Golden: CoorsTek boosts capacity to make ceramic plates for body armor

The war between Ukraine and Russia has highlighted the importance of body armor for soldiers, and the deadly consequences when it is lacking.

Body armor is something Golden-based CoorsTek knows well. It has produced ceramic plates used to protect soldiers from bullets and shrapnel since the 1960s, and also makes ceramic plates to protect aircraft.

The company, better known for manufacturing parts used in automobiles and hip replacements, will become the dominant player in the niche after closing on the purchase of another leading ceramic plate manufacturing plant in Lexington, Ky., from Avon Protection.

The acquisition follows significant investments CoorsTek made to boost manufacturing capacity at a ceramic plate plant it owns in Benton, Ark.

“We saw it as a great opportunity to make sure we have the capabilities as well as the production output to meet the demand of the U.S. Army,” said Tim Haen, vice president of aerospace and defense at CoorsTek. “It is our strategic intent to make sure we have the appropriate material and construction capabilities to support soldier protection.”

Ceramic plates cause bullets or shrapnel to disperse on impact, while a component woven into the back of the plates protects a wearer from the fragments. CoorsTek doesn’t make the complete armor, only the plates, but the company’s material science advances over the years have created materials that are both more resistant and lighter, a key consideration on the battlefield.

The Lexington plant has had a string of owners over the years, including defense company Ceradyne, which was acquired by 3M in 2012. In 2019, 3M sold its ballistic protection line to a British company, Avon Rubber, parent of Avon Protection. Avon Protection in turn agreed to sell the plant to CoorsTek last December.

“It is purely a ceramic company and that is our expertise,” Haen said. “They understand the manufacturing process and we are excited to bring that team on.”

The plant employs about 40 people, and while the acquisition won’t directly benefit the company’s headcount in Colorado, it could result in more support jobs and research and development jobs at the Center for Advanced Materials in Golden, which the company started in 2017 with a $120 million investment.

CoorTek counts 5,026 employees globally, with about 1,064 in the Golden area, and is under the fifth generation of management by the Coors family, which started the company about 110 years ago as a supplement to its brewing business. The privately-held company specializes in technical ceramics, which are nonmetallic, inorganic materials known for their hardness and ability to withstand mechanical, chemical, electrical and thermal stresses.

Its products are used in the automotive, aerospace, energy, medical, electronics and defense fields. Over the past decade, CoorsTek has doubled in size through the acquisition of ceramic companies in Europe and Japan.

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