By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Earning the first “Supplier Gold” designation from United Technologies Group’s Aerospace Systems will have profound and lasting implications for the Rockwood plant of Toho Tenax America Inc.
For the local community, it means a multi-million dollar investment to update a closed production line and the likely addition of as many as 65 employees over the next several years. The growth will more than double annual production capacity at the plant, but that could be just the start.
“This opens the opportunity to follow the growth of the airline industry,” Rob Klawonn, Toho Tenax President, explains, noting the explosion of air travel in emerging markets like China, India, and Africa.
Toho Tenax’s contract with United Technologies calls for the company to provide Pyromex Oxidized PAN fiber that is used in aircraft brakes. As production from aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus increases, they will rely on United Technologies for brakes and brake materials.
“We make fiber, they make brakes,” Klawonn explains. “With more takeoffs and landings, there will be increased need for replacement brakes.”
Particularly important is production of a fiber that has high purity. To illustrate the point, Klawonn called our attention to a situation with an Airbus 340-600 where the brakes caught fire during a “rejected takeoff.” The failure resulted in a redesign of the wheels and main gear.
“These brakes have to stop that type of event in a fully-loaded plane and absorb the heat without a fire while the passengers escape,” Klawonn explained. The reliability of Toho Tenax’s product, combined with its 100 percent on-time delivery, quality control and strong business systems, helped earned the company the coveted “Supplier Gold” designation. UTC Supplier Gold status is earned only if you demonstrate business excellence throughout the operations, not just quality.
Toho Tenax will invest between $5.5 and $6 million to recommission line three with the target date for restarting this September.
The United Technologies designation and reopening of a production line is not the only good news for Toho Tenax.
Klawonn said the company has also introduced its PYROMEX® brand OPF into protective apparel such as fireman turnout gear and military protective apparel. PYROMEX is also the base material used in several other friction-based materials, providing the strength and durability needed. In addition, PYROMEX® OPF is an excellent material in the development of state-of-the-art fuel cells and industrial batteries.
“TECGEN brand fibers use PYROMEX® OPF as the key flame-retardant material to give it protective performance,” Klawonn says. “We produce this fiber on line one,” referring to the “engine that could.”
The use of PYROMEX® fiber is part of a Toho Tenax strategy tied to a trend to replace brominated and other carcinogenic additives from many materials. Klawonn sees opportunities to use the flame-resistant carbon fiber that the company produces for aircraft brakes in everything from car seats to paints and as a spray for protecting steel girders.
Even as he sees blue skies ahead in Rockwood, Klawonn has additional duties as President of Diversified Structural Composites Inc., another Teijin company that is based in Erlanger, KY. It provides pultruded composite products.