Family business celebrates a century in contamination control
By John Haystead
Lymtech Scientific, a division of John R. Lyman Company, celebrated its 100th-year anniversary last month at the annual CleanRooms Contamination Control Technology (CCT) Conference & Exhibition in Boston. Although a significant accomplishment in itself, Lymtech is a distinctly rare company these days in other ways besides its longevity. For example, the company is also in its third generation of family ownership.
The new “wiping materials” company was incorporated in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1906, but relocated to nearby Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1937, into a building previously housing a cotton mill. The move was accomplished under the direction of the company’s new owner, Edward Morse Shephard (“Shep”) Wright-grandfather of current owner and CEO, Bill Wright. Bill Wright took over in 1994, when his father, Ned, and mother, Jean, retired after running the business since 1950.
Wright relates that the company began by selling industrial wipes to the “smokestack trades” (heavy industries) of the Northeast for general cleanup and maintenance use, but then, as manufacturers got more technologically advanced and cleaner, the company adjusted to those changes. “Before there were cleanrooms, there were ‘white rooms,’ and we used our textile connections and expertise to develop new solutions for their requirements. We changed our materials, our practices, and, ultimately, even our manufacturing facilities to accommodate our customers’ changing needs,” says Wright.
One of the most significant of these changes occurred in the 1970s in response to the needs of the rapidly emerging semiconductor electronics industry. In 1973-the year of inauguration of the “Lymtech” brand-the company introduced the first wipe manufactured from first-quality textiles and specifically engineered for cleanroom use. Since then, Wright says, the company has designed many other products exclusively for cleanroom applications, but wipers remain the company’s core business.
Lymtech, a family-owned wiping materials company, recently celebrated its 100 years of service in the contamination-control industry.
Lymtech also developed one of the country’s first cleanroom packaging facilities for wiping products suitable for use in critical environments. Today, the company boasts one of the largest (231,000 square foot) and most advanced in-house manufacturing facilities for a wide range of contamination-control products serving multiple user industries, including semiconductor/electronics, nuclear, aerospace, and life sciences.
Currently, the company employs roughly 100 people, many of whom have been with the company for decades. Wright explains the employee longevity this way: “As a family-owned business, we appreciate that we would be nothing without our employees. We’re small enough to be flexible and understanding, so if someone has a problem, we want to hear about it.”
Though a company with a long history, Lymtech also faces many of the familiar and pressing challenges of most companies today. “Things have gotten so crazy so fast with regard to the Asian market and Asian competition,” observes Wright. “We’re continually refining our Asian strategy, but we plan to primarily concentrate on the life sciences and new nanotechnology manufacturing that will be largely located domestically. That way, we can sell to people here, rather than chase businesses overseas.” He also notes that the company’s gamma-radiated and validated sterile product lines will be more difficult to duplicate overseas, “at least initially.”
Ultimately, Wright says, the future of the company boils down to the following: “If we’re just a number in an online bidding war, I think many of us are done. It has to come down to the quality of the product and the integrity of the company standing behind it.”
To make the point, Wright remembers a story about his grandfather that was told to him by an old plant manager years ago. “At one point in the early history of the company, in the 1940s, we had shipped out every order that we had,” he recalls. “There were no more orders left to ship, and no more to fill. At that point, the employees went to the plant manager and asked if that was it for the company. Are we shutting the doors? The plant manager said, ‘No, let’s believe in Mr. Wright. If anyone can keep this operation going, it’s him.’ Sure enough, the company went out and got some more orders.”
In other words, adds Wright, “to survive, companies have to constantly refine and redefine themselves, understand what their strengths are, stand behind their products, and, above all, keep listening to their customers.”