Claude Marichal works Feb.9 on a prototype for a part of an aerospace assembly application at Elmet Technologies in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — In the early 1980s, Philips Elmet, as it was called at the time, was one of the most sought-after places to work in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

The company, now Elmet Technologies, was hiring, and that meant scores of applications for positions would come in. But if you did not know someone on the inside, your chances of getting hired were slim. For 22-year-old Claude Marichal, it was his mother who had the connection to one of the plant’s chief engineers.

The Lisbon Road manufacturing facility was humming, pumping out tungsten filaments for light bulbs — in its heyday producing more than a billion filaments a year.

Phase two of the new section of the building had just been completed and Marichal said he recalls about 200 workers were hired. His first job was tungsten press operator, which meant he took semi-refined tungsten powder and put it into a large hydraulic press to make rods that would be sintered, or heated and compressed, and eventually turned into wire.


Marichal was born and raised in Lewiston. His father, a French immigrant from Nancy, France, which was occupied by German forces during World War II, arrived in the United States in 1949 at age 19 with little more than the clothes on his back. Marichal said his father worked hard for everything he had and was a millwright for 25 years at International Paper Co.


Marichal said he learned a lot from his father.

“He had a great work ethic,” Marichal said. “My dad’s favorite saying was, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right or don’t do it at all.'”

That work ethic clearly rubbed off. Marichal in August will mark 39 years with the company, and is one of a few employees with that many years of service.

Claude Marichal works Feb.9 on a prototype for a part of an aerospace assembly application at Elmet Technologies in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal


Over the years, Marichal said he has held about eight different jobs at Elmet Technologies and worked all three shifts and weekends, including some hot, dirty and tedious jobs. A back injury represented both a setback and a new opportunity. As he recovered, he was limited to light duty, janitorial work and odds and ends. Then came an opportunity to work in the new building in a position called parts former.

“We were taking wire, forming it and they used that to hold the filaments,” he explained. “That was fun because it was mechanical, you had to set up jobs.” He said he knew nothing about machining at the time and learned everything on the job or from the senior machinists he worked with and taking a few classes on his own.


As a master machinist, Marichal said he is doing the most exciting job he has had at Elmet.

“I do a lot of things,” he said, “but my priority job is probably prototyping. I’ll work with the engineers. They get an order. A customer puts in an order. They want a part made.”

The company no longer produces tungsten filaments for light bulbs, but has created a niche market for itself as one of the few American-owned companies that takes raw tungsten and molybdenum and ends up with a finished product, and, in some cases, machined specialty products for the defense, aerospace, lighting and medical industries.

It is exacting work with precise specifications and tolerances. Both tungsten and molybdenum are among the most difficult metals to fabricate and are very expensive. The properties that make tungsten a useful industrial metal — it is one of the densest, heaviest, hardest and most heat-resistant nonradioactive metals — also make it difficult to machine.

Milling tungsten can rapidly wear the cutting edges of tools because it is brittle and prone to cracking and breaking when being machined. Having mastered the challenges of machining such metals, Elmet Technologies has a long-standing reputation within the industry.

Marichal said to avoid costly mistakes, the company will run a new part through computer-aided design, or CAD, software and simulate machining it before actually running it. Experience also plays a big part when Marichal and colleagues work with engineers to make changes on the floor, including when they run into problems.


Claude Marichal walks through the fabrication department of Elmet Technologies in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal


The company has had its ups and downs over the past four decades. Perhaps the biggest change came in the early 2000s, when halogen and compact fluorescent lamps began replacing incandescent bulbs. Philips Lighting decided to get out of the incandescent business and agreed to sell the Lewiston manufacturing plant to Jack Jensen, a Mainer who who was Philips’ vice president of sales and marketing for the lighting division.

Marichal said machining was only a small operation at the time, but the new owner shifted focus to semiconductors, which are fabricated using tungsten and molybdenum. Machining took on a whole new significance, expanding the department and equipment.

“That took off,” Marichal said, “and when he sold, he gave everybody a $10,000 bonus. We had like 300 employees back then. It was like, wow, he didn’t have to do that. And then it went from the best owner to the worst owner.”

An investment firm named a new CEO whom Marichal called a tyrant. Dark times saw many good people leave and the reputation of the company suffer. After yet another change in ownership, to a private equity firm, bad investments nearly saw the company close, although most employees were unaware how close the business was to being shuttered.

All that changed in 2015 when a small group of managers convinced Peter Anania, president and chairman of the Portland firm Anania & Associates Investments Co., to buy the company. Anania & Associates remains the majority shareholder in the privately held company.



Marichal said the toughest part of his job is a common one: deadlines. The sales staff takes an order and promises the customer a certain date, which is up to the engineers and machinists to fulfill.

“Sometimes, you get a part that’s like how the heck are we ever supposed to make this?” he said, adding that experience and persistence usually prevail.

“There have been times when I’ve gone home and (am) sitting in bed,” Marichal said. “Sometimes, I wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and just had an idea pop into my head about what I was thinking all day long.”

The machinist said having a good sense of humor is key to staying sane, and his co-workers know how to make him smile if he is having a tough day.

“I keep my brain going and I work with a bunch of good people,” Marichal said. “I’ve met a lot of people in here over the years. It’s been a good place to work for me.”


The rewards for Marichal come mostly from meeting the daily challenges.

“It’s a unique place because we make our own material from scratch to machining it,” he said. “I can do a finished part. The end product was what a customer ordered. Pretty neat, kind of cool.”

As for retirement, Marichal said he is not there yet.

“Thinking about it. Getting closer all the time,” he said. “But I really like what I’m doing, so I’m not in a hurry. I thought about it the other day. I was talking to my wife (and) I’m like: ‘It’s a weird thing. You work your whole life to retire.'”

Marichal said he and his wife enjoy camping and hope to travel to the West to visit national parks and maybe Alaska.

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