SPARKS, Nev. (KOLO) -- ERG Aerospace is responsible for creating a strong lightweight material you've probably never seen before. The highly specialized material can be found all over the world and in deep space.
Spacecraft, equipment to protect troops from IED explosions, and commercial airliners have one thing in common. They each rely on or one day could rely on Duocel® foam.
"It simulates a solid piece, but it's porous and has 1/10 of to 1/15 the weight of a standard piece of aluminum," said ERG Production Engineer, Alex Parke.
It's nearly as strong as a solid piece of aluminum despite the light weight. ERG Aerospace makes foam structures from metal, carbon, ceramic, aluminum,and copper.
All of these foams are created at ERG Aerospace at 55 Greg Street in Sparks. A family invented the process in 1967 and launched ERG Aerospace as a result.
The family expanded ERG Aerospace from the Bay area into Nevada in February of 2017 and has since grown its workforce in Nevada to nearly 40 people.
The Company quickly outgrew its Greg Street building and expanded into a building across the parking lot. It is also quickly building a research and development facility in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center east of Sparks.
The process to construct this hardened foam is proprietary so our cameras were not allowed to capture how any of this material is made, but we were granted full access to the engineers and designers responsible for making this material.
Manufacturing Duocel® foam is complex. "It's a long process. A very manually intensive process. A lot of hands touching it. Multi-stage process," said Alex.
The process is so specialized 60 percent of the tools used to make this product are made on site in Sparks. "We have quite a few products made in house. We try to keep as much stuff in house as possible," said ERG Facility Manager, Logan Theisen.
The impact this material has on the world around us is incredible. It's on track to be used in the production of at least 25,000 single aisle passenger jet engines over the next two decades.
Pratt & Whitney makes what are called geared turbofan engines and puts them on commercial aircraft like the A320 because they reduce engine noise by 75 percent.
This engine also increases fuel efficiency by 16 percent, and saves $1.5 million in fuel per aircraft per year, according to a Pratt and Whitney video promoting the technology, which relies on Duocel® foam.
The exact parts made in Sparks and the direct role in improving air travel for everyone is proprietary. This material is used for far more things than just commercial airliners.
Alex gave a demonstration with extreme heat. He turns on a 2,100 degree Fahrenheit propane torch toward a 1/4 inch thick piece of silicon carbine. He presses his hand on the other side to illustrate the protection it can provide from heat.
It's only 1/10 the weight of what a similar sized solid piece of silicon carbine would weigh. It's used when objects reenter the earth's atmosphere. It keeps those objects from burning up. Noah Bond held it up and was able to feel his breath pass through the object.
Additionally, ERG Aerospace is manufacturing a stainless steel Duocel® foam for armor and blast mitigation to protect our troops and first responders who are put in harms way.
Duocel® foam is excellent at energy absorption, which could potentially lessen the force of a blast from damaging vital organs during an IED explosion.
ERG Aerospace products are sold to companies in 42 states and 27 countries. The MADE IN NEVADA Business wins major awards. It earned the title of Pratt and Whitney's most innovative supplier of the year in 2019. This is a significant accomplishment because ERG Aerospace is one of Pratt and Whitney's 600 suppliers.
Other awards include: IHI Aeroengines Supplier of the Year (2018), United Technologies Supplier Gold Awardee (2019), EDAWN Manufacturing Excellence Awardee 2019, SBIR U.S. Airforce Heat rejection.