Patriot Armor’s new expansion is both ‘a sign of the times’ and proof of quality

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Patriot Armor’s new expansion is both ‘a sign of the times’ and proof of quality

20,000-square-foot addition allows company to temper glass

LENOX DALE, MASSACHUSETTS — When Tom Briggs clicks on the news and sees the scenes of foreign highways pock-marked from the blasts of improvised explosive devices targeted at the United States military, or of police and SWAT teams quelling potentially dangerous demonstrations in his own country, his grief is tempered compared to that of most people.

That’s because the company he saved from obliteration seven years ago now stands at the very forefront of keeping the good guys safe, both at home and abroad.

Patriot Armor, the manufacturer of bullet-proof, bullet-resistant, safety and architectural glass, has become the go-to source for the U.S. government as well as private businesses and individuals seeking security in an increasingly hazardous age.

You see their product on armored tactical vehicles, in U.S. embassies, the White House, schools, banks, police riot shields, the face masks of NATO troops, and in the new expanded headquarters of Facebook, just to name a few applications.

“Everyone is looking at security nowadays, how to keep people and property safer,” says Briggs, Patriot Armor’s president. “In the meantime, we’ve made major investments in engineering, in research and development, to make the lightest, strongest and most cost-effective products possible to meet those needs.”

Indeed, last year, Patriot Armor invested $1 million to complete a 20,000-square-foot addition to its plant in the village of Lenox Dale, in the hills of western Massachusetts. The addition, which increased the plant’s size by nearly a third, now houses its newest enterprise: a Yuntong tempering and bending furnace, which went on-line in December.

“We used to have to buy our tempered glass from the outside,” says Ralph Tassone, Patriot Armor’s general manager. “The costs were pricing us out of the market. With this machine, we’re reducing our costs eightfold.”

The addition is all in keeping with the trajectory of Patriot Armor, whose sales have increased by 20 percent a year for the past six years. The company is also looking to increase its 50-employee workforce by 10 people this year. The plant runs six days a week.

“It would be seven days a week, if we could. But people need a day off,” says Briggs. “We’ve been straight out for two years. It’s a great problem to have.”

Despite the growth and cutting-edge advancements, Patriot Armor has managed to maintain a mom-and-pop work culture that has become legendary in these parts. It’s a culture that runs through the family, in fact.

“We have some interesting clientele, to say the least” says Pete O’Brian, the purchasing agent. “Our glass is used inside of the Statue of Liberty. It’s down at the new World Trade Center tower. We’re in the White House guard booths. We recently made 24-inch-by-24-inch panes used in the big, heavy steel doors for a nuclear waste site out West.

“These are products that are ‘Made in America’ quality,” he said, “products that you really want to know are made in America.”

“We’re always seeing our glass in the news,” says Bianco, who now serves as vice president of operations. “We see vehicles in war zones that we know we built glass for. We get letters thanking us from members of the military and their families. Knowing that we’re helping the cause, saving lives — that’s an honor. Especially the military, knowing that we’re protecting them.”

Though its products are ever-improving, the basic manufacturing process at Patriot Armor hasn’t changed much over the years.

Every product they manufacture consists of three basic raw materials: glass (which they purchase from several vendors throughout the country), lexan and a bonding agent called urethane. Once the glass is cut to the necessary size, it is arranged sandwich-style with sheets of lexan and urethane to a thickness that depends on the given product line.

For instance, Patriot Armor’s bullet resistance glass line will protect against an assault with a hand gun (.22 mm, .38 special, .357/.44 magnum) to an all-out attack with a 7.62 mm M-14 rifle. Its armored glass kits for military vehicles protect troops from threats such as IED fragments and AK-47 rounds.

Giving a tour of the plant recently, as workers were firing up the new tempering oven whose giant fans reach jet engine-level decibels, Briggs was explaining the delicate balance involved in the tempering process.

“The idea is that the outer surfaces of the glass are put into compression and the interior portion of the glass is put into tension,” he says. “This makes it so that, if broken, the glass will crumble into very small participles, rather than large, sharp shards.”

Yes, it’s all about tension. In a world filled with it, Patriot Armor is progressively putting more and more people at ease.

U.S. Rep. Neal Tours Two Lee Companies

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By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
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LEE, Mass. — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal continued what he calls a “listening tour” of the county’s businesses on Tuesday with stops at Patriot Armor and Ray Murray Inc. LLP.

“We’ve met with literally thousands of employees across the Berkshires in every facet of the economy,” Neal said touring both companies. “Many of the problems and challenges that confront the Berkshire economy are not dissimilar to those that confront the national economy.”

The recent economic recession took at toll on Ray Murray Inc. when new construction and remodeling slumped, owner Ray Murray said. The company specializes in reselling propane and natural gas equipment and heating and hearth equipment.

“The economic recession had a huge impact on us because a lot of what we sell goes into new construction and remodeling, so we’re coming out of that and we’re optimistic,” he said. “We gave him a briefing about what we do and what we see as issues nationally in the energy business.”

Murray said there is a lot of changes happening in his industry. The country is becoming a net exporter of natural gas and propane is 100 percent produced in this country, he said.

“We don’t have to buy them from people that don’t necessarily like us in the Middle East and other parts of the world. They’re also really clean compared to traditional oil products,” Murray said.

Another change in the industry is an increase in conservation. Homeowners are using less and less energy, Murray said.

Neal toured the warehouse, meeting many of the workers along the way. Ray Murray Inc. employs about 40 people in Berkshire County and about another 40 in two of the company’s other warehouses — one in Philadelphia and one in Flint, Mich.

“When we started the business in 1973, we had four employees and now we’re north of 70,” Murray said.

The company was the first tenant of the Lee Business Park when it built its newest facility in 2001. Most of his business is done outside of the state, bringing the dollars into the county, Murray said.

“These decisions going forward with growth is going to be based on the state of the American economy. Here today they are very interested in the alternative energy credits that I’ve worked hard on,” Neal said.

The representative is currently representing the 2nd Mass District, and running for the 1st Mass because of redistricting.

RMI was the second growing business that Neal toured. The first was Patriot Armor, which specializes on production of glass for the security industry. The company provides glass for embassies, armored cars, banks and other such uses.

Patriot Armor was purchased by Tom Briggs just eight months ago after the holding company that owned it racked up debt and nearly drove it into the ground. Briggs was the lead vice president of sales and purchased Patriot Armor to keep his co-workers employed.

“Tom stepped up to the plate and he saved 40 jobs in this area,” Ralph Tassone, general manager, said.

Briggs told Neal that the company is struggling to getting out the debt left behind. The first few months were left picking up the pieces that were left behind by the holding company, he said.

“We’re extremely busy and extremely happy with the way things are going. We’re not laying people off, we’re adding people,” Briggs said. “We have between 40 and 45 employees … we’re steadily growing.”

The company is focusing on building its relationship with customers first and is hoping keeping growth slow as it climbs out of debt. Tassone said the company also focuses on relationships here in the Berkshires. The security industry is a hidden gem of the Berkshire economy, he said.

Patriot Armor sells glass to the local companies Armored Solutions, Photec and Lenco.

“This is really a growth industry … The work that they do for the Defense Department, courthouse security — those are two items that come to mind — and coupled with the whole notion of what sophisticated glass work is going to mean for national security. It’s really widespread in its application,” Neal said.