NEW CARLISLE -- Unifrax, descended from the Carborundum ceramic fiber insulation company that opened a New Carlisle plant more than 40 years ago, has enjoyed rapid global growth in the last decade.
The New Carlisle operation, with 150 employees in a 300,000-square-foot facility, is the largest fiber-producing plant among the company's 25 manufacturing sites around the world, says plant manager Tom Lord.
Its widely known Fiberfrax ceramic fiber products replace banned asbestos for high-temperature insulation products in applications from furnaces to fireproof ductwork, airplanes and railroad tank cars.
"Our niche in the market is generally for high-temperature product," says Lord, who came to the New Carlisle plant more than 20 years ago. "We have a number of products that are used in fire protection applications.
"One of the biggest things that helped get our business going was the problems with asbestos," he says. "Our product took over a lot of the market that asbestos once held." He said the company's growth is due to the way it has taken that technology and applied it to many new and innovative products, that have potential for energy savings, emissions control and fire protection.
Carborundum was founded in 1891 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and a company research scientist, Charlie McMullen, in 1942 invented the ceramic fiber that became known as Fiberfrax.
"We have a couple of basic fibers of different chemistries," Lord says. "The most common is an alumina-silica blend. We melt it at over 3,000 degrees.
"That's the core of our manufacturing technology - melting and turning that molten material into fiber that looks like cotton. The common theme for our business is high temperature."
Carborundum, once owned by British Petroleum, was sold to a private equity firm in 1996 under an agreement that prevented it from competing outside the United States for five years. It adopted the name Unifrax to preserve identification with the popular Fiberfrax brand.
When the term ended, the company more than doubled by acquiring a business that had plants around the world.
"Since then we've grown a good bit internally and we've made a number of acquisitions," Lord says, including firms in Germany, Czech Republic, India and Austria.
Meanwhile, the New Carlisle plant, originally built in the 1960s for a firm that planned to make fuse cast bricks for the steel industry, has been expanded several times, Lord says, adding that the work force includes some who have worked 20, 30 or 40 years for the company.
The company headquarters is in Niagara Falls, with other manufacturing facilities in Tonawanda and Sanborn, N.Y.