By Stefan Yablonski
Canfield Machine & Tool in Fulton is getting bigger, while its work remains small — minute even.
Chris Canfield, co-owner, said he is expanding and investing in the company.
He recently spent about $300,000 on new equipment that will make the company more efficient and quicker to respond to orders it receives.
Canfield also said the company is considering a large parcel of land next to its current shop for future expansion. The deal is not closed yet, but he said they’re analyzing the purchase.
He co-owns the business with his brother, John.
Canfield Machine was started by their late father, Doug, in 1967 — in his garage.
Canfield Machine & Tool LLC, located at 121 Howard Road, manufactures precision milled, turned and electrical discharge machining parts for the inspection, medical lighting, measurement and control, microwave filter and fiber optic industries. Many of the parts they work on are hard to see with just the naked eye.
Sarah Canfield, John’s daughter, explained how she checks the quality of products by using a machine that magnifies the image and displays its findings.
She lines it up in the proper spot on the viewer, the lens comes down and the results are shown on another computer screen. A green OK means it is OK. A yellow OK means it’s not perfect, but still OK. If something is wrong, a message in red appears.
“It’s very time consuming on some of these parts. You can’t be aggressive with the tools — you’ll fail,” Chris Canfield said.
Back about 20 years ago, one of their customers said they wanted Canfield to learn how to do a specific part.
“They were having a hard time trying to find anyone who did it,” he said. “So we worked and worked trying to get the process down to be able to do it. Most people don’t want to do it because it’s like nasty. But when you learn how to do it … anything is easy when you know how to do it. You keep doing it — figure it out better and better.”
The business employs about 40 workers.
“We are looking to acquire 3.5 acres behind our current site. It won’t be this year — we are investing in some new equipment,” Canfield added.
They don’t want to proceed too quickly, he explained, but hope to get the land this year so they have things in place.
Down the road it would be added onto their existing facility, he said.
“The land right now is just brush. It’s owned by Operation Oswego County. We’re in negotiations with them; they already agreed on the sale. We’re going through the process now,” Canfield said. “Operation Oswego County has been great to work with; they have been very supportive.”
When they expand, add new equipment, they can “easily add a dozen people,” he said.
They’ll do over time — because the equipment is extremely expensive.
“We know what can happen if you have too much debt and there’s a slowdown. So we’re being really conservative,” Canfield said.
“In 1975 we built the building here. We’ve had three major additions. It’s about 25,000 square feet now, but we’re kind of full,” said Chris’ brother, John Canfield.
“We had a building permit to put on a 3,000 square foot addition. But we decided that probably wouldn’t get us very far; so that’s why we are looking at the 3.5 acres,” Chris said. “We held off on the addition and we put the funds we had for that toward upgrading our facility and getting more efficient. That’s really what we’ve been doing for the last quite a number of years. We’re trying to stay as efficient as possible so we can keep good prices for our customers.”
In the beginning
“In 1967, it was in my parents’ garage — from ‘67 to ’84,” John said. “All the small stuff could not be made back then . It was all manual machines. He did not do nearly as complicated parts. He had to do everything by hand. He worked for General Electric for 15 years.”
In 1967, GE in Liverpool finished a big government contract and they were laying off a lot of people — Doug Canfield was one of them.
“They offered him a job down in Huntsville, Alabama. They flew him down there to look at the area. But he didn’t really feel like he wanted to move,” John said. “He had already started to get a little bit of equipment in his garage. So he contacted people … looked in the newspapers to see who was advertising for machinists and he contacted them. He said ‘I have some equipment — can I bid on some jobs?’ That’s how it all started.”