By: Harrison Connery, Republican-American
Photos by: Jim Shannon, Republican-American
THOMASTON — Ward Leonard Electric Company has invested $2.2 million in its Watertown Road facility to bring work to Connecticut from overseas while adding at least 20 jobs.
The manufacturing firm on Jan. 1 finished a 7,200-square-foot addition to its production floor and upgrading machinery. Founded over 125 years ago, Ward Leonard provides highly engineered motors, controls and other components for military, energy and heavy industry customers around the world.
“There are a lot of small parts that we make that we have outsourced. Now we can begin to insource all of that,” said Lee Kennedy, quality director. “The more we can do in-house, the better we are and the more we can respond to the military, cost and speed, and that’s a big issue.”
Central to the project, which included renovations to the existing manufacturing space, is a $1.3 million DMG 5 axis CNC machining center that has increased productivity 90 percent and broadened the firm’s capabilities to the tune of insourcing 537 items per year – 200 from Taiwan and the other 337 from various locations in the U.S.
Towering over the room and emitting a foghornlike sound every few seconds carbide appendages coated in titanium nitride whittled a massive steel slab sitting on a rotating pedestal inside the CNC machine into precise parts Monday.
The unit in two hours is capable of turning 400 pounds of steel into thousands of precisely cut chips, each measuring an inch in length and weighing mere ounces.
The chips will become components in motors and controls used by the military. Designs for the chips are uploaded from a nearby computer, technicians explained Monday morning to a group of executives and Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, D-5th District.
As the steel slab is rotated, it is doused in a waterfall of lubricant made of water, anti-rust products and oils. The machine can hold 123 tools at once, technicians need only to place different tool heads on fitted bases, a process that takes a few seconds. Technicians had to manually switch out tool heads every time a new tool was needed on the old machines, some of which dated back to the 1940s. The new machine replaced 15 pieces of equipment.
Esty said investments like Ward Leonard’s are important to U.S. competitiveness and national security.
The project was funded in part from a Department of Economic and Community Development loan of $900,000 issued at 3.25 percent interest for a ten year term. Half of the loan is forgivable if the company retains all of its current jobs, creates 20 new jobs by the end of 2019 and maintains them all for 24 months.
Ward Leonard President Michael Clute said the company has hired 10 new employees and would likely continue expanding its workforce at a rate of 10 per year.
The manufacturing facility employs 100 employees and the offices, which span another 15,000 square-feet, employ another 40 people.
The company also added a new CMM machine which is larger and more powerful than the one the company already owned, allowing more precise measurements of the components created in the CNC machine.
The defense industry has grown steadily in Connecticut over the past 18 years. In 2000, Connecticut-based defense contractors were awarded 2,213 contracts worth $3.7 billion; last year, over 10,700 contracts were given to local contractors worth $14.4 billion, according to the federal government. The government reports that between 2000 and 2016, over $170.5 billion contacting dollars were paid to 3,296 companies in the state.
Courtesy of the Waterbury-Republican