Case Studies

New England Tech Air Inc.

The Northeast's largest open shop sheet metal contractor

In 1986, Bob Lily opened New England Tech Air Inc. (NETA) with partner Norman Locke. What began as a smaller regional sheet metal shop has grown into a large business that serves all of the Northeast United States, as well as clients up and down the East Coast.

“I started in this industry when I was 17 years old,” Lily recounts. “I previously worked in the engineering department of a large sheet metal firm in Burlington, Vt., where I learned the most about this business. Years later, I started out with Locke on this venture.”

NETA has operated from the same town, Scarborough, Maine, since the business opened its doors more than 25 years ago. The team works exclusively from the shop in Scarborough, near the state’s largest city, Portland. “We have between 150 and 200 employees between the shop and the field,” Lily elaborates. “Our facility is 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space and offices. We are an open shop and the largest of our kind in the Northeast although there are some larger union shops in the region.”

Precision oriented

As a specialty sheet metal contractor, NETA designs, manufactures and installs the metal components for air conditioning and duct work. The company generally serves as a subcontractor to either a general contractor or the mechanical contractor on a project. Over the years, the team has managed to stand apart from other sheet metal contractors by adhering to steep standards of quality and embracing technology. At this point, Lily estimates that 99 percent of the company’s work is for repeat customers.

“We buy raw steel products, then design, cut and manufacture the ductwork ourselves,” Lily elaborates. “We are pretty high-tech here. We model everything in 3-D with our CAD department on a model to fit perfectly in each building. We download the building model to our machinery, so that when we design duct work to fit, we have that computerized precision. We prefabricate our components and ship them out to the jobsite. We use 3D modeling for around 75 percent of our ductwork, on about 50 percent of our jobs. Technology is very important to us because we know that either we get better or someone else does.”

Heavy metal

NETA’s reputation for quality, precise work has landed the team a number of diverse and challenging projects. “Our business is a pretty good size,” Lily notes. “Some of our projects are small and some are large. We’ve been very fortunate to stay as busy as we have over the last few years.”

Recent projects include the new Maine General Hospital in Augusta that has been under construction for the last two years. The $350 million general construction job provided a huge opportunity for Lily’s team. His crews designed, manufactured and installed 1.2 million pounds of sheet metal for the new health care facility.

A few hours north in Bangor, Maine, NETA recently completed a large sheet metal project for a new event center. “That was a fun job,” Lily says. “We did sheet the metal and ductwork for the building. We also have a steel division which is named Maine Steel that makes up around 15 percent of our business. Utilizing those resources, we also did all the steel railings in the event center.”

The company has several projects in the works, including Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the second largest hospital built in the last 10 years in Maine. The team is also working on projects down the coast, such as a hospital in North Carolina. NETA is negotiating another hospital project in South Carolina as well. As far as work down the pipeline, the business is negotiating a contract for a ductwork project at Bath Iron Works in Mid-coast Maine.

Staying ahead

No matter where these complex projects take the business, NETA maintains high standards of quality and safety on each job. “We take pride in the fact that our clients are satisfied that we do a high quality job,” Lily explains. “We pride ourselves on being the very best from a quality standpoint in what we do. We do an excellent job for clients and we want to continue to do so. Most of our business is on a repeat basis, but we are always looking for high quality new clients. Once we begin to work with them we do everything we can to keep them on board. We have maybe a dozen clients that have been working with us for more than 25 years.”

In the coming years, Lily has his eye set on stable growth. He estimates roughly 20 percent growth for the business sand hopes to boost the steel division up to around 25 percent of the business. He is confident in his team, especially a strong managerial crew. With strong employee dedication and a commitment to quality, innovation and integrity, New England Tech Air Inc. is set to continue expansion as the business approaches 30 years in business.

Published on: January 8, 2015

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