Elcon Precision, LLC is a California-based photochemical etching and precision assembly provider, formed in San Jose by chemist Anthony Barraco in 1967. Barraco wanted to use chemical milling to make precision components for vacuum tube electronics and began a business from that idea.
Over half a century later, Elcon Precision has become the only ITAR-registered (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) refractory photochemical etching company west of the Rocky Mountains and is the premier etcher in the world with materials like tungsten, titanium, and hafnium.
After Anthony Barraco retired in 2012, the new private equity ownership invested in marketing and quality systems that opened new opportunities for Elcon. Since 2012, the company has added AS9100D quality compliance along with a full enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and a modern web presence. Elcon is an amalgam of many smaller, capable companies operating with full industry compliance in the aerospace sector (AS9100D) and in quality management systems (ISO9001-2015).
On the technical side, during the same period, it has doubled its building electrical power and increased its furnace capacity by 200 percent, added more automated manufacturing and digital x-ray capabilities, and installed the most advanced photolithography tool on the market for imaging metal etched parts.
There are only two types of these imaging machines in the world and they are primarily used to create small features such as vanes, grooves, and holes that are only twenty-five to thirty microns in size. It is a decidedly productive and accurate machine with a high throughput that can image up to forty sheets per hour. Parts are all produced in-house and as quickly as overnight for existing, repeat parts. These changes have vastly improved Elcon’s manufacturing cycle time and quality, and have further cemented its leadership within the chemical milling industry.
Today, the company chiefly involves itself with services like photo etching flat and 3D refractory components from high-temperature refractory metals such as tungsten, molybdenum, hafnium, and advanced stainless steels. It also makes precision metal-ceramic assemblies for defense and medical applications using high-temperature processes and is also only one of two companies in the world that make hemispherical photoetched products. The process was designed by Barraco’s team and is now used to make radar jamming and communications components in military aircraft and electron beam devices used to treat cancer.
Dyer stresses that the company identifies as a photochemical etcher and fabricator that also specializes in assemblies. “We can make [both] little parts and bigger complex hermetic assemblies.”
In the medical sector, the highest volume products that the company makes are components for knee surgery, like ablation cutters, staples and pins made from tungsten, for Smith & Nephew, an international medical equipment manufacturer.
The company works with companies like its first client Varian Medical Systems, making the source for Halcyon brand cancer treatment machines that help to eliminate tumors through radiation. The same type of machine technology is used to scan containers as part of border security.
Elcon also manufactures high power radio frequency devices for companies like Raytheon. These are used with over-the-horizon radar systems that detect air and sea threats as far as 1600 nautical miles offshore. This protective technology helps to “keep an eye on threats coming into the United States,” and stands as an important part of the company’s portfolio, according to Dyer.
The company founder, unfortunately, passed away in 2019 but Dyer remembers that Barraco wanted to keep this a family business. His daughter Debbie continues to work in the business after more than thirty years.
Barraco was a deeply passionate person, so Elcon has worked to maintain his friendly and compassionate attitude to this day. The workplace is more like a family because of the amount of time spent with one another and the level of respect that is shared throughout the company.
The internal culture is both “kind and conscientious,” Dyer says, noting that Elcon values integrity, meets commitments, and collaborates with customers on every project. The employees are very detail-oriented, calmly assessing all projects and caring deeply about customers and each other.
Elcon works with many suppliers in its daily operations, striving to work transparently with them at all times and provide six-sigma data analysis to mitigate any issues with quality and provide guidance during the course of a project. Their approach must be deeply collaborative due to the technological nature of the company’s components.
At every step, employees create and maintain a steady relationship with supply chains and a clear understanding of its quality systems. Normally, workers use face-to-face visits to foster these relationships, but with recent COVID-19 procedures, this has proven to be more difficult. As a result, the company is leaning more on its secure and strong IT capabilities and statistical, data-based methods to fix problems and to help its clients succeed.
The company has been experiencing great success of late, but it is finding some issues related to its location, both state-wide in California and locally within its home of Santa Clara County. Technology companies have high labor costs and need to pay employees well since labor is very competitive in the Silicon Valley area. The company is not aggressively financially driven, choosing instead to focus on the full package for employees, and this too can lead to challenges.
The environmental and labor regulations in the state often change, which is tough for a business based on chemicals; in fact, many businesses near Elcon have moved to other areas to avoid dealing with these restrictions. Santa Clara County and California are also currently the strictest county and state in America when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, insisting on hard rules around mask-wearing, workplace sanitization, and social distancing. Dyer is constantly on the lookout for these types of rule changes because they can come from different fronts, challenging the company to be profitable while keeping all of its employees safe.
Despite the recent COVID-19 regulations, photochemical etching and ceramic metal assemblies are considered essential products for customers, so the pandemic has had a minimal impact on Elcon’s top-line sales and overall business outlook; in fact, it is doing more business now in defense and space flight components than it has in prior years. For the remainder of 2020, Elcon will be focusing on optimizing and demonstrating its advanced, digital, direct-write photolithography machine.
Dyer also mentions the company’s involvement with NASA in its DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) project, which will see the launch of a deep spacecraft into the asteroid belt. It’s a demonstration project to show that an asteroid’s orbit can be changed and its potentially devastating trajectory toward Earth can be deflected enough to avoid a collision with Earth. The project will be launching in June 2021, and the company is excited to be part of mankind’s first planetary defense project.
More ventures lie on the horizon for Elcon Precision, and if the company’s history is any indication, it will continue to make the most of these opportunities by honoring its legacy and keeping its eyes fixed on the future of its industry.