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'This is a work of art' - Local plant crafts product for Navy

July 02, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

BOONSBORO - In the coming years aboard U.S. Navy troop carrier ships, there's a chance the metal cabinetry that holds the vessel's sophisticated navigation equipment will have been manufactured at a plant near Boonsboro.

Among its diversified product line, Central Precision Inc. makes the 18-cabinet "bridges" for Navy ships as well as products for General Electric Co. and the U.S. Postal Service.

Washington County native Dennis Weaver founded the sheet metal company on San Mar Road 11 years ago.

GE is one of the company's top customers, with Central Precision employees making the parts for about 2,000 neonatal care units - used to keep newborns warm - a year, Weaver said.

Central Precision also makes equipment for the U.S. Postal Service, including mail sorting machines. It also makes products for other customers.

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The company, which has an elaborate painting division and a machine shop, employs about 75 people.

Weaver worked in a sheet metal shop from 1964 to 1972, and then started his own company. He sold that business in 1986 and "tried to retire" before starting Central Precision.

"It's done pretty well in the last 11 years," he said, with business increasing 10 percent to 15 percent a year.

Weaver obtained the Northrop Grumman contract to build the naval ship bridges in the first quarter of this year.

He also found himself in a bind.

The bridges were being built by a company in Florida, which would not hand over its drawings of how the bridges were constructed.

Weaver and his son, head of Central Precision's technical department, went to Charlottesville, Va., and spent several days scrutinizing a finished bridge. Using reverse engineering, they came up with drawings of how to build one.

The company's initial contract called for it to build four bridges, with a fifth later added to the order. Weaver said he might be asked to build another four.

Previously, Central Precision built eight similar bridges for Mexico's Navy, and also has built one for China and a couple for Germany. Similar cabinets were built for Coast Guard ships, Weaver said.

Making sure his employees work with the latest and new equipment is important, Weaver said.

Last year he spent $1.4 million in new equipment; he said he replaces pieces of equipment once they are eight years old.

Company officials are deciding whether to invest about $600,000 in a laser that would enable employees to work with thicker materials.

The company has no plans to relocate, with Weaver saying his 40,000-square-foot building and 12 acres of land offer room for expansion.

He seems pleased with his role in Washington County.

"There's not much manufacturing left in Washington County. I'd like people to know there still is some," he said.

An artistic streak drives his passion for working in sheet metal, Weaver said.

"It's the creation. It's taking a blank sheet of metal and seeing a finished product like that," he said, referring to the Naval bridge. "To see this creation that's made in a shop full of electronic equipment by so-called blue-collar workers, this is a work of art."

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