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40 Years of HARBEC: Part 4

The fourth segment of this forty year adventure covers 2007 to the present. It started out with one of the most difficult challenges Harbec had to deal with to date. 2007 and 2008 were the most economically challenging years they had ever faced. During this time they saw their business’s financial health fail significantly and while they lost no customers during this period, the customers they did have reduced their orders substantially. The challenging times forced them to cut back, utilize resources carefully and join together to weather the storm. They came out of it stronger and more prepared for the future.

One of the most successful capabilities they have to win the attention of new customer potentials, has proven to be their advanced additive manufacturing technical abilities. In a time when everyone is dabbling in ‘3D printing” they are doing some of the most complex and advanced work that is available in the manufacturing marketplace. Their belief that additive is only part of the answer and that its combination with precision subtractive CNC machining offers the best total solution, is resonating with their customers.

This success is helping them to develop their strategy for future enhancement and growth of the business. Specifically they are working toward the day when all of their toolmakers will be able to think and do both additive and subtractive equally well and so will apply both to accomplishing the production of the ‘best solution’ for their customer. From molds, to models, to precision components, all will be equally involved. The journey will be similar to the advent of CNC machining where some toolmakers decided not to participate and were eventually left behind. Harbec is very fortunate to have the ability and equipment to offer this new path to their toolmakers and as they develop the training opportunities and methods, they will eventually become one of the first ‘manufacturers of the future’.

Another advancement in their capabilities this past decade is in the area of precision CNC machining. They have come to appreciate the significant benefits that 4 and 5 axis CNC machines can offer. Until recently these machines were thought of for their abilities to do machining of complex parts like turbine blades, pump impellers and other parts that required simultaneous multi-axis cutter paths. They now realize that they actually offer much more than just that. Their ability is even greater and more advantageous to Harbec, for reducing the amount of setups required to do more conventional precision parts. They give them the ability to machine a part from multiple sides, therefore requiring many less setups, which offers improved precision overall. Moving forward Harbec will replace 3 axis CNC machines with 4 and 5 axis mills and lathes. This change will offer even more exciting new things for their toolmakers to learn and get involved with.

Harbec’s injection molding department has also made great strides this past decade, from increased utilization of automation to improve quality and reliability, to reduction of waste and improved efficiencies. Their cleanroom capabilities have helped them to become a certified medical molder. Recent developments in transfer molding and the related opportunities in bobbin and component machining have given them exciting new skills and capabilities to help them win new business in the future. Their management of materials and waste has also made great strides and improvement.

During this decade Harbec has continued to progress in the area of sustainable manufacturing, believing that they should be a conscientious manufacturer who takes responsibility for their business and what it causes both directly and indirectly. Typically manufacturers do not pay attention to how they are releasing carbon into the atmosphere, whether they do it directly through onsite chimneys or let the utilities do it for them through the production of their power. To the contrary, Harbec has attained carbon neutrality, which means that the component parts that they make have no carbon footprint. They are currently developing a set of metrics that will allow them to share with any existing or potential customer, the amount of carbon that they reduced from their company’s footprint by buying HARBEC parts. Their hope is that this will be an attribute that they offer, at no additional charge, that their competition does not.

Their most recent improvement in the area of sustainable energy is the completion of their CHP upgrade. In 2014/15 they won a NYSERDA grant to upgrade their CHP plant. While the plant was running fine, the grant allowed them to double their ability to use the energy in the fuel they were consuming even more efficiently as a result of thermal use enhancements. They were able to remove and recycle eight natural gas furnaces, eight 5 ton electric DX air conditioners and two 20 ton rooftop air conditioners, and replaced them with 12 new heat/cool air exchangers. They estimate that this will improve their energy BTU efficiencies to over 80% compared to the average for utility power which is only 25 to 35% efficient.

Harbec’s owner, Bob Bechtold concludes: “The past 40 years have been a great and rewarding experience for me. While they sometimes held challenges and difficulties, they more than equally offered amazing rewards and good fortune. In my life I have been blessed by always knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up and have had the opportunities to pursue that dream. These forty years of progress are due to all the people who have contributed in so many ways, for which I’m eternally grateful. My final challenge is to find a successor who understands what HARBEC is really all about, someone who will use the direction and momentum they have accomplished and take the wheel to drive it even farther into the future.”

 

Here is the complete 40 years of HARBEC series: