World of connection: The first in a new series

Evolution of an industry

Region’s precision manufacturing dates back to mid-century wartime

  • Graphicast employees are hard at work completing products that will be distributed all over the world.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Graphicast employees are hard at work completing products that will be distributed all over the world.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pictured above are metal products from Graphicast in the cooling stage. Once they have cooled, the edges will be trimmed down to the product's precise finish.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Pictured above are metal products from Graphicast in the cooling stage. Once they have cooled, the edges will be trimmed down to the product's precise finish.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Graphicast President Val Zanchuk takes a look at a manufactured product before it goes into the final stages of completion.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Graphicast President Val Zanchuk takes a look at a manufactured product before it goes into the final stages of completion.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Graphicast, a manufacturing company based in Jaffrey, molds precision metal parts that are shipped globally.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Graphicast, a manufacturing company based in Jaffrey, molds precision metal parts that are shipped globally.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Inside the Graphicast manufacturing warehouse on Knight Street in Jaffrey employees mold precision metal parts that are distributed all over the world.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Inside the Graphicast manufacturing warehouse on Knight Street in Jaffrey employees mold precision metal parts that are distributed all over the world.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Graphicast President and principal owner Val Zanchuk shows off some of his company's products at the Graphicast manufacturing building on Knight Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Graphicast President and principal owner Val Zanchuk shows off some of his company's products at the Graphicast manufacturing building on Knight Street in Jaffrey.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Graphicast President and principal owner Val Zanchuk shows off some of his company's products at the Graphicast manufacturing building on Knight Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Graphicast President and principal owner Val Zanchuk shows off some of his company's products at the Graphicast manufacturing building on Knight Street in Jaffrey.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Graphicast employees are hard at work completing products that will be distributed all over the world.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Pictured above are metal products from Graphicast in the cooling stage. Once they have cooled, the edges will be trimmed down to the product's precise finish.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Graphicast President Val Zanchuk takes a look at a manufactured product before it goes into the final stages of completion.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Graphicast, a manufacturing company based in Jaffrey, molds precision metal parts that are shipped globally.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Inside the Graphicast manufacturing warehouse on Knight Street in Jaffrey employees mold precision metal parts that are distributed all over the world.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Graphicast President and principal owner Val Zanchuk shows off some of his company's products at the Graphicast manufacturing building on Knight Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Graphicast President and principal owner Val Zanchuk shows off some of his company's products at the Graphicast manufacturing building on Knight Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

This is the first article in an occasional series looking at the Monadnock region’s manufacturing industry and its evolution over time. The series will focus on area companies that have found a home in the region, and that manufacture products for a pool of customers that goes beyond the borders of southern New Hampshire. In understanding how these companies fit in the broader landscape of manufacturing, a clearer picture emerges of their role in our local, state and national economies.

The region’s manufacturing business is perpetually dependent on the state of the economy and is often repetitive in its specialized production areas. But for Val Zanchuk, president and principal owner of Graphicast Inc. in Jaffrey, the manufacturing business is absolutely vital.

Zanchuk wants people to know the manufacturing business is not dying. In fact, the industry if far from dead.

The manufacturing industry commands much of the southwestern portion of New Hampshire, and has for decades. Dating back to the mid-1900s, a time of war in America, the Connecticut River Valley became a hotbed for manufacturing companies thanks in part to its proximity to the Springfield Armory, a major weapons supplier.

The parts comprising anything from weapons to machines were in high demand, and the need for precision manufacturing led to a booming creation of suppliers. Zanchuk calls the area the “Silicon Valley of its day.”

“‘Precision Valley’ is more appropriate,” Zanchuk says in an interview Thursday at Graphicast.

And with all of the mills along the Connecticut River, precision manufacturing kept the machines well-fed with necessary parts.

As time went on and technology advanced, the manufacturing industry has developed along with it. The image of assembly line workers piecing together a product while sweat pours and dirt and grime sticks to skin no longer applies.

“We’re trying to get people to stop thinking manufacturing is gross and dirty,” Zanchuk said.

The need for precision still applies, but the industry is not as laborious and time-consuming as it used to be. For example, Graphicast, which has made precision metal parts from graphite mold castings for original equipment manufacturers since the 1970s, produces thousands of pieces each day with the help of high-tech machines and precision-trained workers.

Zanchuk said the manufacturing that exists in the southwest portion of New Hampshire is known for making highly valued products that takes highly skilled work. But he and a handful of others in the region have set out to show students at area schools that making these precision products is not a skill that needs to be inborn. It takes is dedication and a willingness to try to make it in the industry.

There are a number of reason Zanchuk wants to make an effort to teach people in the region the importance of maintaining the manufacturing industry, and among them is the need to keep residents in the area working and contributing to the economy.

That is why he and other area manufacturers are trying to plan school visits to emphasize the fact that there are great job opportunities here in the Monadnock region for those interested in going into precision manufacturing.

On average, manufacturing and high-tech salaried positions earn the highest salaries in the state. Manufacturing salaries in the U.S. average more than $70,000 a year and the manufacturing segment of the economy is no longer declining, according to Donna Marcin, the human resources manager for New Hampshire Ball Bearings in Peterborough. Minimum starting pay at NHBB is just under $11 an hour. Engineers at the company earn between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, and highly skilled technicians can eventually earn between $40,000 and $60,000 annually. The company also pays incentives for those working on second or third shift and will pay tuition for workers seeking advanced training.

Zanchuk said he’s noticing that engineering departments at New Hampshire universities are growing in terms of enrollment each year, which is a promising statistic. He said that people are realizing they can get jobs in state manufacturing.

Zanchuk said there are more 40- to 50-person operations in the area than there are larger ones, like New Hampshire Ball Bearings, which had a staffing level of about 750 people in February with plans to add 50 more employees .

One of the dangers of the industry, though, is business relocation.

“If companies can’t find workers in the area, they’ll look elsewhere to expand,” Zanchuk said. “Companies in the area need that feedstock from Monadnock high schools.”

Employing 28 people, Graphicast is a smaller operation compared to other businesses in the region. Zanchuk said a number of his employees have worked at other nearby manufacturing locations; he also takes pride in having two sets of brothers and two father-son teams working for him.

“That says something about the quality work environment here, and it speaks for how well we treat out people,” Zanchuk said.

Graphicast was founded in 1978 by Les Bunch, a man who was interested in starting his own company using a zinc alloy to fashion parts. Originally the company was based in New Ipswich, but later moved to Peterborough and then to Jaffrey, where it currently operates.

Zanchuk purchased a majority of the company and took over as president in July 2001 — a few months before 9/11, which was followed by a recession in manufacturing. He said it took the company three to four years to recover.

Graphicast is a vendor, Zanchuk said, which means they produce their materials and ship them off to other manufacturers who use them to assemble products. And those metal parts from Graphicast go all over the world.

“We export everything, and not a lot of it actually goes to companies in New Hampshire,” Zanchuk said.

Graphicast’s products are used in a variety of different settings. For example, Graphicast produces roller supports for production mail machines, front panels for 911-communications consoles, cases for video imaging systems and gas regulator clamps, among a variety of other parts.

“The parts made here are like building blocks to something else,” Zanchuk said.

Social media and trade shows play a large part in getting the company exposure. Between Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, trade shows and Graphicast’s website, the company doesn’t need to be located in or near a major metropolitan area to get work.

Zanchuk said the company has high-speed Internet for file transfers, and ships its products largely through UPS, rather than by air, railroad or water. “I know how much we can grow before we need to start getting new machinery and expanding,” Zanchuk said. “There will be an expansion in about five years if things keep up.”

The prospects for staying in the Monadnock region are strong, he said, because everything the company needs to thrive is right here. And the efforts of area companies to build and maintain interest will be crucial.

“We have everything we need to maintain competitiveness,” Zanchuk said. “This area still has that base of precision manufacturing in its blood, and we want to keep that going. It’s a unique quality that doesn’t exist everywhere.”

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