From a humble start, J&E Precision Tool continues to grow

  • Scott Dashnaw, a milling machinist, works last week at J&E Precision Tool Inc. in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hard gauging devices rest on a work bench at J & E Precision Tool in Southampton, Wednesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A wire electrical discharge machine cuts metal using copper wire and electricity in deionized water. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Todd Whitaker describes a specialized grinding machine last week at J&E Precision Tool in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wheel hubs rest on shelves at J&E Precision Tool. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

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    Robert "Guido" Gramolini, a CNC milling machinist, works Wednesday at J & E Precision Tool in Southampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Scott Dashnaw, a CNC milling machinist, works Wednesday at J & E Precision Tool in Southampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • James Labrie, co-president of J&E Precision Tool, holds a wheel hub on one of the production floors. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Justin Labrie works on a coordinate measuring machine at J & E Precision Tool in Southampton, Wednesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Daniel Pike uses a CNC Multis, a multi access machine, at J & E Precision Tool in Southampton, Wednesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Gallerani checks features of a component at J&E Precision Tool. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 6/25/2017 5:55:16 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — From intricate parts for satellites and fighter jets to simpler pieces like wheel hubs, J&E Precision Tool Inc. has grown from a small business on a Southampton family farm to a multimillion dollar company.

J&E Precision started in 1979 with two brothers, James and Eugene Labrie, now 55 and 59, in their father’s garage with one Bridgeport milling machine.

Today, J&E, at 107 Valley Road, has grown to 80 employees in a 45,000-square-foot building with about 40 to 45 machines.

James Labrie, also a Southampton Select Board member, said the company works on about 100 parts at a time. Much of its work consists of complex pieces for Department of Defense weapon-release systems.

Averaging annual sales of between $10 million to $20 million — figures that continue to grow — Labrie predicts that J&E will expand to 100 employees over the next year, as well as construct an additional 7,200-square-foot building at its headquarters.

The company is looking to hire machinists and machine operators with about five years experience. Machinists have earned an education at a vocational school or technical college.

“It’s a very busy industry,” he said.

Some of the company’s current work include a piece for the laser detection system on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, numerous parts for F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, components for submarine periscopes and associated electro-optics, and a bomb rack to hold AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs on the MQ-1 Predator drone.

Labrie said highly classified government projects are kept secret from the company. At times, J&E Precision may not even know what they are making.

The company receives designs and models of pieces and its experts brainstorm the most efficient way to construct the part.

“There’s a million ways to make a part,” Labrie said. “We think outside the box.”

And if a project has a DX rating and the delivery is not met, the government has the authority to take over any part of the business to make sure the part gets made.

The Gazette could not take photos of finished pieces due to operational security restrictions.

One machine at J&E burns metal using brass wire and electricity immersed in deionized water. Labrie said it may not sound accurate, but it is. Out of a block of steel, the machine cuts a round hole to a square hole on the other side.

“It’s very, very precise technology,” Labrie said. “The only thing that can hold you back is your imagination.”

When a part gets dull, the machine is designed to automatically replace it, while another machine used for grinding can precisely cut to ten-millionths of an inch.

In the beginning

When the business started in 1979, Labrie was 17 years old and had just graduated Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. He had a love for airplanes and dreamed of making airplane and satellite parts.

“I never expected to be where we are today,” Labrie said.

In the early days of the business, J&E worked on toolmaking and gauges of firearm parts and fixtures for Smith & Wesson, a manufacturer of firearms in Springfield.

The company’s growth took off in the mid-1980s when it started working with computer numerical control, or CNC, machines that enabled it to produce highly precise machine parts.

By the 1990s, about half of the company’s trade included industries with government contracts for manufacturing ship, aircraft and satellite components.

From 2000 to 2010, J&E expanded into the aerospace industry, but also did work for the medical industry. One such project involved building a machine to fill cartridges for inhalers. Labrie said it was important the inhaler was filled very accurately to ensure the right amount of drug was in each cartridge.

Today, J&E operates a selection of CNC equipment, including three-, four- and five-axis milling machines; 10 lathes; and a seven-axis turn-mill.

The company serves customers across the United States in not only the aerospace and defense, but also in the microwave equipment industry, a fast-growing niche market. One project involved creating pieces for a multination radio telescope in Chile.

For the future, Labrie said he hopes to have the additional building running by spring of 2018. He plans to purchase four more machines and hire at least 20 employees by next year.

While the company is looking for those with experience in machining, a few employees started at J&E by sweeping floors before working their way up to operating machinery.

Students from Smith Vocational and Westfield Vocational visit the shop to learn about the field of precision metal work. And some students further their education through a co-op program where they spend one week at the business.


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