By Mark Langlois
FAIRFIELD, N.J.—Brewster Washers celebrated its 100th anniversary in March at a time of rising material costs for the stamping industry, growing customer demands, and the need to find and train its own tool and die makers.
“I think the aerospace and defense regulations, primarily DFARS, play into our favor,” said Brewster Washers President Sal Freda, Jr., who runs the Fairfield, New Jersey specialty washer manufacturer. Freda grew up in the business. His father, Sal Freda Sr., worked for nearly 60 years at the firm. “All of our material is DFARS compliant. Where people run into trouble is when they buy material overseas.”
Brewster Washers (https://www.brewster-washers.com/) was founded on March 15, 1919, by William H. Brewster Jr., and was known as the Wm. H. Brewster Jr. Company since its founding. He died in 1958, as his daughters took over and moved the firm from Newark to Fairfield. Sal’s father designed the new plant on Kulick Road, where it does business as “Brewster Washers.”
Brewster Washers makes thin, custom precision washers, shims, and discs with thicknesses ranging from 0.0005-inch to 0.062-inch. The parts, manufactured from clients’ blueprints, are used in applications from guidance systems to motors, custom knives, and various space projects. Brewster Washers is ISO 9001-2015 certified as of August 2018.
One challenge facing Brewster Washers is the fluctuating price of metal, in part due to tariffs here and abroad, and in part due to growing demand worldwide.
“You’re forced to shop because of prices. It doesn’t make sense, but you have to realize what they’re going through,” said Freda. He paid $8 a pound for phosphor bronze last year that now costs more than $16. “It’s high demand, low supply, plus the tariffs. I’m sure it is.”
Higher costs lead to longer conversations with customers. When Freda gave a customer his material costs, the customer, in turn, gave him three other suppliers to call. Freda called them. “They did beat the guy by $4. I’m getting closer,” Freda said. He said these fluctuations in the market are unusual and difficult for him to navigate. “I know why some people are higher. It’s a domino effect.”
Last year, Brewster Washers tried to buy metal ahead of the proposed 25 percent tariffs, but the metal didn’t leave the supplier in time. “It wasn’t on the water in time to beat the tariff.”
During one 1,000-pound purchase, the cost fluctuated between $2.50 and $4 per pound. “What’s going on out there?” Freda asked.
The actual 100th anniversary of the company was March 15, when Brewster Washers invited customers, friends, and vendors to attend an open house. Freda took his workers and their families out for lunch the next day.
Another challenge Brewster Washer shares with most manufacturing firms is finding trained and ready employees. Brewster works to find young talent at local technical schools, including Passaic County Vocational Technical School in Wayne, New Jersey.
Brewster’s master tool maker, Lou Garisto, who has worked at Brewster for 43 years, is still teaching the younger generation. He is now 74 years old. He is training the second student from the technical school.
“They work part time during school, full time in the summer, and a bit more hours when they’re seniors,” Freda said. “I’m getting a kid who knows how to run a lathe and make dies for me.”
Freda said the first student worked out so well, he went back to them and asked for another student.
“As soon as he came in and shook my hand, I knew I was hiring him. He was verbal, outgoing,” Freda said. “He’ll be able to work at Brewster Washers once he graduates from technical school. He’s planning on attending a local college.”