Cold War era manufacturer uses technology to compete
By Michael McCord
New Hampshire Business Review, June 16, 2000
Reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Business Review
Located near a sedate residential neighborhood in Hampton, Brazonics Inc. represents in a microcosm how a small, mostly obscure, manufacturing company can transform itself into a global leader by immersing itself in information age technology.
Brazonics has been producing what is known in the thermal management industry as complex heat exchangers, cold walls chassises and enclosures for military, aerospace and commercial markets since 1960. The products are vital in keeping easily overheated computer or electronic systems at correct temperatures in jet aircraft, cell phone towers and experimental fuel cell automobiles, to name just a few of their many applications.
Brazonics began mostly as a creation of the Cold War, one of the thousands of small firms that supplied the Defense Department with tens of thousands of components. It also was a mostly simple manufacturing facility that did build-to-print dip brazing, but little else.
(Brazing is a metal-joining process that employs the interatomic attraction between two pieces of metal to form a bond that approaches parent metal strength. This is accomplished by "wetting" the joining metals with molten metal, which on cooling forms the joint. Brazing differs from welding in that it is conducted at a temperature of more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit -- and in welding, the base metals to be joined are molten at the moment of joining.)
Dale Jessick, senior vice president of business development at the firm, explains that the company began transforming itself during the past decade. The main motivations were a decline in military spending and an intensely competitive marketplace that arose to meet the demand for more thermal management products brought on by the explosive technological growth in all sectors of the economy -- including Brazonics, which has grown into a full-service design, manufacturing and specification testing company.
As late as 1994, when Jessick joined the company, he says that up to 80 percent of Brazonics' work was military-related. (For instance, in its heyday, Brazonics produced more than 1,000 Trident missile guidance control heat exchangers for the U.S. Navy.) Today, there is almost an even division among three segments commercial (telecommunications, medical and automated test equipment), military and commercial aerospace. The firm employs more than 100 workers at its 35,000-square-foot facility, which overlooks a large salt marsh area at the end of Tide Mill Road in Hampton. [94 Tide Mill Road]
Revenues climbed to more than $25 million last year, and "we are exceeding our planned growth of 10 percent annually," Jessick says.
Brazonics also has transformed its corporate identity by acquiring within the past two years Performance Metal Fabricators of Elk Grove, Ill., and American Avionic Technologies of Medford, N.Y. (The three companies fall under the corporate umbrella name of the privately held Thermal Solutions Inc.)
Using technology widely
Jessick said one of the main reasons behind the company's ability to grow during the past five years has been the speed and affordability of data transmission, which has transformed almost every Brazonics department, from finance and design to quality assurance and marketing.
"We've seen tremendous growth in customer contacts and inquiries via the Internet," Jessick says. "And e-mail has proven to be a valuable communication tool at all levels with our clients and between our employees."
Brazonics employees routinely communicate with customers via modem and electronic data transfer, 4-mm data tape, IGES files and other media. Communication also is accomplished via Brazonics' FTP site, which can be accessed through its Web page.
Brazonics also is linked into the Thomas Register, which is the main manufacturing registry.
What this means in practical terms is the latest in computer-aided design in mechanical, thermal and system engineering and computer-aided manufacturing on the production side, which saves time and money in terms of material planning (aluminum is king in this industry) and product cycles.
"This is a necessary component in an increasingly competitive marketplace. We have been able to cut down by one-third our design and production cycles. These are very complex shapes and tolerances, especially with military electronic packaging," Jessick says.
On the business side, Brazonics states in its promotional material that it is "our goal to achieve a paper-less work environment." To that end, it relies heavily on paper-less invoice processes, bar-coded shipping, electronic data interchanges and e-commerce.
Jessick is in charge of finding new markets, both domestically and internationally -- the company does most of its business in the United States, though it does have a steady client in the Israeli military. Jessick is planning to boost advertising and markets, with a focus on making the company's Web site (www.brazonics.com) even more helpful.
One dilemma that Brazonics shares with many firms is a labor shortage. "Yes, we have difficulty finding the right help. You can't find good brazers hanging around on the street," says Jessick.