Tucked away in a former industrial corridor now surrounded by condos, the Peter Forg factory represents old-school manufacturing in a town where modern maker-space is thriving.
But don’t call this fifth-generation Somerville factory an anachronism. The tool and die maker is just as likely to craft parts for a robot as machinery for a hot water heater.
Dave Forg, 47, runs Peter Forg Manufacturing Co., which has been cranking out metal stamping products for 135 years. Forg is following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, initially a furniture maker who turned to metal production to make hinges and other hardware.
While the decline of US manufacturing shuttered nearby metalwork, textile, and paper plants, Forg said it was impractical for overseas competitors to make the small volume and thick, heavy-gauge parts his company produces.
“We’ve always kept it small and stayed conservative, doing short-to-medium metal run stamping for the most part. The places making millions of small parts was the stuff that tended to go overseas and get outsourced,” said Forg, who is proud of the “made in America” spirit that shaped the company’s past, from the forming of World War I helmets to a patented steam carriage boiler for the then-emerging auto trade.
About a dozen longtime employees, most over age 55, work the heavy machinery: mid-century presses with spinning flywheels that shear metal and rattle the building.
“There’s something satisfying about working with your hands and making tangible products,” said Jim Leis, a shop foreman who has been at the manufacturer for more than four decades.
Peter Forg Manufacturing has modernized with the times, upgrading punch presses with electronics and computerizing die-cutting machines that make it possible, Forg confesses, to do more with fewer workers. But even in an age of automation, with 3-D printing and laser cutting, there are some things that technology can’t replace.
“Metal stamping is still the most competitive way to make certain metal fabricated parts,” said Forg. “Even though we are old-timers, we are still a cutting-edge company.”