Solving irritating corporate or personal woes has become Sorbothane Inc.'s prime business.
Got a foot problem? See Sorbothane. Stymied by a shock-absorption dilemma? Sorbothane says it can find a solution. Looking for someone to design an isolation system? Same answer.
The bottom line is that when it comes to shock and vibration, the company prides itself in its ability to handle everything from the simplest to the toughest tasks, which makes it hard to put Sorbothane in a category.
The company is everywhere: footwear, aircraft, computers, ships, cell phones and medical devices, to name just a few of the products it impacts.
It has gained accolades during the past two decades as a comfort insole manufacturer, using its proprietary polyurethane material as its base. But the firm also is a custom maker of a variety of PU-based goods for shock, vibration and noise protection.
In addition, it makes a small stable of industrial parts, including sheet stock, bushings and washers, stud mounts, and isolation pads and rings.
``We sell direct to end users and through bigger industrial distributors,'' said Paul R. Znidar, an engineer who heads up the company's growing industrial division, which handles the custom molding end of its operation.
While the privately held business does not release sales figures, sales rose steadily throughout 2003, with the industrial side holding a slight edge, according to President Robert E. Boyd. Traditionally, the firm's insole division records higher sales and looks like it will again in 2004.
Sorbothane Inc. in the United States is not affiliated with the Sorbothane Division of Phoenix Medical Ltd. of Preston, England, which makes and markets insole products in Europe under the Sorbothane Shockstopper trade name. Phoenix Medical bought the Sorbothane operation in the United Kingdom in 2002 from Unipoly plc, which had acquired it in 1997 from BTR plc.
Sorbothane Inc.'s business has remained strong despite the poor U.S. economy, Boyd said. In fact, the company expanded with several machines and a new production line in the past two years, and will add a new line of tooling for insole production in the next several months.
It makes all its products at its 64,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Kent, where it employs 18.
At the foundation of the 22-year-old company's success is its thermoset, polyether-based PU material, called Sorbothane. The proprietary, viscoelastic polymer has a high damping coefficient and maintains its property over a wide temperature range, Boyd said.
The product is a solid that flows like a liquid and combines high-energy absorption with excellent memory, according to Znidar.
The firm also produces some cast urethane foams, Boyd said, but for the most part it works with its proprietary material in both its industrial and insole divisions.
Sorbothane's industrial business recently fulfilled an unusual application request, when the curators of the National Park Service and the Philadelphia Museum of Art selected the firm to design an isolation system for the move of the Liberty Bell.
Sorbothane developed mounts placed on a specially designed, wheeled carriage to support the bell on its five-hour trip that covered 935 feet. The mounts prevented harmful shock and vibration energy during the move from the Liberty Bell Pavilion.
The company's isolators were installed in close contact with the bell. In effect, a composite structure of Sorbothane and steel was created, with the steel providing strength and maintaining the correct shape. Alternating layers of Sorbothane isolated the bell from harmonic vibrations and prevented shock energy transfer, Znidar said. From a shock and vibration standpoint, the move came off without a hitch.
``We never know who we're going to be talking to or about what,'' he said. ``It could be something to do with a military aircraft one day and an ocean-going vessel that needs shock absorption materials the next.''