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Lisbon company thrives on leading edge of technology

By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent

August 20. 2017 11:16PM
The headquarters of New England Wire Technologies in Lisbon, shown here on Aug. 16, merge the present with the past as the modern entryway leads into the original plant built in 1898. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

LISBON — From the ocean to the moon and from the minutely small to the monstrously large, New England Wire Technologies continues to quietly put its imprint on many facets of life.

New England Electrical Works Inc. was founded to make magnet wire for the telephone industry in 1898. That year the company became the first commercial manufacturer in the U.S. of Litz wire, which is used in high-frequency inductors and transformers, inverters, communication equipment, ultrasonic equipment, sonar equipment, television and radio equipment and induction-heating equipment.

Starting with a handful of employees, New England Wire now has some 400 who work three shifts five days a week in multiple buildings that occupy nearly 400,000 square feet of space in downtown Lisbon. A third of the privately-held company is owned by employees through a stock plan.

New England Wire, as it is familiarly known, is the largest employer in Lisbon and among the largest in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. Subsidiaries include New England Catheter, which is also based here, as well as Bay Associates Wire Technologies in Fremont, Calif., and Santa Ana, Mexico.

While it is one of many manufacturers of wire — thin, flexible metal thread used to send or receive electricity or electrical signals — New England Wire is different from competitors in that it’s vertically integrated, said its president Tom White, something which improves product quality and results in a faster delivery time to customers.

Wire can be made to a customer’s specifications or designed in-house by New England Wire’s engineering team. Using proprietary equipment and tooling, the design can be brought to life through wire drawing, plating, braid, cabling and extrusion services.

New England Wire’s products have been used in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, noted Bob Meserve, a vice president who came to the company from Bell Labs more than 50 years ago, and they have been used in the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Hadron collider at CERN, and are being used in the ITER nuclear fusion project.

According to ITER.org, ITER is “the world's largest fusion experiment” whose goal is to “prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.”

Thirty-five nations are involved in building the reactor in southern France as part of ITER. New England Wire is the lone American cable supplier to the project, a distinction of which the company is proud. But it’s also something it takes in stride because customized applications are its stock and trade.

Technology innovation

In addition to its experience in space, New England Wire was a pioneer in computers.

In the 1970s, the company made miniature, highly-flexible cables for both hard-disk and floppy-disk storage of the first IBM personal computers.

The world’s first reusable orbiter, the Space Shuttle Columbia, flew with New England Wire products in its manual guidance system and OMEGA, an early effort at global communications using a network of submarine cables, is still doing so.

A member of the New Hampshire Aerospace & Defense Export Consortium, New England Wire in 2016 received the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Export Achievement Award for expanding its international trade presence in collaboration with the Department and U.S. Commercial Service.

Customers, who are found in 50 different countries, are king at New England Wire and their identities, in nearly all cases, are kept confidential.

The company makes products for military and aerospace applications, alternative power, audio and video, communication and control, industrial, medical electronics, scientific research, windings and through New England Catheter it makes medical tubing and braiding.

During a recent interview with New England Wire’s leadership team, White credited the company’s success to its employees, many of whom include families that have worked there for generations.

Kelly MacKay, the director of sales, said the future is bright for New England Wire, noting that the New England Catheter division “has a distinct advantage” and is well positioned for growth because it is entirely in-house and therefore enjoys the same soup-to-nuts capability of its corporate parent.

New England Wire is further defining the word “miniature,” with White noting that “smaller” will be the next big thing, everywhere, which again, bodes well for the company.

The width of an average human hair is about three one-thousandths of an inch. New England Wire regularly produces wire that is two one-thousandths of an inch and as small as one two-thousandth of an inch. The company can then insulate and cable that wire to meet a customer’s specific needs, imparting or removing performance qualities from an extensive list of choices. 

Selling customers on New England Wire can be challenging, said MacKay, because the company “isn’t selling products off the shelf,” but instead is selling its design and manufacturing abilities.

Sales are good, though. The company declined to disclose annual sales and revenues.

“We’re kind of a one-stop shop,” said Wendell Jesseman, the chairman of New England Wire, who with Meserve created the employee-stock plan in 1985 and has worked at the company for 61 years.

White said New England Wire doesn’t just wait for customers to find the well-beaten path to its door, but tries to anticipate where the opportunities are and will be by meeting and talking with scientists at various conferences.

“We want to know what the new, emerging technologies are,” said White, “what are the needs.”

What those technologies are or will be is still unknown, White said, but what is clear is that “miniaturization is the future.”

Jesseman added that New England Wire and its subsidiaries intend to be there: “We want to continue to be leaders in new and evolving technologies.”


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