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Meeting the manufacturing challenge: Laconia manufacturing company finds export success measured at one ten-thousandth of an inch.

"There's nothing like taking a chance," said Mark St. Gelais, president of Stamping Technologies Inc.--"trying something you normally wouldn't do. Taking on a challenge."

Since 1989, when many American manufacturers had already caved to foreign competitors or moved their operations overseas, Stamping Technologies has prospered by serving a niche market with a knack for innovation and attention to detail. St. Gelais, who began stamping, machining, milling and fibricating metals as a 13-year-old in the family firm, brings 40 years of experience to the business he has shepherded from an 1,800-square foot shop to a 10,500square foot facility in the Lakes Business Park in Laconia, with 23 employees, where everyone goes by their lust name,

Stamping Technologies, St. Gelais explained, specializes in manufacturing "metal micro-electronic packages," primarily for defense contractors, but also for the aerospace and communications industries. Think of the plastic boxes that house the computer chips and circuit boards that increasingly control motor vehicles and household appliances. St. Celais said military and aerospace applications require metal, which can withstand extreme pressures and temperatures. "When somebody fires a missile they'd like for it to go off," he said.

St. Celais reached into a desk drawer, fishing out what could have passed for a square, metal ashtray with fluted sides followed by the same component, finished to the specifications of the customer. The material is kovar, an alloy of nickel, cobalt and iron, compatible with the thermal expansion characteristics of heat-resistant glass used in semiconductors and microelectronics. Kovar currently fetches $30 a pound. St Gelais said that a typical order for 1,000 pieces could require $17,000 worth of kovar.

"Mistakes are very costly," he said.

Dipping back into the drawer St. Gelais came up with a small, flat rectangular piece of machined metal, on which electronic circuitry was mounted. "That opens the door to a Boeing 747," he said.

Next he had what appeared like a miniature picture flame, a little more than an inch square" milled and machined, which filled with a sapphire compound formed part of a thermal imaging sight that would be mounted on an M-16 rifle. "We ship them to BAE Systems, and a month later they're in Iraq or Afghanistan" St Gelais said.

Stamping Technologies, St. Gelais said, works to tolerances of plus or minus one ten-thousandth of an inch, which is eight times smaller than a single strand of human hair. Each and every item is inspected by 30x microscope. If imperfections, most commonly burrs or raised edges on machined parts, are found, the entire batch may be discarded.

To achieve such exacting standards, the firm uses the most sophisticated machinery, including half a dozen "computer numerically controlled"--or CNC--milling machines and what St. Gelais called "a lot of real smart guys." A product may pass through more than a dozen distinct processes before it is finished.

'Meat of the business'

Stamping Technologies recently won its lust export contract For two years, Schott Glass AG, a German manufacturer of industrial glass products, had searched for a firm to make a housing for fiber-optic systems. When St. Gelais learned of the problem, he immediately offered to bid on the project.

St. Gelais explained that the firm quotes a blueprint provided by the customer. The quote includes the price of designing and fashioning the tool or die required to manufacture the item, a process that may take 250 to 300 hours.

"The tools are the meat of the business," he said. Made from blocks of hardened steel, tools, each bearing a number corresponding to the job it was crafted to perform, line racks in the plant. Along with the price of tooling, the quote also includes the prices for making the actual item.

"We gave Schott a quote," said St. Gelais, "and got an order for 250 pieces. But they wanted them in four weeks. Four weeks to build the tool, make the part and ship.

"We shipped 25 pieces a few days early," he said, smiling, "and looked like heroes to those people." The performance earned the company a second order for 1,000 pieces and a third for 5,000, which will be worth $250,000.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen toured Stamping Technologies after learning of its success in an overseas market.

St. Celais said that during the 1990s the telecommunications industry represented a major share of his firm's market. Around the sum of the century, when the dot-com bubble burst, he said that "our business was cut in half and it took us three years to recover." Since then, revenues have grown between 5 percent and 10 percent a year to reach $3 million annually.

Apart from firms in Germany and New Jersey, Stamping Technologies has no competitors--outside of Asia, where a Japanese firm controls the market. "We can't compete in Asia," St. Gelais said, "but we can be very competitive in European markets."

This article originally appeared in the Laconia Daily Sun.
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Title Annotation:MANUFACTURING; Stamping Technologies Inc
Author:Kitch, Michael
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Mar 11, 2011
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