Categories
Keene New Hampshire Local Industry

ABtech: 20 Years of Independent Production

By Hunter Sanborn

ABtech is a high tech manufacturing firm based in Fitzwiliam NH. “Pride in Precision” is the mantra Ken Abbot (Owner) and his team adhere too at ABtech. They create hyper precise air-bearing and aerostatic machines for a variety of purposes, most of which is developed in house to accommodate customer requirements. In other words, they’re a precision metrology firm; they create systems that other firms use to measure parts and components.

ABtech’s headquarters in Fitzwilliam. They’ve been in the business for about 22 years and moved from Swanzey to Fitzwilliam in 2018.

Quality Over Quantity & Hardship

Ken Abbot is the current owner of ABtech and has a background in mechanical engineering. Employing around 22 people, ABtech is really a tight knit community. Ken often comes on the floor to assist with work himself. As he says, “I like the hands on work.” Which is one of the reasons Ken keeps the company so small. Based on what I experienced over at ABtech, I can say that Ken Abbot is a man who truly cares about his employees and the work that’s done at ABtech.

Many of Abtech’s workers are people with many years of experience. Whether that experience is accumulated at ABtech or at other firms, all of them are extremely good with their hands, as the machinery requires a delicate and precise touch in many instances. I thought of them as sort of artisans of metal and machine parts. One of the current projects Ken and his team are working on is a film that would be used to replace solid lenses. Something that requires extreme precision.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that ABtech sources many of it’s material from “local” sources (New Hampshire and wider New England area) and emphasizes face to face conversations with those they have business dealings with. One of the many things that Ken gets locally is the Granite bases to many of the Air bearing machines as well as many of their other products. Granite makes an amazing stable platform for these machines. Luckily for ABtech, they’ve decided to set up shop in the Granite state!

In a fairly recent layoff Ken had this to say about the people he had to let go (paraphrasing a bit), “It was really painful. I want to provide stability for my employees, but with the recent decline of Boeing there was really no other choice.” Boeing has been one of ABtech’s most consistent customers for years. One of ABtechs machines made for boeing 777X was the EAS3000-2T, which was developed alongside GE for the 777X. However, despite this long standing relationship with Boeing, the recent problems with many of their planes has resulted in a lack of orders from the company. This decline in sales is ultimately what resulted in the layoff at ABtech. Though it’s important to mention that they were well compensated in their severances and Ken says he would love to have them back on as soon as he can.

On a brighter note, ABtech is still thriving and as innovative as ever. Mr. Abbot has a son who is very interested in continuing the family business and is currently working in the shop to gain some experience. ABtech will be here for a long time to come and will continue to innovate and provide quality in an industry that is saturated with many big names that will never be able to match the same kind of service and quality seen at this small, but independent firm, in Fitzwilliam NH.

Categories
Keene New Hampshire Local Industry

The Janos Tech Experience

By Hunter Sanborn

Janos Technology LLC. is a high-tech optics firm, dealing specifically with Infrared lenses and assemblies that are designed with extraordinary precision (down to the angstrom on each lens). This is achieved through their various DTM–Diamond Turning Machines–high quality workers, and other high-tech machinery. Janos has contracts commercially, militarily, and from their parent company: Fluke. Most of these products are designed to the specifications of their clients. In the case of the military, Janos would often be asked to create lenses for infrared night-goggles. However, custom optics are always an option at their firm as well, whether that be commercially or militarily.

Janos Technology was originally founded in Vermont 1970, but moved to Keene NH upon it’s aqusition by Fluke. The Picture above is Janos’ current location here in Keene.

Expectations vs. Reality

When Janos was first described to me, I kind of expected it to be a sort of large factory with somewhere in the realm of 150 people working inside. However, I was surprised to find that the building itself was fairly small (though very respectable and well put together) and that only about 70 people worked at Janos. This, I think, gave it more of a specialized feel; one of quality. Indeed, throughout our tour of the building, two words came to mind often: flexibility and quality

Janos is filled with the latest in high-tech CNC–Computer Numerical Control–& DMT machines, but still has a relic from the past which they claim is just as effective as it’s always been. An old lens crafting machine that requires manual use and an experienced hand (the name of this machine escapes me). Optical Technicians work with hands on lens polishing and cutting equipment that requires a delicate hand and years of experience. In fact, Janos only employs two thirty year veterans of the machines, as they’re the only ones who have the experience and knowledge to operate the machines. When I asked our tour guide whether he thought that these types of machines and workers would be something that Janos, and firms like it, would like to keep around, he responded by saying, “yes.” He continued, “The kind of work these technicians do is very useful for the company, especially when we need to do custom orders that aren’t programmed in the machines. They allow us to be more flexible in our designs.” Now I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this is the spirit of what was said. I also asked if he thought many other firms like Janos would use the same older tech and he said, again, “yes” for essentially the same reason Janos would want to keep them: flexibility of design.

Despite the high-tech nature of the firm, its seems many of Janos’ employees have no more than their high-school diploma. It was very surprising when our guide informed us that most of the work done at Janos was learned on the job. I was pretty blown away; how could such precision crafting be done without some background in engineering or computer science? The answer is surprisingly uncomplicated: the operators themselves, well, operate the machines. They don’t do the high-level programming and designing of the software, they’re the inputters of said designs and programs (at least that is my understanding of it). The old machines mentioned in the previous blocks are entirely unrelated to computers and are operated exclusively by human beings. The fact that those machines are operated exclusively by thirty years veterans should speak for itself.

Janos is an impressive gem of a firm here in Keene. In an era where manufacturing has declined significantly, Janos stands firm and successful. The Connecticut River Valley is, I’m sure, proud to have such an impressive and high quality manufacturer carry on the legacy of industries past.