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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"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."
|Years 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.
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.
While 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.
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 .
The R&D lab is researching induction cooktops where the countertop stays cool
At 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)