Investing in Ceramics: Heroic Efforts
Zircoa, Inc., which was founded in Solon, Ohio, in 1952, engineers and manufactures a range of zirconium oxide (zirconia) and other advanced ceramic materials for virtually all industries. While Zircoa’s successful business model ensures all existing products meet the most demanding performance criteria, the company also prioritizes the introduction of new materials and technologies to grow new markets, such as crystal growth, environmental controls and high-temperature processing.
In addition to an emphasis on research and development, Zircoa aims to aid U.S. veterans by taking advantage of recently passed federal legislation in the form of the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes (VOW) Act of 2011. It is hoped that this endeavor will help reduce the veteran unemployment rate in the U.S. and make use of the special skills and attitudes that veterans can bring to a company.
In recognition of Zircoa’s success with the VOW program and the company’s commitment to hiring vets, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a co-sponsor of the VOW Act, visited the facility in August 2012. Senator Brown noted that 20% of the Zircoa workforce is made up of veterans (23 employees), and the company expects to hire more veterans in the next few months.
“Being a disabled veteran myself, I know what to expect from someone who has served in the armed forces and am confident that the skills that are taught in the military will transition well into the business world,” says Jason Haffner, Zircoa’s plant manager. “The majority of the veterans we have hired recently are front-line supervisors.”
“Zircoa is proof of concept of the worthiness of VOW, not only for our veterans’ sacrifices in the military for us all, but also for proving themselves as outstanding members of Zircoa’s team,” adds Ronne Proch, the company’s CEO and president. “Respect and discipline are the two greatest qualities enhanced by their military experience. They are the foundation of effective teamwork. As a class, veterans have that as an edge over other job candidates. It best satisfies Zircoa’s culture of hiring based on aptitude and attitude.”
The VOW Act provides tax credits to employers and encourages companies like Zircoa to hire veterans by providing employment and training services for older veterans. A fact sheet is available at www.benefits.va.gov/vow/docs/vrap_factsheet.pdf to help employers locate the highly qualified workforce represented by the current and older generations of veterans.
Zircoa produces its own zirconium oxide from raw minerals. The company has a comprehensive understanding of zirconia and its use in the production of ceramics and refractories, electronics, sensors, high-temperature insulation, electronic ceramics, wear-resistant products, crystal growth, and very high-temperature metal production. Zircoa products are classified as specialty refractories, technical ceramics or granular products.
Specialty refractories are engineered with coarse grain structure and the appropriate porosity and chemical makeup for use in environments where characteristics like resistance to thermal shock, corrosion and extreme temperature are important. Technical ceramics are engineered with fine grain structure and are extremely dense, smooth, impervious and wear resistant. These materials have been developed to solve a wide range of requirements in many different industries, ranging from electronics and precision components to medical and aerospace. Granular products range from low-surface-area powders with unique spheroidal shapes for ease of use and high solids slurry capability to larger grains with controlled chemistry and size distributions to satisfy a spectrum of environmental and performance characteristics ranging from basic to exotic.
Zircoa’s veteran-led staff is producing world-class refractories, crucibles, processing components, and other high-temperature materials for thermal, mechanical, wear, and structural applications. To continue its growth and compete internationally, the company invests heavily in R&D and new market development:
NOx Emission Control
A solution for NOx emission control includes new electronics and data processing algorithms that enable the use of commercial lambda sensors for precision NOx emission measurement. These sensors could help to significantly reduce air pollution from internal combustion engines at no additional cost to engine manufacturers. With the potential for commercial readiness in 18 months, this product would mean even more local jobs for veterans.
Cost-Effective Improvement of Carbon Black Process Yields
A solution to temperature limitations in carbon black reactors uses specialty refractories that regularly reach 2000°C and higher, yet permit control of reactor shell temperatures to under 600°F. Demand for high process yield due to high oil prices drives the need for higher temperature. This demand will further increase the requirements to hire more skilled personnel for production and supervision.
To better serve its European customer base and provide a beachhead to the EMEA countries, Zircoa has formed Zircoa GmbH in Wiesbaden, Germany. Formerly an arm of Didier/RHI GmbH, the sales office will maintain its former personnel, products and client base. The operation will not only sell existing Zircoa products, but is seeking collaboration with other materials companies with complementary product lines.
To hear more about Zircoa’s experience with the VOW Act, listen to our exclusive interview with CEO Ronne Proch!