Laser processing shop to expand

Windsor, Conn. – Gary Francoeur is a focused person, a good description for a guy who runs a laser precision micromachining contract processing shop. This is not my word, "focused"; it was used by at least two of his supporters, a vice-president of his bank, Connecticut Bank & Trust, and the Director of Economic & Community Development for the town of Suffield. The latter community will be the location of the new 12,000 sq ft facility to be built by Francoeur for his company, Arcor Laser Services, currently located in Windsor.

That’s Gary, president of Arcor Laser Service third from the left in the photo, as ground was broken on May 21 for the new plant. I congratulated Gary on his courage in proceeding with the new building, given the uncertainty of the times. It turns out, he said, that his current facility, less than 10 miles away, is too small for the amount of laser equipment needed to handle his growing business. And available space next door, while sized for his expansion, has too many owner- and local government-imposed limitations that made the option too costly. The new building in Suffield will cost Arcor the same as they would pay an expanded lease in Windsor. Still, breaking ground for a costly expansion just as the economy is beginning to rebound is a gutsy move, but his banker, the town of Suffield, and state politicians applaud the move.

Later, I toured the Windsor facility and was amazed at how much laser equipment Arcor has squeezed into 6000 sq ft of floor space, with not a square foot wasted. I have visited countless shops across America and this has to be the most used space I have ever seen. Arcor runs 24/6 now and, with its heavy backlog of precision laser processing of medical devices, they are ready to add another 24 hour shift on Sundays, the only way that Gary can handle the workload from this industry, which has carried the company profitably through the depth of the recession.

Francoeur started Arcor more than five years ago after a stint with his brother at another Connecticut shop and his earlier background in electron beam welding. This latter is evident in the work he now takes on from the medical devices sector as much of what was being processed as I toured was originally intended for or could have been done by e-beam before the advent of higher beam quality fiber lasers.

Arcor now operates a dozen solid-state lasers, a mix of diode and lamp-pumped Nd:YAG lasers, and newer fiber lasers. Most of these lasers are fiber delivered, some through beam switching optics from remotely located power supplies tucked into random corners of the many processing labs, for floor space considerations.

Arcor supplies custom laser processing systems for some of its customers and this work is currently being conducted in a back corner of the empty space next door.

Gary admits that the tight laser processing quarters have inhibited his ability to take on more work, which he passes on right now. You can see the look of longing in his eyes for this work, but true to his focus he passes because he knows he can’t do the added work in the space he has. The new building, probably available the first on next year will ease this, and if the markets continue apace has an option to double the building at a later date.

This is a far cry from the cubical he rented from another company when he started Arcor about 7 years ago. There, he personally operated a solid-state laser for processing aerospace components, a unit that still runs in the Windsor facility. This is where he met his banker, who like a lot of small town bankers, is attuned to a person’s ability and promise with a bet on his growth. It paid off for both. Now positioned in the growing markets of aerospace, medical, and alternate energy, Arcor looks to have been a good bet by that banker.

– David A. Belforte

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