Saturday, February 25, 2012

Precision Valley

Have you ever driven through Milford on Route 101 and wondered about the building with welded-scrap-metal dinosaurs and a banner that reads "Let us keep on rocking in the free world"?  Well, that is Hollis Line Machine Company.  What they mean by rocking in the free world is to keep manufacturing jobs in America.

Hollis Line is a huge place with cranes in the ceiling to move around massive pieces of metal.  There are large sheets of metal to feed through rollers and make into cylinders.  They have milling/lathe machines to make individual parts.  At welding stations, it is all assembled together into a single product, which is then sprayed with aluminum and fired in a 2300 degree oven.

Timothy Gregory was nice enough to show me around.  I saw some of the finished pieces.  They were on their way to Korea, to be installed in furnaces.  The furnaces make synthetic crystal and sapphire, used in semi-conductors and shatter-proof glass.

The Korean companies export most of these synthetic materials back to the US.  I mentioned that it makes a nice loop.  Tim corrected me, saying that the work should stay in this country.  I pressed him to elaborate.  Why did the jobs leave?  Who sent them to foreign countries?  I was fishing for a villain but alas, the world is not so simple.  "You have no idea how hard it is to survive in this industry," he replied.

I also had no idea about New Hampshire's nearly two-hundred year history as a pioneer in the machine tool industry.  Today, it still has a worldwide reputation as a leader.  I went to Hollis Line to learn more about the history, because it houses a display by artist and machinist Patryc Wiggins.  She has done a lot of research and interviewed numerous machinists to tell this untold story.

On the left, there are many examples of what has been manufactured in New Hampshire over the years, from golf clubs to missile parts to door locks.  On the right is a wax mold, which is dipped several times into ceramic.  The wax is then melted out and the mold filled with molten metal.

Keene is home to the machine industry as well.  Markem makes printers to label products.  And several firms manufacture optical products.  This precision work, using diamond-turning machines, is quite a bit different from what I saw in Milford.

Once it opens for the season, I am going to have to visit the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vermont!

Update: link to CNN article on professional machinists.

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