1960s The Beginning
Our story began in the early 1960s when a large aerospace company started up operations in Lowell, Massachusetts. Aviation Corporation, later known as AVCO, purchased several buildings in downtown Lowell, including the space we occupy today. At about the same time, former US president John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “moon speech” at Rice University, with a call to action for America’s scientific and industrial community.
AVCO’s most notable contribution to America’s space program was the development of the ablative heat shield material for the Apollo program. This innovative material was designed to protect the Apollo reentry vehicles from the extreme heat generated during free fall into the Earth’s atmosphere. Every Apollo capsule launched into space first spent time in Lowell, Massachusetts, having this mission-critical heat shield applied by a team of dedicated engineers.
1970s Military Aircraft Components
In the 1970’s, the United States was producing several new generations of military aircraft. Iconic fighter jets like the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle and bombers like the B-1 Lancer were the backbone of America’s air force. Aircraft control surfaces like the elevators and stabilizers required strong, lightweight composite materials to achieve the desired flight and safety characteristics. AvCarb’s boron-epoxy-reinforced titanium components provided an ideal solution to this engineering challenge.
1970s Chartek Fire Protection System
During the Vietnam war, an explosion on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal occurred when a rocket accidentally launched and exploded on the ship’s deck. The initial explosion and fire kicked off a series of explosions from bombs that were stacked on the deck ready for loading onto other aircraft. Many American sailors perished in this disaster.
Soon afterwards, the Navy began requiring that explosive munitions such as bombs be designed to withstand intense fire and heat for at least 10 minutes before auto-detonation. AvCarb’s specialty heat shield material was adapted for this purpose. As the heat shield business grew, this unique solution was rebranded as Chartek and eventually found widespread application in protection of steel-bean buildings from collapse during fires by directly applying Chartek to the exposed beams.
In the 1980s, AVCO was acquired by Textron, a multinational conglomerate with complimentary businesses in aircraft, defense, automotive and more. Our market focus expanded to include the automotive and industrial sectors with carbon based fabric solutions.
1980s Rapid D
Carbon/Carbon brakes are used in many demanding braking applications where extreme braking is needed. This includes most aircraft, formula one and other racing applications, and some very high end automobiles. These brakes can not only take very high heat generated in this environment, but will keep braking even though they can become red hot during the braking process. The disks are typically manufactured by placing a dense web of carbon fiber and cycling many oven batches of a process called chemical vapor infiltration or CVI, to densify these brakes to make them a very dense solid material. This process takes several weeks to complete.
In the 1980’s Textron engineers came up with a process where brake disks were completely densified in mere hours by immersing them in a liquid hydrocarbon and heating them with induction heating. This densified them from the inside out and created a new mechanism of densification. This process was scaled to a large prototype facility and sold to a major brake manufacturer.
1990s Torque Converter
In the early 1990’s Textron engineers were contacted by GM engineers and asked if we had or could develop a material for a new transmission design that would “slip constantly” for the entire life of the vehicle. This material would need to be durable, allow fluid flow, heat transfer, and have excellent frictional properties. We began a long and mutually beneficial relationship with General Motors that continues today. AvCarbs material, now deployed in millions of vehicles worldwide, became the standard friction material used in GM’s four and six speed EC³ transmissions.
2000s Ballard Power Systems
In 2006, Textron sold their Lowell, MA based specialty materials business to Ballard Power Systems. With Decades of experience developing innovative material solutions for a wide range of industries, BPS challenged the team in Lowell to deliver a world class gas diffusion system for their hydrogen fuel cell business. Since that time AvCarb has developed a complete line of carbon papers and gas diffusion systems for various electrochemical applications. Today, AvCarb is a world leading supplier of GDLs with the best price/performance ratio available.
2003 Molded graphite laminates
Electrochemical system developers have long used thin carbon papers as part of a gas diffusion strategy. Some system design challenges like high differential pressures or highly corrosive operating conditions call for a more robust solution than standard carbon papers. AvCarb’s line of molded graphite laminates (MGLs) provide a highly graphitic, porous material in a thicker form factor up to 0.4mm.
2010s AvCarb Material Solutions
In 2013, Ballards Lowell manufacturing operation was sold to our current management team backed by private equity. The business was renamed AvCarb Material Solutions. Today, AvCarb is committed to providing high performance, cost effective material solutions for complex engineering challenges.
2010s Carbon Felt
Now firmly established as a leader in producing GDLs for fuel cell systems, AvCarb extended its reach into electrochemical applications with the introduction of carbon felt. This non-woven, highly porous material was originally developed with redox flow battery manufacturers in mind, and has since been adapted for use in a wide range of specialty electrode applications.