the client list — and well outside it.

“We’re spread out across North America — I think we’re in roughly 40 states now,” he said. “And we’re starting to see some growth in Europe and South America. There’s still so much opportunity in this country, though, and that’s where we’re focusing most of our efforts.”

Bither, when pushed to guesstimate just how big the market is for industrial IoT technology, put the number at $85 billion, and said the mission moving forward, obviously, is to garner as large a share of that market as possible.

To do that, the company knew it had to expand its workforce, adding people in a number in a number of areas, but especially engineers in the field working with customers to digitize their factory floors.

As he talked with BusinessWest, Bither admitted he’d actually lost track of just how big the workforce was at that moment, a clear indication of how fast things are changing and how many people have joined the team.

“We’ve hired software developers, and we’ve added to our marketing team, our sales team, and our customer-success team,” he said, adding that the company has also brought on a chief financial officer, a vice president of Product, a vice president of Business Development, and a vice president of Sales, taking Machine Metrics and its leadership team to a much higher plane.

Meanwhile, the company has also opened an office in Boston, a step taken to not only better serve customers in that area, but also take advantage of the extremely deep pool of IT talent inside the 128 corridor.

“At the rate that we’re growing, it’s difficult to hire enough really skilled people in Western Mass. quickly enough,” he explained. “We’re combining the best manufacturing talent with the best software talent, and Boston really has a heavy concentration of software executives.”

Bither, who has been through the scaling-up process before — he grew the software company Atalasoft to 25 people before he sold it — said this experience at Machine Metrics is different in many ways, primarily because the company is a venture capital (VC)-backed enterprise.

“Therefore, the focus is on growing fast, not about being profitable — that’s the life of a VC-backed technology company,” he explained. “You’re really measured in growth and cash, more so than profits, and that’s different from what I’m used to.”

Moving forward, he said one key to continued growth and effective scaling of this venture is effective website content marketing, an approach designed to help educate and hopefully inspire movement within a sector, manufacturing, that has traditionally been slow to embrace new technologies and different ways of doing things.

Profound growth of its workforce forced Machine Metrics to seek larger quarters

Profound growth of its workforce forced Machine Metrics to seek larger quarters, and it found them in the old Post Office building on Pleasant Street in Northampton.

“We’ve been able to build quite a presence in this space without spending too much money because we’ve been able to build out content on our website and write a number of articles and blogs,” he explained. “And because of that, we’ve been able to bring in a lot of interested buyers that come through our website; our sales team will then talk to them, and a certain percentage of them will actually close.”

Another important marketing vehicle has been industry trade shows, such as the EASTEC show slated for next month at the Big E, but also the recent event in Hanover, Germany (the company’s first international show), where Machine Metrics had a large presence and was able to introduce itself and its software to new audiences.

“It was interesting because we were able to see what the landscape looks like in Europe,” he explained, adding that the company partnered with Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon that provides on-demand cloud-computing platforms to individuals, companies, and governments, and thus gained considerable attention at the show.

The company also takes part in the International Manufacturing Technology Show, staged every other year in Chicago, and will be in Las Vegas in a few weeks for another large industry event, said Bither, adding that this exposure is critical to those scaling-up efforts.

Getting Things in Gear

Bither did not want to disclose current revenue figures for Machine Metrics, but he hinted strongly, not that he had to, that this venture is a long way from being a billion-dollar company.

But it seems to be on a path that would make that number more than a fantasy or pipe dream. This is a fast track greased by obvious need among manufacturers large and small to be able to track their performance in real-time analytics, and not rely on guesswork.

Whether the company can get to that magical milestone — or when, obviously — remains to be seen, but the scaling-up process continues, and like those clients it serves, this intriguing startup is certainly operating in the green — figuratively, if not literally.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing

Layer by Layer

ADDFab Director Dave Follette with samples of 3D-printed objects.

ADDFab Director Dave Follette with samples of 3D-printed objects.

The Advanced Digital Design & Fabrication Lab, or ADDFab for short — one of 31 ‘core facilities’ in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst — is creating something significant in the manufacturing world, and not just the products it forms from metal and polymer powders. No, it’s also building connections between young talent and companies that will increasingly need it as 3D printing becomes more mainstream. And it does so with a focus — no, an insistence — on hands-on learning.

It’s hard to learn about 3D printing, Dave Follette said, if you don’t have access to a 3D printer.

ADDFab has five. And it likes to share them. In fact, that’s its mission.

“We have all these high-end machines, and it’s hard to get access to these in the real world,” said Follette, director of ADDFab, which stands for Advanced Digital Design & Fabrication Lab, one of 31 ‘core facilities’ in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst. “Who’s going to let you touch their quarter-million-dollar machine and learn the ins and outs of it — how do you set it up? What happens if it fails? What do I do?”

ADDFab, like the other core facilities, seeks to eliminate skills gaps between students and the work world with hands-on opportunities to use some truly cutting-edge and, yes, expensive equipment.

“Here, the student interns aren’t just going on the computer and doing some research. They come to the lab, suit up, play with some parts, take them out of the printer, clean it — they get real experience actually touching the machines.”

ADDFab takes a similar tack with local businesses seeking to learn more about 3D printing, Follette added.

“The workshops we do are less sitting in a classroom talking about 3D printing and more, ‘let’s do some 3D printing.’”

“The workshops we do are less sitting in a classroom talking about 3D printing and more, ‘let’s do some 3D printing.’ You actually come in, design a part on the software, print the part, and go home with something you created. You see the process. That’s what’s valuable about being on site. You can go on the Internet and watch YouTube videos, but something about doing it yourself gives you an understanding of how it works and why it works, and what works and what doesn’t. That’s what we’re trying to teach.”

Sundar Krishnamurty, ADDFab’s co-director, explained that the facility has three distinct but interwoven goals.

“We’re a research university, so we want our researchers to develop new knowledge, and we hope this will be a medium for that,” he told BusinessWest. “Second, there’s a lot of experiential learning for our students. Third, we have good engagement with our industries, especially small and medium-sized companies in the area.”

The equipment itself is impressive — two metal printers and three polymer printers, each using different raw materials and different technologies to produce an endless array of products. The facility supports UMass itself in several ways, as students and faculty can be trained to use the equipment to conduct their own research on additive manufacturing, while ADDFab also provides printing services and engineering support for faculty in all academic departments.

But it’s the outreach to industry that may be most intriguing element, not just through those aforementioned workshops, which are intended to broaden understanding of how 3D printing will affect the manufacturing industry and to provide hands-on skills, but through a state-funded voucher program that gives businesses with fewer than 50 employees a 50% subsidy to access the core facilities, and 75% to businesses with fewer than 10.

“You can do $100,000 of work for $25,000,” Follette said. “For a new technology, it makes it easy to get your feet wet and test it out. A lot of companies we’re working with haven’t used 3D printing before and are figuring out how it fits into their business.”

Krishnamurty agreed. “We really want to be partnering with local industries in helping us identify the gaps and where we can provide leadership, expertise, and resources to help them achieve their goals.”

What happens when students are well-trained on cutting-edge 3D-printing technology, and when area manufacturers learn more about its potential, is clear, they both noted: Positive workforce development that helps businesses grow while keeping talent in Western Mass.

Student Stories

Jeremy Hall, now a senior at UMass, has been interning at ADDFab, and said the opportunities are positive on a number of levels, including setting students up for interesting careers in a fast-growing, but still largely undertapped, field.

“It’s an up-and-coming field, and a lot of jobs are opening up in it because a lot of companies see the benefit of it,” Hall told BusinessWest. “Look at rapid prototyping — instead of making a mistake and spending five figures on a mold only to discover that part’s not usable, you can do several iterations and save a lot of money doing so.”

Jack Ford (left) and Jeremy Hall are two of the current student interns at ADDFab.

Jack Ford (left) and Jeremy Hall are two of the current student interns at ADDFab.

He thinks he’s putting himself in good position for the workforce by learning the various processes by actually doing them. His initial career interests were in research and design and rapid prototyping, but the more he’s delved into additive manufacturing, the more interested he has become in material properties, and exploring what other raw materials can used to create stronger products. “The application is here; it’s just, how much can you improve it from here?”

“Look at rapid prototyping — instead of making a mistake and spending five figures on a mold only to discover that part’s not usable, you can do several iterations and save a lot of money doing so.”

Another intern, Jack Ford, is a sophomore whose interest in 3D printing began when he used similar — but not nearly as advanced — technology to create a tool in a high-school drafting class.

“It was interesting to see that whole process, and it grew my interest in the manufacturing aspects of it,” he noted. “And look at how 3D printing has grown over the years — it’s crazy to see where it is now. The laser technology is incredible, how it’s so precise and manages to get such a fine level of detail despite seeming like such a strange process. We put the powder down, bam, there’s a layer. It blows my mind.”

There’s an energy-absorbing lattice piece on a table at ADDFab inscribed with the name of its creator, Adam Rice, who recently became one of the facility’s success stories, and an example of how it seeks to connect talent with need.

“In my 10 weeks here, I’ve worked one-on-one with companies, toured facilities, and even given a presentation at FLIR Systems,” Rice explained last year, in an interview snippet used in an ADDFab promotional brochure. “It’s been building my confidence. I’ve had no real engineering experience before this, and this is my first time really applying it and seeing how people do this as a career.”

After graduating in December, he now has a career of his own, at Lytron, a designer and manufacturer of thermal-management and liquid-cooling products based in Woburn.

“They use a metal printer exactly the same as ours and needed someone with additive-manufacturing experience to help them run their printer,” Follette said. “The VP of Engineering contacted me and asked, ‘do you have any students who know additive?’ I said, ‘yes.’ He came by and met the students, and we had a good fit.”

The brochure Rice appears in promotes the UMass Summer Undergraduate Core Internship Program, which allows students from the STEM fields to access hands-on training and experience in the core facilities, including ADDFab, over the summer.

“We’ve been doing learning by trying,” he said. “It’s been really cool to get to do more hands-on engineering.”

And even cooler to spin it into a well-paying job.

Into the Future

Meanwhile, area companies — including, of late, Peerless Precision, Volo Aero, FTL Labs, Cofab Design, and MultiSensor Scientific — continue to take advantage of ADDFab’s resources, often through the voucher program, either to make 3D products or learn more about how to incorporate the technology. Responding to a commonly raised concern, Krishnamurty stressed that all intellectual property stays with the companies.

Sundar Krishnamurty says ADDFab wants to partner with local industries

Sundar Krishnamurty says ADDFab wants to partner with local industries to identify and fill workforce and training gaps.

“A lot of times, people see UMass and think, ‘how do I work with them? They’re big, and I’m not,’ Follette said. “But the message we want to put out is that we’re doing 3D printing, and we’re here to help industries. There are many ways to get involved, whether you just have an idea on a napkin or you have computer files and want to print them on our advanced printer.”

Indeed, he noted, ADDFab’s large-scale 3D printers are performing industrial-grade production of “real parts you can use for real things. A lot of engineering companies we’re working with are doing prototyping of parts, design iterations — they want to print something and feel it, then make another change and another change, and it’s great they can turn this around fast and get a part that’s usable also at a great price.”

Using ADDFab is ideal for small runs, he added. “If you need five today, that’s fine. If you need 20 tomorrow, fine. If you need five more the next day, that’s fine, too.”

“A lot of times, people see UMass and think, ‘how do I work with them? They’re big, and I’m not. But the message we want to put out is that we’re doing 3D printing, and we’re here to help industries.”

And if the facility can perform such services while training the next generation of engineers and boosting workforce development for the region’s manufacturing sector, Krishnamurty said, well, that’s a clear win-win-win.

“These are truly one-of-a-kind facilities,” he said, speaking not just of ADDFab, but all the core facilities at UMass Amherst. “I think the future is endless.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing

On a Roll

Between 200,000 and 250,000 golf balls roll out of Callaway’s Chicopee plant every day.

Between 200,000 and 250,000 golf balls roll out of Callaway’s Chicopee plant every day.

The Callaway golf-ball-manufacturing facility in Chicopee has borrowed a famous page from the Chicago Cubs’ playbook.

When the Cubs win, a white flag with a large blue ‘W’ is flown atop the legendary hand-operated scoreboard in center field. (Of course, if they lose, a blue flag with a white ‘L’ goes up, but that’s another story.)

Back to Callaway. When a member of its team — comprised of players on the various professional tours who play Callaway balls and clubs — posts a win, a flag with a large script ‘C’ (the same one used for the Callaway brand) flies underneath the American flag on the pole outside on the facility on Meadow Street.

“The flag goes up the Monday morning after a win, and it flies until Friday that week,” said Vince Simonds, director of Global Golf Ball Operations for Callaway, adding that it’s been flying quite a bit recently.

Indeed, it was up just last week after the best-known member of the team, Phil Mickelson, prevailed at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Meanwhile, Xander Schauffele, a rising star on the PGA tour, has won twice over the past several months; Australian Marc Leishman won last fall, as did Spaniard Sergio Garcia; and Belgians Thomas Peters and Thomas Detry won the ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf in late November.

Simonds told BusinessWest that the flag is one of many initiatives designed to raise awareness among those inside the plant about how the products they’re making are generating results at the very highest levels — and generating pride within that workforce as well.

“It’s part of something we call the ‘21 Initiative,’ a multi-year evolution to transform and re-engage as we bring on new machinery and new capacity capabilities,” he said, noting that ‘21’ is short for 2021. “We started putting the flag up because we’ve grown so fast that we need to re-engage with our employees and share our success with them.”

But Callaway also wants to bring attention to what’s going on inside the plant, which is on a winning streak itself.

Indeed, as the Callaway brand has risen to number two in overall sales within the golf-ball market behind Titleist, the Chicopee plant has doubled its workforce over just the past 18 months, from roughly 180 to more than 363 (the highest number in more than a decade), and is expected to surpass 400 later this year, making this one of the better manufacturing success stories to be written locally in recent years.

“We’re very bullish on 2019,” said Simonds, adding that this optimism is grounded in the company’s recent surge within the golf-ball market, fueled by the introduction of several new and somewhat groundbreaking products. These include the Tour Soft ball, which has become popular with professionals and amateurs alike. There’s also a version of that ball known as the Truvis, stamped with pentagonal images — and now a host of other options, from shamrocks to butterflies to other custom logos — that give the product a soccer-ball look.

“We started putting the flag up because we’ve grown so fast that we need to re-engage with our employees and share out success with them.”

The ‘win flag’ flies on the pole outside the Callaway plant

The ‘win flag’ flies on the pole outside the Callaway plant. It’s been flying quite regularly these days.

“The Truvis has really taken off; sales are very strong, and we’re booking a lot of business on the custom side of things,” said Simonds, adding that the portfolio of products is poised to grow with the addition of the ERC Soft, with those letters short for Ely Reeves Callaway, founder of the company.

Overall, somewhere between 200,000 to 250,000 balls, including the new ERCs, are rolling off the lines at the Chicopee plant each day, a slight increase from a year ago. More importantly, the mix has changed, said Simonds, noting that, while the plant supplemented its capacity with non-tour, lower-end products in the past, it no longer does that due to demand for the higher-end balls.

And as those numbers continue to increase, so too does the number of people clocking in at a plant that now runs 24/7.

These workers cover a broad spectrum, said Simonds, from engineers who have brought the new products to the assembly line to those on the shop floor to those in working in the warehouse.

Findng and retaining talent has become an issue, as it has for just about every manufacturer in the region, said Simonds, adding that the company is working with Springfield Technical Community College and area vocational high schools to create an adequate pipeline of workers.

For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest returns to the Callaway plant and a company that has been, as they in this sport, flag hunting, and has had a great deal of luck in those endeavors.

Core Products

As he offered BusinessWest a quick tour of the Callaway plant and showed off the latest of the new Truvis machines to be added over the past two years, Simonds introduced Les McCray, who’s been working at the Chicopee facility since Gerald Ford was in the White House.

“We try to find people who have the education and technical background, obviously, but also a passion for the game of golf.”

There are still a number of employees with considerable longevity still working at this sprawling plant, but a growing number have been there for months, not years. And while employment has spiked in recent months, it’s been trending upward for several years now, said Simonds.

There have been several milestones along the way that have brought us to this moment, including the introduction of the Chrome Soft, which dramatically altered the trajectory of Callaway’s ball division, and the emergence of the Truvis, which has added a new dimension — metaphorically if not quite literally — to golf-ball design.

Vince Simonds, left, with Les McCray

Vince Simonds, left, with Les McCray, who’s been working at the Callaway plant for more than 40 years.

“There is a functional aspect to this,” he said in reference to the alignment of the pentagons or logos and how it helps people improve their chipping and putting. “But mostly, it’s just a fun and unique way to mark a golf ball. The feedback we get from consumers is that they enjoy it because they can instantly recognize their ball in the foursome.”

The ERC Soft has something approaching that same quality because of a feature called Triple Track Technology — three lines engraved on the ball to help with putting alignment (Mickelson was using a dfferent Callaway ball with the same technology when he won at Pebble Beach). That’s just one innovative aspect to this latest addition to the portfolio, said Simonds, adding that this long but soft ball has a new ‘hybrid’ cover and graphene core and is designed for players with less than tour-level swing speeds.

It’s the latest in a string of advances and new products that have led to a surge in market share, said Simonds, adding that, according to Golf Datatech, which measures sales in pro shops and related outlets, Callaway has a 16% share of the market compared to 7% in 2012. But National Golf Foundation data, which also includes sales at large retail outlets like Dick’s Sporting Goods, gives Callaway a 23% market share based on dollar amount sold.

The Callaway Plant in Chicopee

The Callaway Plant in Chicopee is engaged in what it’s calling the ’21 Initiative,’ (short for 2021) a multi-year process of evolution and transformation as it brings on new machinery and scores of new employees.

This growth has led to more ‘C’ flag-raising ceremonies outside the Callaway plant, and more people working inside it, said Simonds, adding that the company has been adding employees on a regular basis over the past few years.

That’s due in part to a leveling off of production, meaning it’s more steady throughout the year as opposed to being more seasonal as it was years ago, geared toward peak sales at Christmas and especially Father’s Day.

“Our real production season is September to June, with maintenance in July, and then we begin to ramp up for new products in August and begin manufacturing in September and October,” he said. “We support the globe around here.”

And, as he noted, the new arrivals to the plant cross a broad spectrum, from process engineers who design the breakthroughs to skilled, unskilled, and semi-skilled positions on the plant floor. Finding them is, indeed, challenging, said Simonds, adding that, with the engineers and management personnel, the company recruits from where it can.

“We try to find people who have the education and technical background, obviously, but also a passion for the game of golf,” he explained, adding that the last ingredient is a key part of the mix. “We have an R&D team in Carlsbad, California that we work very closely with, but the scale-up and commercialization happens here; we have a team of 12 process engineers and technicians that work hard every day designing systems to make golf balls so people can play better golf. That’s not a bad way to make a living.”

“There is a functional aspect to this. But mostly, it’s just a fun and unique way to mark a golf ball. The feedback we get from consumers is that they enjoy it because they can instantly recognize their ball in the foursome.”

With machinists, Callaway, like most other manufacturers in the region, must compete for a limited number of qualified workers while also dealing with the retirement of Baby Boomers.

“We’re continuing to have dialogue with STCC, and we’re working closely with the trade schools in the area,” he said. “We’ve gotten some really good young people out of Putnam [Vocational-Technical High School] in Springfield — it’s been a really good pipleline for us. But they’re young, and they need training and development, so we’re doing that.”

With so many people coming in recent months, Simonds and his team are grinding, as they say in golf, to keep the growing workforce focused on the mission and the basic tenets, such as safety, quality, and continuous improvement.

“We’ve brought so many people on so fast that the connection with the employee is super important,” he said, referring to the broad 21 Initiative. “So we’re doubling down on our efforts in that regard.”

Banner Year

As noted, the Callaway flag flying after wins on the pro tours is a page taken from the Chicago Cubs’ script.

But in just about every other way, the story being written on Meadow Street in Chicopee is an original. The plot lines are engaging — new products and advances with intriguing names, like Triple Track Technology. And there are a host of stars, from Xander Schauffele and Phil Mickelson to Les McCray.

No one’s quite sure how this story will end, but right now, Callaway and its Chicopee plant are both on a roll, and, like the players on tour who have promoted the flag to fly, they’re winning big.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing Sections

Doors to Opportunity

Amy Royal

When she started her law career with a firm in Springfield, Amy Royal didn’t consider herself an entrepreneur. But that quality emerged quickly, and she would go on to start her own firm. She soon realized, though, that she was a actually a serial entrepreneur with an appetite for developing and growing companies, the latest of which is a door manufacturer in Ludlow.

Amy Royal says she was given the small ‘Lenox’ sign, complete with that recognizable wolf logo, by officials at that East Longmeadow-based manufacturer soon after it became the first official client of the law firm that bore her last name.

And for years, it was prominently displayed on a wall in her office in Northampton, much like that ceremonial ‘first dollar’ you see under glass or in a frame at small businesses across the region.

Today, it has a new home, and that’s because Royal has one as well, professionally speaking, anyway. That would be 190 Moody St. in Ludlow, the address for West Side Metal Door Corp., a 60-year-old enterprise Royal acquired several months ago, because…

Well, there are many elements that go into that answer, and one of them is that Lenox sign. Sort of. That iconic Western Mass. company is just one of many manufacturers that have become clients of Royal, P.C., an employment-law firm. And over time, while representing many of them, Royal developed more than insight into that sector and much more than a passing interest in someday working within it.

Indeed, when she began a search for a small company to buy a few years ago, manufacturing morphed from one of several sectors being considered to the preferred sector.

“Because of the relationships I’ve had with manufacturers through my law firm, I felt that I had at least a basic understanding of workflow, operations … what it takes to run a manufacturing company,” she explained. “While I certainly explored a number of options, I really wanted to be in manufacturing.”

As she carried out her search, Royal told BusinessWest, the focus was on acquiring an established company, but one with considerable upside potential. And WSMD, as it’s called, certainly fits that description.

Launched in Holyoke in 1958, it has a diverse portfolio of products for commercial customers — diverse enough for Royal to make rebranding a top priority because the ‘MD’ in WSMD doesn’t really work anymore and hasn’t for a while now — and a lengthy list of clients as well.

Indeed, recent deliveries have been made to the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office — the county correctional facility is only a few blocks away — as well as Holyoke Medical Center, the Ludlow Police Department, a casino in Las Vegas, and Wrigley Field in Chicago, among many others.

“We make a lot more than metal doors,” said Royal, also listing custom wooden doors, door frames, distribution of door hardware, and other products, especially tin-clad doors, typically seen in warehouses but now gaining traction in a variety of locations as a retro look.

As evidence, Royal gathered up her phone and scrolled to pictures of tin-clad doors the company recently supplied to an art studio in Hollywood and a condominium tower in Boston. “They look really cool and have a lot of ‘wow’ to them,” she pointed out.

Getting back to that upside potential she saw, Royal said that, unlike her predecessor, an owner who did a little bit of everything for this company, she will focus her efforts on business development, relationship building, and, overall, positioning WSMD (for however long that acronym’s still in use) for continued growth and that proverbial next level.

Amy Royal, seen here with many of the team members at WSMD, says she was drawn by the company’s rich history and strong growth potential.

Amy Royal, seen here with many of the team members at WSMD, says she was drawn by the company’s rich history and strong growth potential.

Borrowing that increasingly popular phrase, she said she’s focused on working on the company, not in it.

“I saw a lot of areas we could build upon, including business development, marketing, and sales,” she explained. “There is brand awareness with this company, but I think we can take that to a higher level.”

As she goes about that assignment, she will borrow at least few pages from the script she wrote with Royal, P.C., which she is still a big part of, even if she and her Lenox sign now consider Ludlow home.

One page in particular involves becoming a certified woman-owned company, a designation that has opened a number of doors (no pun intended) for the law firm, and one she believes can do the same for WSMD.

Elaborating, she said Royal, P.C. is a member of the National Society of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, an organization that forges relationships with large corporations that want to do business with such firms. Corporations like the Macy’s department-store chain, which became a client of the Royal firm just last month.

Institutional clients of that ilk also need metal doors — and wooden doors and tin-clad doors — and Royal’s goal moving forward is to forge such relationships and take the WSMD brand to new heights.

For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest talked with Royal about her new venture and how and why she walked through that particular door.

Open to Suggestions

Getting back to that question of why Royal acquired WSMD, as noted there are many components to that answer.

Perhaps the main one is Royal’s realization that she is not merely an entrepreneur — something she really didn’t believe she was when she started practicing law with the Springfield-based firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser in the 1990s — but a serial entrepreneur.

“I sort of caught the bug of developing and building businesses after starting the law firm,” she told BusinessWest. “I knew that, even though I’ve had a lot of different business ideas over the years, I was looking for a company that had an existing structure and wouldn’t have to be built entirely from the ground up, like I did with the law firm.

“I wanted to branch out, diversify, and own another business,” she went on, “and really focus my energies and efforts on strategic planning and growing a company.”

Royal said she started her search for a company to buy probably two years ago, and approached that exercise with patience, an open mind, and a determination to find the proper fit.

She looked at everything from a spice-making outfit in Western Mass. (she didn’t identify which one) to a small cruise-ship line operating out of Boston (again, no specifics). But mostly, she looked at manufacturers, again because she liked that environment and understood a good deal about how such ventures operate.

WSMD came onto her radar screen because it was listed for sale. She was working with an area broker on her search, but essentially found WSMD on her own.

And what she found was a solid enterprise and brand with its owner looking to retire — a scenario being played out all across the region within companies in every sector as business-owning Baby Boomers become sexagenarians and septuagenarians.

She started looking at WSMD in late 2015, and kept on looking, undertaking that proverbial deep dive to determine if the company had the growth potential she desired.

And she goes about taking WSMD to a higher level, Royal said she will borrow lessons from her first experience with developing a growing a company, something she did without any formal training (like most all entrepreneurs) and in a fashion that could be described as ‘learning while doing.’

“When I decided I wanted to grow the law firm, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she conceded. “I went out on my own and built the firm, and figured out how to network, market, develop, and grow the brand. And that’s when I realized that that’s really my passion — growing a business, creating jobs, creating opportunities.”

There will be many aspects to doing all that at WSMD, including that aforementioned rebranding effort.

“We have a really established presence within our customer base, and they know that we do more than metal doors,” she explained. “But the name doesn’t really capture what we do, so we need to change it.”

Also on her to-do list is obtaining status as a woman-owned manufacturing business, a process already underway.

“That will be a huge lift for us,” she said, adding that the company’s application is currently being reviewed, and certification may come in the next few months. “There is a lot of competition in this field, so I do think the certification will help.

“One of the things that made me interested in this company is that it’s been very successful,” she went on. “But I think, I hope, I can take it to the next level.”

And by ‘next level,’ she meant more partnerships and opportunities with institutional clients, again similar to what’s she done at the law firm — opportunities that will hopefully enable her to grow sales and the workforce, currently at nine.

Closing the Deal

Royal told BusinessWest that she’s still involved with her law firm, obviously, and on a number of levels.

But when she leaves her home in Deerfield now, she keeps going past that exit off I-91 that spills onto downtown Northampton and goes another 20 miles down the interstate.

Like her Lenox sign, she’s taken up residence in a new office, this one just off a manufacturing floor, not a conference room filled lined with law books.

But as disparate as those settings may be, they have many things in common, said Royal, adding that, instead of building a strong case for her clients, she’ll now be building one for her doors.

And to borrow a phrase sometimes used in law, this will be — wait for it — an open-and-shut case.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing Sections

Showing Their Metal

Bob LeDuc, seen here with sons Kurt, left, and Eric, started in a chicken coop and has recorded steady growth ever since.

Bob LeDuc, seen here with sons Kurt, left, and Eric, started in a chicken coop and has recorded steady growth ever since.

Bob Leduc says that, in many respects, there’s been a world of change since he affixed his last name to a sheet-metal fabrication company a half-century or so ago.

After all, he got his start in a 20-by-40-foot chicken coop in his backyard, taking some odd jobs and essentially moonlighting to help feed his growing family. Today, the venture he launched, RR LeDuc Corp., is in a state-of-the-art facility on Bobala Road in Holyoke near the West Springfield, and he has established clients ranging from Lockheed Martin to IBM to Whalley Computer Associates. He also has about 50 people working for him, including two of his sons, Eric and Kurt, both serving in vice presidents’ roles.

But looking at things another way, things really haven’t changed a whole lot since the photo on display in the company’s conference room was taken, the one with Bob sporting decidedly early ’70s clothing and a hairstyle to match, an image he finds almost cringeworthy today.

For starters, the 81-year-old not only comes to work every day, he is remarkably hands-on and involved in seemingly everything taking place at the plant — just as he did when he was by himself in the chicken coop, when that assignment was much easier.

More importantly, he noted, business is still being done just like it was back then, with a laser focus on the customer, on being flexible and responsive, and on not only meeting but exceeding expectations, an operating mindset that has created a steady growth curve over five decades.

“One of the keys to staying in business this long is really knowing your customer and partnering with them to meet their needs,” he said while summing up what amounts to his success formula.

Overall, the past 50 years have been marked by evolution and expansion. Indeed, the company that started by fabricating and installing HVAC ductwork and catwalks in Holyoke’s paper and textile mills — usually on weekends when the machines were quiet — now produces a wide range of metal enclosures and other products from a host of business sectors, including defense, communications, medical, electronics, and many others.

“All the cool stuff is on the inside, but we make the skin,” said Eric LeDuc, adding that the company fabricates this skin (enclosures) for everything from computers to ATM machines to portable generators.

For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest talked with the LeDucs on the occasion of their silver anniversary about where this company’s been, and where these two generations of leaders want it to go.

Manufacturing Milestone

The LeDuc company celebrated 50 years in style late last fall.

There was a party on the front lawn featuring a jazz band and catering by the Log Cabin. The invitation list included customers, vendors, a few elected officials, and employees past and present.

Those gathered were marking a half-century in business, a considerable feat in its own right, but they were really celebrating all it took to reach that milestone — entrepreneurship, evolution, persistence, innovation, and teamwork.

Those qualities came through clearly as the LeDucs collectively — one would often pick up where the other left off and fill in needed information — related the story of their first half-century in business.

The chicken coop gets brought up often, because it provides a colorful, down-to-earth start to the story. But it is only the first chapter.

Actually, we probably need to go back a little further, to the Holyoke Trade School, where LeDuc, concentrating on sheet metal, graduated in 1954. He served a four-year apprenticeship with the E.H. Friedrich Co., worked there for a few years, and then worked for a few other firms, including one in New Haven, which he served as supervisor, that specialized in HVAC ductwork.

He built a house in Chicopee, and on the lot was a World War II chicken coop, he told BusinessWest, adding that soon thereafter he began that aforementioned moonlighting.

“I bought some sheet-metal-bending equipment and shearing and welding equipment as well,” he recalled. “After eight hours of work, I’d come home, eat supper, and work until Jack Parr came on.” (That would be 11:30 p.m., for those too young to know that Parr preceded Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight Show).

In that chicken coop, the elder LeDuc mostly handled the HVAC ductwork he had become versed in, and as his workload became more steady, he eventually quit his day job — and soon flew the chicken coop — and moved into a sub-basement in a building on Sargeant Street.

His client list was dominated by the paper and textile mills surrounding him, and for those companies, LeDuc fabricated ductwork and also handled so-called trim work on the paper machines. He soon gained a reputation for quality work and flexibility that enabled him to stay busy.

“I would work for a couple of hours, change clothes, and go out and make sales calls,” he told BusinessWest. “I remember one customer saying, ‘what can you do for us that the people working for us now can’t do?’ I said ‘I can work for straight time on Saturdays and Sundays.’ That raised some eyebrows, but most of their machines were down on the weekend, so that’s when they needed someone.”

The work would evolve over time, involving a shift to working with stainless steel, which required investments in new equipment, and new assignments such as catwalks, guards for machinery, and exhaust hoods.

As the mills closed down or moved south in the ’70s and ’80s, the LeDuc company had to reinvent itself, said Eric, who, like Kurt, essentially grew up in the company, starting on the shop floor and working his way up. And it did, becoming a precision sheet-metal fabricator, essentially a contract manufacturer serving a wide range of clients.

There would be a move from Sargeant Street to Samosett Street in the Flats area, several expansions of the location there, and then a major investment in a new, 60,000-square-foot building on Bobala Road.

In the early ’90s, the company was approached by Atlas Copco about adding powder coating of the casings (skin) LeDuc was manufacturing for its portable generators to its roster of services.

“There was no one in this country that was doing it at that time,” Bob LeDuc recalled, adding that powder coating has become a strong component of the company’s overall roster of services.

Today, the company has a diverse portfolio of clients and an equally diverse portfolio of products it produces for them. And one of the keys to both is a tradition of continually investing in state-of-the-art technology, said Eric, noting that the company has made great strides in automated, or lights-out, manufacturing, as it’s called, because it can be done 24/7, or when the lights are out, at least for employees.

Recent additions to the shop floor, complete with many letters and numbers in their names, include:

• An EMK3610NT CNC punch press with ASR multi-shelf sheet loader, which enables multiple programs to run unassisted 24/7;

• The Astro 100NT automated bending robot, which, as name suggests, is the answer for forming parts unassisted (automated tool changing allows the sequencing of multiple programs);

• The FO 3015NT 4,000-watt laser, capable of cutting steel and aluminum in a wide range of thicknesses; and

• The EM3610NT CNC punch press, which, along with lights-out manufacturing, allows mass production of high-quality parts.

There are many other pieces of equipment on the floor, said Eric, adding that all those numbers and letters add up to flexibility and responsiveness, qualities that have enabled the company to continue to grow its client list over the years.

Shining Examples

There are a few other artifacts in the company’s conference room, including the time-worn ‘RR LeDuc’ sign that hung on the property on Sargeant Street.

It stands as another indicator of just how much things have changed for this company since Bob LeDuc would come back in from the chicken coop in time to watch Jack Parr.

But equally important is what hasn’t changed in all that time — the focus on the customer and forming a partnership with it to meet goals and needs.

That focus has enabled the company to shape opportunities in the same way that it has shaped metal.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Manufacturing Sections

A New Spin

Vince Simonds

Vince Simonds stands by the Truvis V machine with one of the products of the same name.

Over the past century or so, golf balls — and golf-ball history — have been made in Chicopee. Indeed, the sprawling plant on Meadow Street that once bore the name ‘Spalding’ and now ‘Callaway’ has been home to a number of innovations and new products. In recent years, though, that tradition — not to mention the number of workers at the plant — has been in decline. However, a new and exciting golf-ball design is changing the landscape, in all kinds of ways.

They’re calling it the Truvis V.

That’s the name given to a large, sophisticated piece of machinery recently installed at the sprawling Callaway plant in Chicopee. It was built to carefully place the 12 pentagons that have become the distinctive design pattern for the Truvis golf ball, as well as the Callaway name and the player number, all in accordance with USGA rules and regulations.

This machine is cutting-edge when it comes to such work, said Vince Simonds, senior director of Global Golf Ball Operations for Callaway, adding that it packs as much symbolism as it does science and technology.

Indeed, the Truvis V is perhaps the most visible evidence — except for perhaps the soccer-ball-like product the company has developed — of a compelling turnaround in the history of golf-ball manufacturing in Chicopee.

It’s a long history, to be sure, one that dates back to the late 1800s, but recent chapters have certainly not been as glorious. Decades ago, the talk about this plant was mostly reserved to the tens of millions of golf balls produced there annually. Lately, though, it’s been about the dwindling numbers of men and women working inside; decades ago, more than 1,000 people were employed at the plant, and only a few years ago that number dipped below the century mark.

It’s now at or near 200 and steadily climbing, and there were essentially two catalysts for that growth. The first was the arrival of Chip Brewer as the company’s president and CEO in 2012, a move that energized Callaway in many ways, Simonds noted. The second was the development of the Chrome Soft golf ball, or the “ball that changed the ball,” as the company says in its marketing materials.

This became the ball that essentially changed the fortunes of the Chicopee plant as well, Simonds went on, adding that the product has helped Callaway become the number-two ballmaker in the world (well behind the leader, Titleist), and it has also spurred those growing employment numbers in Chicopee.

The ‘Made in Chicopee’ banner at the Callaway plant

The ‘Made in Chicopee’ banner at the Callaway plant has new meaning these days.

And the Truvis model of the Chrome Soft is a very big part of this improved and still-changing picture.

It is still relatively new — it’s been on the market for a few years now — and no one on the PGA Tour is using it yet (more on that later), although Tom Watson is using it on the Champions Tour for players over age 50. But it is certainly catching on among amateurs.

As the name implies, the ball’s claim to fame is that is it is easier to see and enables players to focus better. The product has won some supporters among older players, said Dan Gomez, director of Golf Ball Supply Chain at the Chicopee operation, and among the younger clientele as well, who see is as a break from golf’s staid (some would say stuffy) image.

“It’s something new and different, and some would argue that’s just what’s needed in golf right now,” said Simonds.

The response has been so good that Callaway is having a hard time keeping up with demand. In fact, it isn’t keeping up.

“We’re capacity-constrained right now,”Gomez said with a laugh. “We’ve been sold out on this product for two years; everything we make goes right out — we can’t make enough of them.”

This development explains the Truvis V, but also the fact that space has cleared on the production floor for several more of these machines, and the company plans to add 30 to 40 more workers to operate them.

Indeed, Callaway is quite convinced that the strong interest in the Truvis ball does not represent a fad, like colored golf balls were when first introduced 40 years ago, but rather a business it can build on for years to come. And it is investing heavily in new equipment and plant reconfiguration.

It is also taking very necessary steps to ensure that it will have workers to staff those machines in the years to come. Like all manufacturers, Callaway is having a difficult time finding qualified help, and it is forging (that’s an industry term) relationships with area technical schools to help create a better pipeline.

Part of this relationship building involves tours — officials at Springfield Technical Community College recently visited, for example — designed to impress upon schools and the young people they educate that golf-ball making is alive and well in Chicopee.

And that’s something that really couldn’t have been said just a few years ago.

Round Numbers

Speaking of history, there is quite a bit of it on display, literally, in a row of cases in the hallway leading from the executive offices to the main production floor at the Callaway plant.

There’s more than two centuries of golf-ball technology and product developments behind the glass, including a reproduction of a ‘feathery,’ an 18th-century product that, as the name might suggest, was essentially leather-covered feathers. There’s also some gutta percha balls, or ‘gutties,’ as they were called — products used in the 1800s that were made from dried gum resin from guttiferous trees — as well as dozens of balls from the 20th and 21st centuries with the Spalding name on them, as well as those of several subsidiaries acquired over the years.

There’s even a ball that commemorates the historic moon shot, or moon golf shot, taken by Alan Shepard during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. (Simonds said there is some ambiguity as to just which brand of ball Shepard used for his famous lunar 6-iron, but he signed a promotional deal with Spalding soon after his return from that mission.)

Dan Gomez, left, and Vince Simonds show off some of the Chrome Soft products that have changed the dynamic at the Chicopee plant.

Dan Gomez, left, and Vince Simonds show off some of the Chrome Soft products that have changed the dynamic at the Chicopee plant.

Further down the hall, there is another display case. Its top rows are currently populated with a number of variations on the Truvis theme — meaning a host of color schemes and a few speciality balls, such as one produced for Australian pro Mark Leishman that has the shape of Australia printed inside the pentagons.

There are rows of empty racks waiting to be filled, as well as the confidence that they will be — something that probably didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Indeed, as he talked about Callaway’s acquisition of Spalding’s assets, including the Chicopee plant, in 2003, Simonds said the ensuing years were certainly not what the leaders at that company hoped they would be.

The company’s consistently sluggish performance in the golf-ball business was coupled with the fact that it was overcapitalized — actually, way overcapitalized — especially with regard to the sprawling Chicopee plant, which was much too big for the company’s needs.

Out of necessity, Callaway downsized and rightsized, said Simonds, adding that it sold the Chicopee plant and is currently leasing back roughly 275,000 square feet, maybe one-quarter the footprint of the original facility.

The rightsizing coincided with Brewer’s arrival as president and CEO of the company and the introduction of new products, especially the Chrome Soft, which is essentially technology that enables lower-compression golf balls to perform as well as higher-compression balls years ago.

These developments led to a dramatic increase in market share — from just over 7% in 2013 to more than 14% at present — which has in turn fueled investments in new product development, and especially the Truvis.

Today, the company is making 200,000 to 250,000 balls a day, and the workforce has steadily grown over the past few years to roughly the 200 mark, about a 50% increase, with more hiring planned, primarily in response to the strong early performance of the Truvis.

“It’s been a phenomenal success,” said Simonds, adding quickly that the company has taken steps, patent-wise (from both a manufacturing and design standpoint), in efforts to protect itself from competitors developing something similar, something he believes they’ll try to do.

At present, there are black pentagons on yellow (popular with fans of the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Steelers) and red-on-white options in this country, and a blue-on-white model sold in Japan, he went on, adding that there have been a number of custom orders as well, including green on white for Dick’s Sporting Goods, white on pink for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Mother’s Day, and red maple leaves to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canada.

The response has been so strong — those balls shipped to Canada sold out quickly — that Callaway has mapped out an ambitious, three-year capital expansion plan to produce the balls.

The Truvis V, as noted, is merely the first of many that will be installed at the Chicopee plant.

And this is very specialized, and expensive, equipment.

“This is an involved process,” Simonds explained. “When you think about stamping such a large design on a spherical object … you have to distort the artwork so that it doesn’t look distorted on the ball. And we’ve developed some techniques to purposefully and mathematically distort the artwork so that, when it’s placed on the ball, it looks normal.”

Another challenge will be finding qualified individuals to operate these machines, he said, adding that this is why the company is reaching out to STCC and the technical high schools in the area, with the goal of establishing relationships and putting Callaway back on the radar screen for young people looking for career opportunities.

In the meantime, Callaway officials look forward to the day — and they predict it will come — when a PGA tour regular starts playing the Truvis, a development that would give the ball a huge boost in terms of both exposure and credibility.

“Most of the tour pros have them, and they use them for chipping and practicing,” Simonds explained. “But most PGA tour pros are too traditionalist to put those in play. But I think it will happen someday.”

Growth Patterns

There’s another item of interest on the shop floor to the administrative offices at the Callaway plant.

It’s a large banner hanging from a utility duct that features images of the Chrome Soft ball, with the Truvis product well-represented. Above those images, in large white letters, are the words ‘Made in Chicopee, MA.’

Such banners and such words have been seen at the plant for decades, obviously, but today, there is more meaning behind them, more optimism, and more promise, if you will.

A plant that has made a good deal of golf balls — and a great deal of golf-ball history — is entering a new era in which it will produce more of both.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing Sections

Moving Experience

Company President Carol Campbell shows off new CIC’s new 40-60 Hoist.

Company President Carol Campbell shows off new CIC’s new 40-60 Hoist.

When Chicopee Industrial Contractors (CIC) officially marked a quarter-century in business a few months back, it did so with an elaborate open house at its headquarters in Chicopee.

This meant that a good number of those invited — especially a host of the company’s best customers — had to rely on their car’s navigation systems to get them to the ceremonies.

That’s because, for starters, they’d almost certainly never been there before — and also because this business is not exactly easy to find. Indeed, North Chicopee Street is a dead-end road in the northwest corner of the city, not far from Route 391. Meanwhile, the company’s facility is a somewhat non-descript building, with its claim to fame being that it housed Hampden Brewing Co., maker of Hampden Ale, decades ago.

Those customers, most all of them manufacturers — although there are some other sectors in the mix, including area municipalities — don’t come to CIC, because it comes to them, specializing, as it does, in rigging, heavy lifting, machinery moving, machine installation, millwrighting, machine repair, plant relocations, and more.

Once they found the place, open-house attendees could see that the company boasts a large inventory of equipment, space to store machinery for some customers, a training room where employees hone both technical and soft skills (more on that later), and even a large picture of the property with the Hampden Brewery sign on the roof.

Most of the guests probably won’t be back until there’s another round-number anniversary, said Carol Campbell, the company’s energetic president and CEO, who told BusinessWest that she’s marking her anniversary, in part, with steps and strategic planning to ensure that there are such occasions.

“We’ve done some looking back at where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished,” she said of anniversary celebrations that officially began in February. “But we’re really looking ahead to what we need to do as a company. We want to be here in another 25 years.

“And what we really need to do is build on our strengths, and there any many of those,” she went on, “while also making ourselves more versatile and better-equipped to take on more kinds of jobs.”

There is much that goes into that phrase ‘better-equipped,’ including initiatives such as the company’s most recent acquisition, a 40/60 Hoist, as it’s called. The numbers reflect the fact that can handle loads of 40,000 to 60,000 pounds, and Hoist is both the name of the manufacturer and a description of what it does.

The machinery was acquired to give CIC more flexibility and the ability to work more efficiently, said Campbell, adding that it’s a solid investment in the company’s future.

As are other measures that fall into that category of being ‘better equipped,’ such as the many training programs carried out in a classroom carved out of space on the building’s second floor and other efforts to build and strengthen the CIC team.

“What makes CIC unique is that this is a group of individuals, brought together by skills, that believe in the company,” she told BusinessWest. “And they not only believe in our mission and our vision — they believe in CIC. It’s not ‘Carol Campbell’s company,’ it’s CIC, and that became apparent at our open house.”

The new piece of wall art at Chicopee Industrial Contractors tells a compelling story.

The new piece of wall art at Chicopee Industrial Contractors tells a compelling story.

But while Campbell said the 25th anniversary was a chance for her to thank customers such as Lenox, Smith & Wesson, Olympic Manufacturing, and others, as well as that team she talked about in such glowing terms, that second constituency turned the tables and thanked her with a gift.

This was a sculpture of sorts — a collection of the various tools of this trade (turnbuckles, chains, wrenches, and even a bottle opener as a nod to the building’s past as a brewery) welded into something approximating the number ‘25.’

Now holding down a prominent piece of wall space at CIC headquarters, the artwork is symbolic in that those tools, and employees’ mastery of them, made ‘25’ possible. This is a success formula that Campbell won’t be changing — but she may add some new ingredients to ensure that higher numbers can be reached.

Weighty Matters

As she talks about economic cycles, and especially downturns, both modest and severe, Campbell does so with tremendous recall and attention to detail.

Most people who have a business within the construction sector or who have a customer base dominated by manufacturers have such ability, and for good reason. Those are sectors that are among the most vulnerable to recessions, and, as noted, CIC is tied to both.

So she speaks from experience, and lots of it, when she says her business is what she calls a ‘lagger.’ That’s not a real word, but one nonetheless often used to describe a business that lags behind others when a recession hits. And that’s because there’s work to do soon after the economy turns south.

For CIC, that work translates into handling assignments for companies that are downsizing — or worse, as in closing their doors.

After work of this nature is done, then the recession hits for CIC. Which means that, while the phones stopped ringing at most businesses just a few hours after the planes struck the Twin Towers on 9/11, they didn’t really stop ringing at CIC until several months later. And it was the same later in the decade; while 2008, the height of the Great Recession, was the year of doom for most businesses, it was 2009 for CIC.

But while the declines come later, they are still profound, said Campbell, adding that one of her goals as she looks at what’s ahead for CIC is to reduce the impact of such declines, or, in other words, make the ups and downs (or at the least the downs) less dramatic.

This will be difficult, given the nature of the customer base and the general portfolio of products and services, but initiatives such as the new 40/60 Hoist will certainly help, she said.

In the meantime, the company will look to make itself more of a force when the economy is doing relatively well. And this involves sticking to the playbook first drafted in 1992, the one that enabled that sculpture to take the shape it did, and making the team carrying out those plays even stronger.

Elaborating, Campbell said one of her priorities moving forward is securing leadership for the future — at all levels.

“As we’ve brought new employees on from 10 years ago and 12 years ago, and even some of the more recent additions from the past few years, we’ve trained them to take leadership roles,” she explained. “So as we say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ to our senior staff, leadership can be transferred to that younger generation.”

And while developing leadership abilities, the company is continually building upon the skills of its team members, one of the keys to its ongoing success, Campbell noted, adding that this was one of the matters she’s stressed to employees as the company has marked 25 years in business.

“I told them that we got here by continuing to sharpen our skills, whether it be our technical skills or our soft skills,” she said, while noting that the latter, which involves team interaction with customers, is just as important as the former. “This has certainly served us well, and we will continue on that path.”

One of the biggest challenges the company faces moving forward is securing enough talented workers to handle the various types of assignments CIC undertakes.

Campbell said she has struggled for many years now to build the workforce when expansion was possible and needed, and like almost every owner of a manufacturing company or contractor, she’s concerned about the prospect of replacing those workers who will retire in the years to come.

“It’s definitely been a challenge — for us, and for everyone,” she told BusinessWest, adding quickly that the generally frustrating search for talent is not exactly stifling the company’s growth efforts, and it’s certainly not keeping CIC from taking on work. But it is a concern moving forward, and one of the many matters to address as the company ponders what the next 25 can and should be like.

Carrying the Load

As she posed for a few pictures around and on the 40/60 Hoist, Campbell looked ready to put it through its paces.

But she’ll leave that to her talented, experienced crews.

Instead, she’ll continue to do what she’s done from the start — manage, do some selling, build relationships, be active within the community and, most important, set a tone for the company she founded.

That would be a tone of continuous improvement and performing well as a team — something her father, Vic Fusia, who coached the UMass Amherst football team in the ’60s, would certainly appreciate.

Those attributes are responsible for the sculpture now gracing the hallway of the old brewery in Chicopee, and they’re the ones that will carry the company to new milestones — and moving experiences of all kinds.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]