Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

HARBEC Stays Competitive by Staying Ahead of the Curve


Bob Bechtold, founder and president of Ontario, NY-based HARBEC

Locate Finger Lakes wants you to know a few things about Bob Bechtold, founder and president of Ontario, NY-based HARBEC.

He’s a trailblazer, unafraid to be the first to try new things. He’s a visionary, seeing no limit to opportunity. He’s an innovator, always thinking toward the future.

But at the heart of it all, he’s a toolmaker.

“HARBEC was founded from a personal goal as a toolmaker to always be pursuing and learning and exploring the newest possibilities of making a toolmaker better,” Bechtold said.

After high school, following an apprenticeship and three years of service in the U.S. Army, Bechtold landed work as a journeyman toolmaker.

At the time, computer numerical control (CNC) machining was a new technology.

“It was being touted by the industry that these computerized machines were going to put the toolmaker out of business,” said Bechtold. “I viewed it as exactly the opposite—that it was going to make toolmakers more powerful, more precise and more productive than ever before in history. So I set out to see how I could make that happen.”

And that’s how HARBEC came to be founded in 1977. The shop began in Bechtold’s garage in Webster. His first hires were his brothers, Mike and Joe. His wife, Jean has also been with the company from the start. Today, HARBEC employs 165 people.

“HARBEC is not only a leader in business innovation and sustainability in Wayne County, but is a model of modern manufacturing and ingenuity across the manufacturing sector nationwide,” said Brian Pincelli, Director and CEO, Economic Development and Planning, Wayne County IDA, and Locate Finger Lakes Board Member. “We’re very proud to have them here.”


High-precision parts that make high-tech products work

HARBEC manufactures precision 3D printed metals and plastics, machined components, and injection molded parts for aerospace and defense, medical, and industrial customers across the Northeast.

“We make complex, high-tech, and high-precision parts that make the end product work, from the airplane to medical equipment,” explained Bechtold.

For example, HARBEC manufactures key components used in the flight control mechanisms of airplanes that enable pilots to control the aircraft’s altitude. In the medical device market, HARBEC parts can be found in titanium spinal implants, and in the otoscope doctors use to look into a patient’s ears.

Bechtold refers to HARBEC as a hybrid manufacturer, able to combine precision molding with precision machining to manufacture highly-specialized products for its customers.

“These are complex materials with unique capabilities that are typically thought to be impossible,” Bechtold said.

It’s that ability to do difficult work, and push the limits of technology, that have kept HARBEC competitive over the last 42 years.

First to market with new technology

Much of HARBEC’s success is due to the company’s curiosity and courage to explore new possibilities—oftentimes, decades ahead of the competition.

HARBEC was an early adopter of 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing. The company installed one of the first 3D metal-printing machines in the country—25 years ago.

“In the early days, 3D printing was deemed a novelty,” said Bechtold. “Now, it’s an integral part of the manufacturing future. And we’ve been with it from the very first second because of our willingness to try and not be afraid of failure.”

3D printing is one reason why Bechtold has an optimistic view of the industry’s future.

“It’s allowing us to redesign everything that we know today,” he said. “The purpose is to make things lighter and stronger. If you do that, you reduce energy costs.”

As Bechtold describes it, additive manufacturing is the process of growing a part from a liquid metal or powder; subtractive manufacturing is the conventional way of machining a part by cutting a piece from a solid block of material.

“We think the future is additive and subtractive together—parts that are taking the best of both worlds and creating a whole new reality that we haven’t even imagined yet,” he said. “And all of it will be saving energy.”


One of America’s most sustainable manufacturers

Energy use is of particular interest to Bechtold, who has long been a proponent of green energy. Before gaining approval to install a wind turbine on HARBEC’s property, he installed one at his Webster farmhouse. It provides more than half of the power for his home.

With support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), in 2001, HARBEC installed a combined heat and power (CHP) plant to serve the thermal and electric requirements of its 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. The first of two wind turbines was installed in 2002.

Sustainable manufacturing is another area in which HARBEC has been ahead of its time.

But success didn’t come easy. Bechtold said he was finally able to secure financing for his ambitious plans when he shifted the focus from environmental benefits to economic ones. Bechtold calls it eco-economics, or the economic benefits of “going green.”

“My goal is to win attention by showing people they can make money doing it,” he said.

HARBEC achieved its two key goals of carbon neutrality in 2013, and water neutrality in 2015.

With numerous awards to its credit, including recognition by the U.S. EPA as a Green Power Leader, HARBEC is regarded as one of the country’s most environmentally-friendly manufacturers.


Growing its company and the industry

HARBEC will soon be expanding its facility by 20,000 square feet. The additional space will house a world-class clean room molding facility for medical applications, and provide room for new technologies under development.

Bechtold continues to be a strong advocate for the trades, an interest since childhood.

“My father, grandfathers and uncles were all tradespeople of some kind,” he said. “Toolmaking is my passion and my life. I knew exactly what I was meant to be, and I spent my life being it.”

Today, Bechtold is intent on creating the toolmaker of the future: one who is cross-trained in additive plus subtractive manufacturing, and forward-thinking.

HARBEC provides jobs to high school and college students, and will pay part of their tuition if they attend school while working. It also welcomes individuals who want to transition to a manufacturing career.

The company is part of the Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturers’ Enterprise, created by Optimax president Mike Mandina, to expose young people to modern manufacturing and build a pipeline of skilled, high-tech workers. (Bechtold is a co-founder of Optimax.)

Leading a fearless company opens many doors, Bechtold said. As he looks to retirement in the next few years, his focus is preserving that can-do attitude in the workplace.

“Today, we’re involved in more new potentials, beyond even additive, because of that attitude we’ve had for 42 years,” he said. “My biggest goal is keeping that alive and well after I’ve gone.”

Check out other business profiles published by Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal under the Index in the menu.


358 Timothy Lane
Ontario, NY 14519

Krista Gleason is a contributor to the Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal. She is a freelance writer and owner of Gleason Writes in the beautiful Finger Lakes.

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