Emigsville, Pa. — Tom Baughman knows the value of apprenticeships. He spent two years after high school learning the sheet metal trade, and he earned a tool and die apprenticeship in 1974.
That experience started him on a path to build New Concept Technology Inc., a successful injection molding company that invests heavily in training and technology.
"Our No. 1 priority is the continued development of our associates. With technology advancing at such a fast pace, it is imperative we offer our associates the tools and training to stay at the front," Baughman said.
At the beginning of his career, Baughman was a toolmaker specializing in high-speed stamping and machine building. In 1985, after 10 years at Amphenol Corp., he founded a company in his basement called New Concept Machine & Tool.
In 1986, the company started reel-to-reel continuous overmolding, a specialized process that it still does today. For a time, the company claimed to be the largest custom reel-to-reel insert molder in the country.
In 1987, Dale Kurtz and Wayne Schuchart, both toolmakers specializing in injection molding, joined the company. They moved into a 25,000-square-foot facility in York, Pa., and began offering stamping, molding and assembly.
In 1999, the company was sold to Connector Service Corp. Baughman stayed on as corporate engineering manager. CSC decided to divest the business 15 years later, and Baughman bought back the facility and renamed it New Concept Technology.
Along the way he picked up sales, finance and management skills. But Baughman was always an advocate for apprenticeship training. New Concept even donated a 5,000-square-foot training center in its Emigsville headquarters to be used by the Manufacturers' Association, a group formed to meet the workforce needs of south central Pennsylvania employers.
The association offers regular classes at the facility, including to other plastics companies. Some New Concept managers are also instructors.
"It's not just generosity," said Don Hubbard, New Concept's senior operations manager. "As manufacturing started to come back, there wasn't enough skilled labor to go along with the increases. A classroom and a hands-on environment is needed to properly train workers."
New Concept Technology invests about $250,000 per apprentice over a five-year period in wages, benefits, books and classroom training.
"It is an investment in the future of the company," Chief Financial Officer Frank Musso said.
New Concept today is based in an impressive-looking 200,000-square-foot building in Emigsville, which is about 25 miles south of Harrisburg. The company opened a second facility, in Hermosillo, Mexico, in 2011.
The company continues to grow, specializing in modules and connectors for the automotive sector and device components for the medical sector. The company has about 285 employees and posted 2019 sales of $32 million. It has 70 molding machines, 15 stamping presses and 20 automated assembly cells.
New Concept's automation is cutting edge. Kevin Wishard, the company's engineering manager, said the goal is simple: zero defects.
"We are taking advantage of the greatly reduced robotics cost to develop automated assembly cells for even the simplest of products," Baughman said.
"The labor force will continue to be strained, and we are responding by elevating our associates into technology-driven processes. We are also focusing on modular cells that can be quickly changed over and utilized on future projects," he said.
"Our goal is to have more value-add and less operator involvement," Don Chaisson, global sales manager, said.
Baughman said New Concept's ideal customer is one in the automotive or medical industries that is continually developing new products. Its ideal project is one that includes stamping, molding and assembly and a yearly production value of less than $1 million.
"We have a very positive business outlook, both short and long term," Baughman said. Having plants in both the United States and Mexico is "a definite advantage, giving our customers both cost and logistics incentives."
The senior leadership team includes Hubbard, Musso, Chaisson, Wishard, Chief Operating Officer Scott Strickler and Molding Manager Brendon Sprenkle. The team believes New Concept's 35 years of experience in the electronics/telecommunication industry has it well positioned for a transition into more automotive and medical work.
"We have a defined five-year business plan that doubles our revenue while improving profitability and continually strengthens our technology advantage," Baughman said.
The company works to keep its trained staff through benefit packages including employee stock ownership and a 401(k). Other key elements include cross training and career development opportunities, promotion from within and a family feel to the work environment.
Baughman still enjoys the fast-moving technology of plastics injection molding, as well as the opportunity to work with intelligent, skilled colleagues.
"I have always enjoyed my job both as a toolmaker and today as a company owner/CEO. The challenges are great and the rewards even greater," he said.