Versatility equals success
Little Laconia machine shop's work has long reach
Kim Baron, president of Baron Machine Co. in Laconia, shows off a part the company made for Osram, a lighting manufacturer. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)
LACONIA - The precision creations made by workers at Baron Machine Co. are integrated into a wide array of products.
Within the past several years, the company has made parts to help produce a satellite, solar panels, Black Hawk helicopters and the F-35 jet fighter, to name a few.
"That's the only thing that's kept my interest for all these years," president Kim Baron said last week.
Technology has come a long way since 1957, when Kim's father, Roger, formed the company.
"You had to be a better machinist back then," the president said. "You had to take a piece of steel in your hand and finish a part. Now, it's programmed. They're almost more operators than machinists."
That isn't meant as a knock against his workers or the profession, he said. It's just how computer-programmed machines have changed the industry.
"If either my father or my uncles or some of the employees when I was a little kid, if they ever came back to life and saw what this business is like today, they would think they were looking at 'Star Wars,'" said Baron, who's worked at the company for 43 years.
Precision work means often getting things accurate to several ten-thousandths of an inch.About 30 percent of its sales are military-related, working with other companies that directly supply the federal government.
"Knowing our guys are going to be flying with some of this stuff, you want to make damn sure everything they wanted and asked for is done - and to perfection," he said.Not that they know exactly what the part will be used for in the F-35 fighter.
"They'll call something like this a piston (block). You just don't know what part of the aircraft it goes to," said Kim Baron's son, Jeremy, the company's vice president. "They don't tell you what it's actually for."
The company also makes bearings for the rotors on Black Hawk helicopters.
"You realize some of the parts are going into the Black Hawk helicopter," Kim Baron said. "There's a little piece of pride that pops out."
Company officials are keeping an eye on the federal budget sequestration, which has meant a slowdown in defense spending.
"I think it's going to affect us," Kim Baron said. "Who knows how much?"
And the company is trying to keep its workforce to less than 50, to avoid some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Not everything the company makes in its 35,000 square feet in the O'Shea Industrial Park is destined for the military. Other work has helped the production of Thomas' English muffins and Russell Stover candies.
Mary Crowley, senior buyer at Chemineer's facility in North Andover, Mass., said she has been doing business with Baron Machine for 27 years. The Laconia company makes parts for high-shear, high-speed mixers used for commercial purposes and also does some assembly work.
"I think they're a nice family-run machine shop," she said. "I get on-time delivery. ... They bend over backwards."
Another Baron Machine client, who makes measuring equipment, looks to Baron to produce an aluminum bracket. Twelve-foot metal bars are cut into 3.25-inch lengths that later become brackets of just less than 3 inches long, according to Jeremy Baron.
But some things go sky-high, such as the six pieces, which sort of resemble a waffle iron, used in a satellite and fashioned out of magnesium at a cost of $4,000 a piece.
In 2008, the company announced a large order involving the renewable energy industry. The contract, from GT Advanched Technologies in Merrimack, was worth millions.
Baron Machine made almost the entire machine that manufactured the material to make the solar panel. That work eventually went to China.
Workers can work on several parts on several machines in a week's time.
"You're not making that golf tee day in and day out," Jeremy Baron said.
The family company's secret to success comes from thinking for the long term.
"I think like any small business being around as long as we have, I think you have to be diligent and flexible," Kim Baron said.
NH Highland Games to celebrate 40 years
Old Man of the Mountain project winds down
NH crews back from Calif. wildfires
'Hike Safe' card called a success in NH
Teen's death is 2nd in 4 days
Old Man of the Mountain project winds down