Ashley Mellen remembers when the impact of her family business hit home. She was at Boston University, where she had two degrees in chemistry, and introduced herself to a professor.
“He said: Mellen? Are you Mellen from the Mellen Company? ” she said. It was a real ego trip, admits the young man of 27, now vice-president of the firm.
The Mellen Co. Inc. has been in the Concord area since the 1960s, but don’t be ashamed if you don’t recognize the name. I only learned about it this summer when I was going through a list of crown enterprises that were awarded federal contracts. I saw a mysterious Concord company receiving $ 47,195 for the National Institute of Standards’ Crystal Growth System, which led me to mutter, “What is this?”
This is what it is about: Designing and building very high temperature furnaces for specialized processes used in industrial manufacturing but also in research, which is why the BU professor was familiar with the brand.
The ovens are “basically just a big resistor,” Mellen said. They pass a lot of electricity (up to 15,000 watts) through wires until they heat up enough insulation inside, often ceramic, so that the outside can be touched even at maximum power.
The resulting heat causes phase changes – melting or other atomic dances – in crystals, metals or polymers or whatever the customer works with, as needed in a variety of industrial applications.
The company’s specialty is making specialty ovens, some as small as a joke version called the “Coke can” oven, others big enough that they have to be broken into pieces for shipping, often overseas, for as little as $ 2,000 and as little as as much as six figures. They have more than 50 different oven lines, 12 of which are standardized and the others can be personalized.
“Our bread and butter go up to around 1,350 ° C, but we also sell up to 2,800 ° C,” Mellen said. (That’s roughly 2,500 to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit for us non-metrics.) “Our competitive advantage is that a customer can say I have a 10 inch (item) and I have one. need at 1200 C – can you do it? And we create a customer design from that. … We can make a hexagonal oven, a star shape if we want.
The company was founded on State Street in Concord in 1966 by Mellen’s grandfather, Bob, who developed a new high temperature furnace for growing crystals. During processing, the crystal must often be given different temperatures at different places along the sample and at different times. This had been done by physically moving the sample in the oven, or by moving the oven around the sample, but Mellen developed a system called an electrodynamic gradient to do this without moving anything. This technology is still a centerpiece of the company’s activity.
The company has moved or expanded several times since then, first to the Webster site on Battle Street where it still operates, and then by building the Concord factory on Chennell Drive.
Mellen Co. inc. is part of a part of New Hampshire’s economy that is invisible to most of us: the hundreds of small, specialized manufacturing companies that are tucked away in industrial parks or redeveloped warehouses. Few of them are big enough to be noticed, but overall they are important. New Hampshire has nearly three times as many jobs in manufacturing as it does in construction, mining and logging combined.
About 25 of those jobs, or so, are in the two factories of Mellen Co. Inc. where production has generally recovered from the effects of closures related to the pandemic.
They are real manufacturing plants, not just assembly plants. They take raw materials like sheets and spools of wire and do all the cutting, bending, welding, forming and painting. The equipment in the factories ranges from 3D printers for prototyping and manufacturing small components to a punch press the size of my first apartment.
Looking at a large oven being prepared for shipping, the only thing Mellen could see that they weren’t making in-house were the locking latches. “Over the years, we have found that this is the only way to ensure quality control,” she said.
Five decades of family ownership has other advantages. Ovens have a long lifespan, so it’s common for customers to need to work on models that haven’t been manufactured for years, which is less of a problem than it looks.
“We haven’t made any model obsolete. We can recover hand-drawn diagrams, ”she said. “We had a system sent to rehab that shipped in 1983 – it was very cool to see. We found some sketches in a file but had to rework them. Our methods are updated, but they are constantly updated.
The Mellen Co. Inc. is a classic, multi-generational family business: Jon Mellen, son of the founder, is CEO and his wife, Daniela, has been involved in things like writing textbooks. “At the holiday dinner mom has to end the work talk,” he said.
The company’s third-generation manager, Ashley Mellen, has been going to factories since she was little.
“People here have watched me grow up over the years. Some have worked here longer than I am alive, ”she said.
COO Lisa Walter has been with the company for 24 years and smiled fondly when asked about the early days of the current vice president of the company.
Ashley Mellen says she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to go into the business, hence the chemistry degrees instead of an obvious path like mechanical engineering, and that she had no pressure from the community. family to do it. But she says the job is satisfying and fun not just because of what he does every day, but in finding new markets.
A potential new market, said Walter, is “smart clothing,” which weaves threads into fabric to enable everything from heating and communication to controlling posture. Creating special yarns for such products might require special ovens.
(David Brooks can be reached at (603) 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)