Did you hear what happened when an ear-piercing train horn was enclosed in a flexible plastic membrane only a quarter-inch thick?
The Nathan Airchime train signal, which can be heard for miles, couldn't permeate the two thin sheets of a sound-proofing material called Acoustiblok.
Neither could the deafening guitar riffs from a rock musician whose wild solo hit 130 decibels, which is equivalent to a jet engine.
The silence was golden to Lahnie Johnson, the CEO of Acoustiblok Inc., whose Tampa, Fla.-based business is in the midst of a building expansion to keep up with orders.
Johnson agreed to put his invention up against the amped-up rocker and the loudest locomotive siren for the National Geographic series “Showdown of the Unbeatables.” He is pleased with the performance of his proprietary blend of a viscoelastic polymer with a high-density mineral content.
“There's no doubt the train signal is one of the loudest things,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “When we did the test, the city [Los Angeles] wouldn't let us do it there. We had to go out in the country. It exceeded what they allow in L.A.”
The blaring train horn hit about 155 decibels, Johnson said, but it was derailed by his product, which is similar to mass-loaded vinyl tweaked with an exclusive formula.
“Acoustiblok is quite an interesting material,” he added. “It doesn't really stop sound. It doesn't really block sound. It doesn't really absorb sound. It transforms acoustic energy into trace amounts of heat, which is inaudible. That's basically what a microwave does but of course to a much-less degree with Acoustiblok. The amount of heat is so small it's not measurable. It's a different way to control noise.”
Johnson started the business 15 years ago following a stint in the aerospace industry. The privately held company has about 75 employees who develop and manufacture noise abatement products like Acoustivent and Acoustifence as well as a line of thermal insulation called Thermablok.
Sales increased steadily every year after Acoustiblok opened but lately, they're snowballing, Johnson said.
“Let's just say we have grown 30 percent minimum every year for the last three years,” he said. “It's been a real blessing. We are continuing to metastasize in growth.”
Acoustiblok products ship to 60 countries and are promoted with the tagline “Quieting the world.” One big order recently came from Brazil, where Johnson said the National Geographic show has been airing with the dialogue being dubbed.
“This is a huge project to reduce the sound from three Brazilian power plants that are close together and causing an incredible, low-frequency hum that goes throughout some cities,” he said. “We will be putting Acoustiblok and our all-weather sound panels around all of the generator units housed at these power plants.”
Other Acoustiblok customers include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Navy, NASA, Ford and Toyota — for their manufacturing facilities — and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
In Saudi Arabia, Johnson said Acoustiblok is being used to sound proof walls of high-rise apartments that have had vacancy problems because modest Muslims are concerned about neighbors in close proximity hearing intimate moments.
“They were having a difficult time getting people to move into towers because you can hear through the walls,” he said. “Putting Acoustiblok into the wall is a method to get the population to feel more comfortable in a tower. Our slogan there is: When privacy is sacred.”
Johnson partnered with Arabian Plastics Compounds Co. Ltd. to create Acoustiblok Middle East to serve the market. He signed a 50 year joint venture agreement in 2009 that licenses the right to manufacture his products there. The deal is reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
In Great Britain, Acoustiblok UK isn't a partnership as much as it is a business that Johnson helped get off the ground and continues to work closely with, he said.
He also is overseeing a 20,000-square-foot expansion at his Tampa facility and he expects to add another 20,000 square feet to the complex again later this year. Acoustiblok is extruded in sheets that are assembled into fences and panels. Assembly space is tight right now.
“Business is beyond our ability to keep up,” Johnson said. “We're at 75 employees and we'll add significantly to that.”
He has some new roof and ceiling products getting ready to go to market, too,
“You name it and we deal with it — trains, road noise, generators, chillers, pumps, elevators, zoos, kennels” Johnson said. “Noise pollution is getting worse by far from when we started.”