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Made In WNY: Inside DuPont's Tonawanda Plant

A landmark on the Buffalo manufacturing landscape, with a storied past, and a present focused on two advanced materials and ways to use it.

On the surface you wouldn't think Warren Hoy has any problems.

The plant manager at DuPont's Tonawanda facility has two product lines that are doing well, cranking out a mainstay material in countertops and building materials, and a vinyl film used in everything from solar panels to the Goodyear blimp.

Hoy presides over the Grand Dame of Buffalo's old-line manufacturers, a 95-acre facility with approx. 600 employees and an adjacent research and development facility that is developing new uses for Corian, one of the facility's flagship products.

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His problem?  Half of the the plant's workers are eligible for retirement in the next four years.  

"Our average employee here is probably pushing 40. Many people have been with us 20, 25 years," Hoy said during a recent plant tour. "   In the next four to five years, about half of our workforce will be retirement eligible.  We like a lot of other facilities are undergoing turnover, and our challenge is to ensure that we don't lose all that knowledge."
SEE ALSO: Our Earlier Made In WNY Features  Austin Air | Buffalo Armory | CutCo Cutlery | DuPont  | Father Sam's Pita Bread | GMs' Tonawanda Engine Plant | Kanberra Gel  | Kan-Jam | Kazoos | Mentholatum  | Perry's Ice Cream | Sahlen' s Hot Dogs | Weber's Mustard
dupont23Years after Cellophane and Rayon were pioneered at DuPont's Tonawanda facility, it now concentrates on making -- and researching-- Corian, a solid countertop material that has become a staple for artists, designers, and builders, and Tedlar, a durable vinyl flouride film used inside aircraft, solar panels and even in the outer skin of the Goodyear blimp.
Here's some items from the company Fact Sheet on the facility.
The DuPont Yerkes site is located at 3115 River Rd. adjacent to the Niagara River in Tonawanda.
The site was founded in 1921.

The site’s footprint spans over 95 acres.
Yerkes is the North American manufacturing home of Corian® solid surfaces and the founding site of Tedlar® ® polyvinyl fluoride film.

The site is also home to DuPont global Corian® Research and Development

Overall, approximately 600 work at the site.
The Yerkes Plant was named in 1945 to honor Leonard A. Yerkes (1881-1967), who helped develop some of the most important DuPont products of the early twentieth century. The University of Pennsylvania-trained chemist joined DuPont’s Development Department in 1917 and became assistant director two years later.

In 1919 Yerkes went to France to investigate artificial silk production and the next year, after DuPont purchased the technology, became president of the newly formed DuPont Fibersilk Company.

In 1924, after the acquisition of production rights to cellophane, Yerkes established the DuPont Cellophane Company to handle the new product. He retired in 1945. That same year the rayon and cellophane facilities in Buffalo, NY, were renamed the Yerkes Works. He served on DuPont’s Board of Directors until 1952.
  The DuPont Yerkes site has a history of manufactured innovations including:
  • Rayon (1921 – 1955)
  • Cellophane (1924 – 1968)
  • Cel-O-Seal (1931 – 1964)
  • Cellulose Sponge (1936 – 1951)
  • Tedlar® polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) films (introduced in 1961.)
  • Polyethylene Film (1951 – 1961)
  • Vexar®  Netting (1959 – 1979).
  • Corian® (1968)
dupont27 Corian is in kitchen countertops but
 What is Tedlar ?

More than 30 years ago DuPont developed a new kind of film made of polyvinyl fluoride: TEDLAR® PVF film. With Corian, Tedlar is the Tonwanda plant's only other product .

The paper-thin film has specialized mechanical, electrical and chemical properties. It forms the main skin on the current fleet of Goodyear blimps, and is is used as a layer both in the exterior of airplanes, and inside the cabin. In recent years it has also found markets as a weather-resistant layer inside solar panels and other places outdoors.
Corian is made by taking minerals and other materials, mixing it with water and pressing it out in sheets.

The process has been featured often in a variety of programs, but has changed enough since then that it is closely guarded and fairly private now.
dupont8While it as been a mainstay of kitchen countertops for years, Corian  has been embraced more recently by designers, architects and artists.

Inside the plant's Research and Development facility, workers are testing the materials limits looking at its light bearing properties, machining it into art pieces, speaker housings, and more.

The walls of the R&D facility showcase how  Corian has been used, including in basic cutout works of art (L) and with complex machining, where a cutting tool works as an ink jet printer to inscribe complex designs made with cuts of different depths.  (above)   Other shaped uses are shown below.

Above technical manager Jeff Rose shows some of the ways they are exploring the light bearing properties of Corian.
dupont21 dupont17
dupont 7Above: They test the ways Corian can be cut and machined and pieced together in different shapes and colors, or even heat-formed into various shapes.

At right, Technology associate Bart Panagian talks about the cutting machine in the background, where they test the nature of what shapes can be made. One of his latest projects: a chessboard where the edges are so sharp that a human eye sees sharper contrasts between the white and black squares .
dupont11 dupont5
 The R&D lab is researching induction cooktops where the countertop stays cool

dupont4At left, Technical service consultant Jeff Tucker demonstrates a vaccum forming machine that he describes as a "reverse air-hockey table".

Suction draws a plastic blanket down over the top of the table and force a heated sample of Corian into a wavy mold underneath. Tucker and others study how curvy the mold can be, and how much heat or pressure the sample can take

It's part of the  research into how malliable the substance so they can learn more about the various shapes that are possible. (below)

dupont14 dupont15

Filed Under :  
Locations : BuffaloNew YorkPennsylvania
People : Leonard A. YerkesWarren Hoy
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