Brehm’s Pneumo to today’s Precitech

When Pneumo was sold to Allied Signal in 1984 they were producing ultra precision machining centers. This was a big change from the air bearing roundness gauges they were producing in the 1960s.

Back up to 1962 when Pneumo started. Don Brehm, founder, quickly learned he had to find a use for the air bearing technology he worked so hard on. His break came when he collaborated with Federal Products out of Rhode Island.

(Don talks about his early relationship with Federal in a 2017 interview with Kyle Roof and Ben Cooper)

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Early Pneumo-Centric Roundness Gauge with Federal Amplifier and Gauge heads.

Air bearing technology was being used in machine tool applications but mostly in government funded laboratories. Don decided to commercialize and build a simple diamond fly cutter using his technology that Pneumo could market. They later introduced the MSG 325 Lathe (as seen below) in 1981.

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Above is a picture of a technician interacting with a Pneumo Precision MSG 325 Multi Surface Generator (believed to be Tom Dupell). The numbers coincide with technical features in their promotional literature. ((1)Air bearing spindle, (3)encoded servo motors, (7)laser interferometry for positioning, (4&5)X & Z air slides, and active vibration isolation). The machine was introduced in 1981.

The optics industry was growing rapidly as can be seen in the below graph. Profitability has grown in an industry that is always pushing the limit of equipment and working to leverage more from optical physics.

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Pneumos multi axis lathes helped to create the capability of making ashperic optics. Up to that point most optics were spherical and used conventional processes. This changed the business and allowed for smaller optical systems with the same or better performance.

In 1976 venture capitalists made an investment in Pneumo Precision. This was the capital the Pneumo needed to grow. Over the next 8 years profits in optics industries tripled (see above graph) and sales of Pneumo equipment increased with that industrial demand. Much like the investors in the book “Race to the Bottom” by John Hackett, they are looking for a return and so did the venture capitalists that invested in Pneumo. By early 1984 Pneumo Precision was sold to Allied Signal. Allied also owned Miniature Precision Bearing (MPB) in Keene. Don continued to run Pneumo for another year and a half then left for an alternative opportunity.

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Pneumo continued under different leadership and Don started Toolroom Craftsmen. Soon his old relationship with Federal was regenerated and roundness gauges were being made by Toolroom.

By 1992 Precitech had morphed out of Toolroom Craftsmen. Now building small ultra precision machines they were in direct competition with Pnuemo.

While Don was building Precitech and Toolroom Craftsmen, Pneumo was bought and sold a few times. First to Rank Organization and later called Taylor Hobson. In 1997 Schroder Ventures buys Precitech and also owned Pneumo forming Precitech Precision.

Prectitech continued and Pneumo was disolved. Precitech was sold again to American Capital Strategies in 2002. This seems to be the way of business in the last few decades. Acquisitions to augment existing business and build a larger conglomeration. This was also evidenced in “Race to the Bottom by Hackett”. Many acquisitions were made in the book by the new CEO in what he called the “Second Century Plan”. Now this may not have been the case with Pnuemo but it had certainly lost some of its market share with the competition from Precitech.

“The biggest problem the Wiemer management faced was an inadequate cash flow. Although the basic business was generating cash, the newly-acquired companies, corporate operating expenses, and dividend payments were absorbing substantially more cash than the basic business could generate.” Race to the Bottom pg 180

Precitech was again sold to Ametek in 2007. Ametek is a global publicly traded company with businesses in electronic instruments and electro-mechanical assemblies.

With the number of optics and ultra-precision machining that goes on in the greater Keene area one can see the impact that Brehm and Pnuemo have had on industrial employment.

Link to the Nanotech story.

(Follow the link to a story on another ultra-precision machine tool builder in the Keene area)

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