Each day at MWI, Inc. in Henrietta, a manufacturer of polysilicon composite, almost every shape and dimension of graphite stock imaginable is worked into molds for high-temperature applications.
“It’s one-tenth the weight of steel, yet it withstands temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius,” said Brian McMahon, MWI vice president of operations.
An easy-to-mill product and an excellent conductor of electricity, graphite is a commodity for several industries. Because it strengthens when heated, it is no surprise that one of the most interesting industries happens to be aerospace technology. MWI has been commissioned to make molds that form huge satellite reflectors.
“We’re also working on experimental airplane components,” McMahon said, “and heat-treat tooling for ongoing space programs.”
Graphite molds can also be used for the medical industry, to create parts for the coating of heart valves, the LED market for processing wafers, fuel cell flow fields and solar applications.
“Because the product is inert, it won’t decompose in a certain chemical environment,” said McMahon. “That makes it very useful in applications where most materials would break down. Graphite actually doubles in strength at temperatures where metals have since vaporized.”
The company spends a great deal of effort to keep the facility free from dust, which helps maintain a contaminant-free process. To enable this, MWI operates two enormous furnaces that operate in excess of 2,000 degrees Celsius.
“We’re using basing chemistry to vaporize any molecules that aren’t carbon,” McMahon said. “The process is to ensure that our customers receive the purist, uncontaminated product, because impurities will affect their process.”
MWI employs 110 people, about half in administration, sales, and support, and the rest in operations. It has manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts, Indiana, and California. Other offices are located in Oregon, Texas, and Michigan. Because machinists are difficult to come by, the company has established its own machinist’s program, and has hired graduates of National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Monroe Community College.
McMahon said the company is constantly reinvesting in the business, and will spend $2 million in the next year, mostly in equipment. He recently returned from Italy, where he had a hands-on demonstration of some prospective machines.
“I love working with the employees, the customers, the vendors — all of it,” he said. “Not every day can be a gem, but when we work hard to ship tangible product that was made by hand and machine, it’s very rewarding.”
Russo is a freelance writer covering the Rochester area.
Brian McMahon’s Five Must-Do’s
1. Hire and retain great employees.
2. Listen to employees and empower them to make change at every level.
3. Invest in technology to enhance your service and increase morale.
4. Eliminate all obstacles to gain and retain your customers’ business.
5. Manage cash flow.