The next time you watch the dial on your car’s speedometer spin or enjoy your favorite band’s concert lightshow, take a moment to thank Fraen.
The Massachusetts-based plastic component manufacturer has all but cornered the market on plastic needles and motors for speedometers and other dashboard staples, and they’re now strong players in the LED lighting space. A company with a proud, nearly 100-year history, Fraen has kept its growth up during the recession and the uncertainty that followed it.
That pride strikes a visitor before he or she even steps onto the floor in the labyrinth-like Reading, Massachusetts office, or takes in the huge open space and assembly-line machinery in the Wilmington plant. At both facilities, you can’t help but be struck by the incredible speed and precision of the machines, and by the total concentration of the workers as they assist in the semi- and fully-automated stations to inspect for quality, and prepare them for packaging and shipping.
It’s remarkable for outsiders to see familiar components being produced, and it’s almost impossible to conceive of the true volume of output. For the men and women of Fraen, it’s a way of life.
“Innovation, Automation, Precision” is the company’s motto, and it’s one that Fraen lives and breathes.
You can see it in the way they are constantly developing new products for the industries they serve, a client list full of heavyweight names like Ford, Toyota, Phillips Lighting and Osram Sylvania. You can see it in the jaw-dropping array of machines and robotics that allows Fraen to produce thousands of components a day. And you can see it in the microscopic precision of these components, which cannot have a single flaw lest they be relegated to the recycling bin. Fraen Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Custom Manufacturing Division Kenneth Donahue told me that the performance for an LED optic may be affected as much as 30-40% by even a minor manufacturing flaw hardly visible to the naked eye.
“We’re proud of what we’re doing,” Donahue told us.
Donahue and CEO Nic Scarfo know every inch of their plant, pointing out a speedometer pointer for a Ford Fusion being produced. According to Donahue, pointers are “assembled partly by automation, partly manually” and many of the facility’s machines run around the clock. The company’s engineers, who Donahue called “the backbone of the operation,” are constantly tuning the company’s shiniest new machines and the aging but still useful ones to get as much productivity as possible out of them.
They’re also proud of the way they’ve managed to “build global partnerships,” as Scarfo puts it. “Fraen does business internationally and leverages both customer and supplier relationships to ultimately bring long-term value to the consumers in the industries we serve.”
Scarfo told us that Fraen is well positioned to grow, and he should know. He and Donahue have worked at the company for nearly 50 years between them, and Donahue’s father was a longtime Director of Engineering at Fraen. They’ve seen the company grow, and they can see further growth in its post-recession future.
Much of that growth will likely come in the field of plastic LED lenses and optics, as we’ll see in the next post.
Photo credit to iStock