welding system, all dedicated to one customer. All
of this was arranged as a factory-within-a-factory in
that empty 40,000 sq. ;. of NSA’s machining facility.
This all happened during the spring of 2016, after which more jobs came in the door—eating up
space. Then in August an opportunity arose to buy
New Hampshire Precision Metal Fabricators in Londonderry, N.H., a deal that did not include the fabricator’s existing facility. “We knew we needed to
absorb the new company into our existing plants,”
This worked well for the short term, but it also
consumed all the remaining available space. A;er
working with a local nonprofit, NSA found Groveton,
N.H., an old paper mill town 45 minutes away with
empty and available facilities and an underemployed population.
NSA leased 72,000 sq. ;. in Groveton and moved
the entire factory-within-a-factory there. Managers
also have plans to add other products from other
customers to that facility, increasing capacity as
demand dictates. And today NSA again has space
available in Vermont for future expansion.
Why did NSA purchase the New Hampshire fabricator in the first place? In a phrase, the customer base.
“Organic growth is di;icult,” Smith said.
Industry data backs up this claim. According to the
2016 “Financial Ratios & Operational Benchmarking
Survey” from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, a typical fabricator’s new customers provide only 6 percent of overall sales. It takes time for
a new customer to turn into a major account.
Smith added that organic growth has always
been on the table; it just takes time. To diversify its
revenue streams, NSA has launched several product
lines of its own, including Carts Vermont (carts for
residential lawn care) and the Driveway Groomer™
for smoothing out gravel driveways and parking
lots, a common practice in rural Vermont.
But potential for more organic growth in custom
manufacturing is there. NSA serves a small geographic area, considering the company’s size. Its
customers are in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Compared to New
England as a whole, northern Vermont has a relatively low cost of doing business.
“Our structure makes us very competitive,” Smith
said, adding that the company’s location may help
reduce shipping costs for potential clients outside
of New England. “All sorts of freight is trying to get
into New England, but not much leaving.”
That said, more acquisitions may well be in NSA’s
future, considering the number of small family-run
fabricators and machine shops in the region with
owners getting ready to retire.
“We’ve seen opportunities, a lot of them beginning with strategic partnerships,” Smith said.
If a problem arises, be it capacity-related or otherwise, NSA has a network of area shops that can
take on the work, and vice versa. In recent years,
some (though certainly not all) of those strategic
partnerships have led to acquisition opportunities,
including the most recent one in New Hampshire.
Selling both extensive fabrication and machining
capabilities presents certain opportunities. For instance, a recent job required cut tubes to have holes
drilled to a tight tolerance. Today NSA has moved
those jobs to its tube laser, which cuts the holes to
well within specified tolerances.
“Sending the tube to milling extended our lead
time by a week or more,” Smith said. “Now it comes
o; the laser and can be welded [to other components in the subassembly] that same day.”
NSA cross trains heavily within and between departments. For a high-product-mix operation, it’s a
necessity. And o;line programming so;ware (like
3-D CAM simulation so;ware) makes cross-training
easier. Every morning each department in each facility has a meeting to talk about where the bottlenecks are. To relieve those bottlenecks, machinists
visit the fabrication shop and fabricators visit the
Cross-training also brings about opportunities for
people wanting a change to their daily routine. For
instance, when NSA landed a large fabrication job
with its own lean assembly cell, six machinists were
transferred to help launch the new assembly line.
At this writing, three of the six have remained in an
assembly function. “They didn’t want to go back to
machining,” Smith said. “They’re still on the assembly line.”
Part of its $13 million capital expansion over the past year, NSA has added A robotic welding trunnion cell.
NSA invested in solid-state laser cutting in 2012, becoming an early adopter of the technology in the region.