Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's not just about boats anymore

I’m not sure when Ken Priest, Sr. developed his first prototype for a boat 60 years ago, he ever envisioned where his boat-building company was headed.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and Kenway Corporation is now known as a technology innovator in composites, as evidenced when the American Composites Manufacturing Association (ACMA) conferred its 2009 “Award for Composites Excellence (ACE)” to the Augusta, Maine-based company at their Composites & Polycon 2009 event. Kenway received ACMA’s Award for Technical Innovation for Corrosion Applications for its FRP Abrasion/Corrosion Resistant Blind Flange.

While award-winning, 1,200 pound composite flange is used in a power industry flue gas desulphurization project. Large composite parts like this kind of flange typically warp significantly during traditional open-molding manufacturing, resulting in costly post-machining. But a new nanotechnology, combined with Kenway’s proprietary vacuum infusion process, now allows for single-session infusions of high fiber-content structural laminates exceeding 6” in thickness without degrading the structural properties of the laminate or causing the typical warping, something which is a real challenge for traditional inhibitor-based systems. In fact, thus far Kenway has demonstrated that it can maintain tolerances of less than 0.005” per foot while using this process. As a result of this technology, Kenway was able to manufacture a part which exceeded the customer’s technical specifications while also dramatically reducing manufacturing costs, thereby making the company far more competitive in the marketplace.

This kind of technological innovation among Maine’s composite companies has been facilitated by Maine’s North Star Alliance Initiative. NSAI was established in 2006 and is an example of an industry-led collaborative, synthesizing business, R&D, education, workforce, and economic development resources specifically targeting Maine’s composites and boatbuilding industries. Through the initiative, Maine was able to attract composite industry experts such as Andre Cocquyt and develop workforce training programs so that Maine’s composites and boatbuilding businesses could combine world-leading craftsmanship with cutting-edge manufacturing technology. Kenway Corporation has partnered closely with NSAI to grow the company’s manufacturing expertise and make the technological advances that ultimately lead to this national award.

Of course, not everyone comes into contact with a 1,200 pound flange on a daily basis. However, every time you take your debit/credit card down to your local ATM machine, the housing/surround that protects the cash dispenser is a composite material, possibly manufactured by Kenway.

The ACMA award isn’t the only recent recognition that Kenway has received. In June, The Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) honored Kenway with their Manufacturer of the Year award. This award is presented every year to a company that has achieved world-class manufacturing status and has implemented best manufacturing practices required to advance in the marketplace.

Augusta’s Kenway Corporation is another example of a Maine manufacturer making innovative products, embracing 21st century technologies, and providing employment opportunities for jobseekers willing to learn some employer-specific skills.

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