There’s a lingering buzz in the air in the workshops of Connecticut manufacturers, with people and machines producing millions of dollars worth of product every day.
Six of those companies received a new kind of buzz this fall, capitalizing on a state matching grant program to bring advanced equipment into their operations.
Accurate Lock and Hardware, Beacon Industries, Burke Aerospace, OKAY Industries, PTA Plastics and Westminster Tool have different goals, but all are betting that technology and innovation will drive growth and competitiveness.
The six each received $ 100,000 in additive manufacturing adoption program matching grants in September through the state’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund.
“Connecticut is the Silicon Valley of advanced manufacturing, outright,” Governor Ned Lamont said in announcing the subsidies, which required companies to match or exceed state investment.
“These grants will help our brilliant manufacturers across the state continue to innovate, building bigger, faster and more complex machines that will propel our state, our country and the world further into the 21st century.”
Colin Cooper, the state’s manufacturing director, said it was “gratifying to see the innovative ways these Connecticut manufacturers are approaching the integration of this emerging technology.”
“This program is an excellent example of using public funds as catalytic capital to stimulate large private sector investments in advanced technologies and create opportunities for economic growth,” he said.
“We’ve done quite a bit over the past 50 years and while a lot of changes are coming in the short term, it’s an ever-changing environment, âsaid Reed Salvatore, CEO of Accurate Lock & Hardware.
The Stamford-based company has a long history of making custom locks and architectural hardware.
One of their lines of business includes locks for large buildings. State capitals, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and even the White House are home to locks made here in Connecticut.
But over time some aspects of the parts wear out.
âOne of the things we’ve always looked to do is find a better, more efficient way to produce this material that matches the originals, but works with today’s modern locking devices,â Salvatore said.
Accurate Lock & Hardware will use the grant to purchase machines that even print highly decorated handles and knobs through an efficient process that maintains high quality.
‘The best of both worlds‘
âWith additive manufacturing we are able to get this type of product, with much better detail, much better quality, and honestly in a much more economical and affordable way,â Salvatore said.
“He actually mixes the best of both worlds.”
Salvatore said the benefit of the grant is the partnership between the state and the chosen company. Each company must correspond with an amount equal to or greater than that invested by the State.
âI think it pushes the two sides to work together to achieve a common goal,â Salvatore said.
In addition to helping with the acquisition of equipment, Reed believes this subsidy is a testament to the state’s support for state manufacturers.
âI think it’s pretty clear that the state has made a commitment to the manufacturers in Connecticut,â Salvatore said. “I think it’s nice to see that, to see them putting their money where their mouth is.”
In the early weeks of the pandemic, Brittany Isherwood knew that Burke Aerospace, a provider of electric shock machining, milling and turning services, would emerge as a different company.
âWe were primarily commercial aerospace,â Isherwood explained, âand that market has changed dramatically.â
Isherwood, president of the family-owned Farmington-based manufacturer, described the change at the Oct. 29 Made in Connecticut: 2021 Manufacturing Summit, hosted by CBIA and its subsidiaries CONNSTEP and ReadyCT.
With the commercial airline industry decimated, Burke quickly made a shift to the military aerospace and industrial gas turbine sectors to keep their business afloat.
But keeping up with both competitors and developments in the manufacturing industry also involved updating the technology. The AMAP grant was the perfect mechanism.
Burke is using the grant, administered by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, to add a high-end metal 3D printer to its line of machines.
Isherwood sees this purchase as an opportunity “not only to produce tooling, but also to start producing parts.”
âWe want to be a major partner of our customers,â Isherwood explained, âand make sure that we are in tune with them, that we meet their needs and that we provide them with additive manufacturingâ.
Product development time will be reduced by 80%. What used to take 12 to 16 weeks will only take one to two weeks with the new technology.
Streamlining this process is “super critical in the small business environment, especially post COVID,” Isherwood noted.
Isherwood also understands the value of a public-private partnership like this.
âWithout this grant, we wouldn’t be able to buy this equipment,â she said.
‘Make a difference’
âI go all over the country and the way you make a difference is with people and technology,â explained Ray Coombs, president of Westminster Tool.
âIf you want to be competitive in the global marketplace, you have to have both. In the state of Connecticut, you get both.
“We have a current administration that understands manufacturing, the importance of what it does to an economy. It’s not just support in dollars, but also with education.”
Westminster Tool participated in conversations with steel 3D printing designer, Mantle Inc., for a few years in an effort to continue Plainfield’s leadership role in the injection molding industry.
âThe ability to print steel with stability, nobody has it, so we think we’ll gain an advantage, as long as we can get it accepted in the market,â Coombs explained.
The company used additive manufacturing to prototype and test parts, but was reluctant to invest in additive technology for steel and metal until it began working with Mantle.
âWhat sets Mantle’s TrueShape machine apart from its competition is that it was designed with mold makers in mind,â said Eddie Graff, Westminster Tool manufacturing engineer.
Westminster Tool ordered the machine using its AMAP grant.
âFor us it helps us in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day we’re trying to solve the challenges for our customers,â Graff explained.
âSo all the ways that we can implement a machine to make ourselves a little more dynamic and solve the challenges of our customers is something that we want to invest heavily in. “
Graff and Coombs both believe that the technology will help speed up the process, increase product quality, reduce cycle times and, for the company as a whole, open up a new market.
Obviously, we are confident this is going to be a game-changer in our market, period, âsaid Coombs. âNot just at regional level, but nationally. “
“Better, faster, cheaper”
New Britain-based OKAY Industries, a leading manufacturer of medical device components and assemblies, is also exploring metal printing through its AMAP grant.
For Ron Zownir, research and development engineer at OKAY Industries, the acquisition of the high-tech 3D printer Rapidia Metal was an exciting project that spanned eight years.
Previous models were more expensive, difficult to use, dangerous, and “didn’t tick the boxes.”
âThis new technology has allowed us to be better, faster and cheaper,â Zownir said. “I’m glad we had the patience to wait for things.”
What makes the 3D printer unique is its water-based metallic paste, which eliminates the complex and dangerous debinding process that a normal 3D printer uses. Zownir said that eliminating the step, along with the overall increase in efficiency, speeds up the printing process.
When printing a prototype, for example, Zownir said the typical delivery time is 12 weeks. With the introduction of this 3D printer, the lead time becomes a week.
Zownir said it will make the return on investment more attractive.
âWinning contracts for production jobs is becoming more and more competitive,â Zownir said. âWith this technology, it allows us to defend our activity by being ahead of other manufacturers. “
OKAY Industries is currently focusing on the development of prototypes that will be used for future product development.
âI think for prototyping it will be a game changer,â Zownir said.
Zownir believes that without the public-private partnership, OKAY Industries might not have taken the plunge to purchase the machines.
âWith new technology like this, there are always risks and uncertainties involved,â Zownir said.
âWith a matching grant, it allowed us to mitigate the risks we faced and allowed this technology to grow. “
Zownir sees a “growth path” as the company uses the new technology in more ways than one, including expanding into metal jet binding down the line.