Are high tech and tradition mutually exclusive? “Certainly not!” says Brian Hayes. After all, that is the basis of American cutlery manufacturer Lamson & Goodnow’s success.
If you ask Brian Hayes how traditional values can be combined with a modern corporate strategy, he flashes a roguish smile. “Really there’s no difference. Our present strategy is also based on traditional values,” he says. “Our goal remains the same: We want to produce the best quality — hand-finished goods at fair prices, that the consumer will have as an heirloom piece.
The tradition lives on with each knife that is sold.” Hayes knows what he is talking about. The history of the American knife and cutlery manufacturer Lamson & Goodnow, which he has headed as president since 2009, covers an impressive 176 years. And the combination of traditional and modern manufacturing makes it a success story right up to the present day.
An energy source dating back to 1837
Everyone visiting the company in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, sees that tradition can be kept very much alive. Departing Interstate 91, the route follows the Mohawk Trail through the forests of New England. Then you arrive, at the headquarters of Lamson & Goodnow directly on the Deerfield River, to a welcome from retriever Sadie Rose — and are transported back into the 19th century. Even today, knives and cutlery leave the same production shops as when the company was founded in 1837. “The forefathers of our company had tremendous foresight and originally used the power of the Deerfield River to run our equipment. The water was diverted right through the center of our factory and under the buildings to power the water wheels,” as Hayes explains the choice of location both then and now.
The company has remained true to that principle, merely replacing the wooden water wheel with a hydro power plant in 1910. That plant still provides the electric power required today. A glance into the production shop provides the proof. There you see machines which have over a hundred years of service behind them. They are used, for example, to grind the knives. The old equipment is tried and tested, and easy to operate, says Hayes. “It is important for me to remember our heritage, focus on fine tuning our hi-tech aspect while maintaining our hand-made products,” he emphasizes. “We work with modern lasers, robots and CNC grinders, while descendants of Lamson craftsmen still assemble and finish all our products by hand.”
Traditional manufacturing plus laser
Reflecting that mixture, the TruLaser 1030 fiber 2D laser cutting machine stands out among the traditional machinery and systems — nevertheless fitting in perfectly with the manufacturing structure. “We use the solid- state laser machine for all the parts we cut: all the cutlery contours and the cutouts where we subsequently fasten the handles. The batch sizes mostly range between 10 and 10,000 pieces,” the company’s president explains. “We process stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper and titanium.”
Until the first laser cutting machine from TRUMPF, a TruLaser 2525, was purchased in 1999, Lamson stamped out the parts. Hayes therefore regards the adoption of laser technology as one of the most important milestones in the company’s development. “That gave us a great competitive advantage and we were able to modify the geometries simply, rapidly and cheaply — even for small series.” But in August 2011, the Deerfield River burst its banks and destroyed large parts of the production facilities — including the TruLaser 2525. Lamson & Goodnow had to close down for several months.
Hayes was all the happier when he was able to restart production with one of the first TruLaser 1030 fiber machines manufactured by TRUMPF. The high speed and flexibility tipped the scales in favor of the solid-state laser. “We mainly cut steel between between 0.8 and five millimeters in thickness. That is where the machine excels. In addition, we now have the capability to cut non-ferrous metals with the laser, too.”
Around 40 steps are necessary to turn a steel blank into a knife ready for dispatch: from cutting, grinding and inspecting the blade, through sizing and buffing the wooden handle, to fitting the parts together, deburring, polishing and inspecting each individual knife. Right at the end, Lamson & Goodnow engraves the company logo on the blade using a TruMark Station 5000.
Many of the steps on the way to the high quality knife are still performed by hand. “The precision cutting, heat treatment, grinding, polishing and handle making are done by machines,” Hayes explains. “All other functions are done by hand.” That makes him and his team particularly proud — and gives Lamson a competitive edge over its global competition.
“While many items look similar at arm’s length, we like to think that it is worth putting a bit more care and attention into the details, fit, and finish of each item,” he emphasizes. “There are certain things that robots can’t do: They can’t feel, they can’t see, they can’t compensate for variations in the materials.”
Knowing what customers want
And the materials, especially, have seen considerable changes. Special steels and woods, raw materials for hand-made handles, and new requirements for use in the kitchen — Lamson has had to respond to these. “And learn how to process these materials to get the best out of them,” says Hayes.
Design has also become a greater part of what customers want in their kitchen. “Being involved in the market and understanding what the consumer really needs is important. Continual improvement, continual progress, continual research about materials and processes are key.”
The customers — both professional chefs and amateur cooks — appreciate that. Lamson supplies wholesalers, online shops and outlets, and is also a major OEM for other sales channels that value products made in the USA. And how do the customers react to innovations like laser-marked logos on hand-made knives? “Our customers want that and they love it,” Hayes says. “Tradition and modern machinery? That’s a perfect fit,” he adds with a laugh.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in autumn 2013.