OC OPENS PLANT, BUYS CABLE MAKER'S ASSETS

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Owens Corning broadened its capacity to reinforce fiber-optic and copper telecommunication cable by opening a new facility in Duncan, S.C., and acquiring the assets of Stewart Group Inc. in Markham, Ontario.

Owens Corning will market a complete line of glass-fiber products to protect and reinforce telecommunication cable. For almost two decades, Owens Corning has supplied Stewart Group with glass fiber. The two firms have collaborated in penetrating new markets in the past two years.

Owens Corning's Aiken, S.C., plant has made a line of flexible reinforcements to go around the wave guide in fiber-optic cable. Physical constraints led to the opening earlier this year of the 100,000-square-foot Duncan plant, which is employing 24 during ramp-up and transfer of production from the multiple-operation Aiken site.

During 1996, Owens Corning introduced AquaBlok reinforcement, which blocks water from damaging optical wave guides, and SoftStrand reinforcement, which helps ease the packing of glass fiber into the finished cable.

Meanwhile, Stewart Group was operating two reinforcement product lines including one producing a pultruded fiberglass rod with proprietary advanced Glassline technology.

Originally, Stewart adapted the technology for the central strength member for fiber-optic cable in 1986. The stiff rod stock keeps the cable from being wound too tightly and prevents impulse transmissions from being disrupted. The operation employs 25 at a 50,000-square-foot facility in Markham.

William O. Morris, president and chief executive officer, is the fourth generation of Stewart Group's family owners. Operations started in 1896 in the textile industry.

In a telephone interview, Morris said he will provide ongoing consulting services and use sale proceeds to pursue other opportunities in the telecommunications industry as they arise.

``The Stewart Group will continue to operate,'' he said.

The sale closed May 9 and was announced May 13. Terms were not disclosed.

Combining operations gives Owens Corning two sites with similar capabilities in a growing market. The $170 million market for glass fiber in telecommunication reinforcements is growing 10-15 percent per year ``since developed countries are turning to fiber-optic cable for data transmission,'' said Heinz-J. Otto, president of Owens Corning's composites business.

Morris noted that, outside North America, annual growth of as much as 25 percent is occurring in some regions with smaller installed bases and rapid development of fiber-optic infrastructure.

Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning competes in that cable reinforcement niche with Neptco Inc. of Pawtucket, R.I., and Glastic Corp. of Cleveland.