What do a fisherman in Chatham, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and a regatta captain in Buzzards Bay have in common? They all rely on products with components manufactured by Precision Design Engineering in Wareham.
Launched in late 2019, Precision Design Engineering (PDE) uses automated and robotic manufacturing to create high-precision parts used in ropeless lobster traps, cockpit panels for B-2 bombers and the miniature cannons used to signal the start of a sailing race.
When CEO Ron Gerace decided to buy a manufacturing business, it was a career shift.
“I’m an engineer by trade – a chemical engineer, not a manufacturing engineer,” he said. “But I like the bridge between business and actually making stuff. For me, that’s always fun. I spent a lot of time in the tech space. What I wanted to do for the next chapter in my life was to get into manufacturing.”
Seeing an opportunity for automation and robotics in small-scale manufacturing, he decided to purchase a small Wareham company called Design Engineering Associates, which he said at the time was “a one-man show,” and a larger Rhode Island company called Fitzwater Engineering that would help expand his customer base.
He was staffing up just before COVID hit. “It was a hell of a ride, but I was happy to see that people who are interested in making a living manufacturing really want to work,” he said. “Our guys did everything they could to keep themselves healthy and we didn’t have a single COVID incident.”
PDE made it through the challenges of 2020 without losing a customer and then grew 30 percent in 2021 and another 40 percent last year, Gerace said.
PDE’s primary customer is Wareham-based EdgeTech, which makes high-tech underwater products used by scientists, fishermen and the U.S. Navy. “They’re right down the road here, a mile and a half away,” said Gerace. “I drive stuff over there every single day. We get orders that have one-day turnarounds, and we’re able to do that.”
Another major client is US Extruders of Westerly, R.I., which makes devices for manufacturing plastic products used in the food and medical industries (such as syringes).
One client has the potential to provide PDE with significant growth. “The military’s kind of an infinite sea,” he said. “When you see all the work that a small business with our qualifications can bid on, it looks pretty good.”
Gerace spends most of his time on the business side of the operations, including interfacing with and making quotes for customers. He also sets the production schedule for the manufacturing floor, where he has eight employees, in addition to two, including his wife, Juliane, who work in the front office.
Gerace majored in chemical engineering at UMass Amherst and earned an MBA at Bentley University. He worked for 13 years for W.R. Grace Company, a major chemical company, going from a research lab to manufacturing to product management.
Then, in 1997, as part of what he called his “weird journey,” he went to work for an old friend, Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples.
“He was the most brilliant guy I’ve ever met,” Gerace said. “I was doing math modeling for them on price elasticity. Move prices up, move prices down. What’s our prediction on sales and how’s that going to affect profitability?”
He later led merchandising for Staples.com.
“For a while, we were the number two online retailer behind Amazon. I still remember the first million-dollar day and the first billion-dollar year.”
He left Staples not long after Stemberg did, went to work for CSN Stores, and was there when it was rebranded as Wayfair by founders Niraj Shah and Steve Conine. After working for a company that unsuccessfully tried to use artificial intelligence to predict what consumers would be interested in purchasing, Gerace decided to go into business on his own and that’s when he founded PDE.
“I’ve been lucky to have had some really good role models, to have seen Tom Stemberg, Niraj Shah and Steve Conine in action, as well as some role models not to emulate, like the leadership at Staples after Tom.”
Gerace, who lives in Mattapoisett, has three impressive children. Matthew is a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Andrew is a chemical engineer for Pfizer and worked on its COVID vaccine team, and Mary is a mechanical engineer who works for Collins Aerospace and is helping to design heat exchangers for the Artemis moon mission.
“Smart kids; they take after my wife,” he said.
Precision Design Engineering
10 Kendrick Road, Wareham