Innovative Coating Technology Generates Major Growth for SilcoTek® Corporation
SilcoTek Corporation of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania is on a mission to provide clients with superior coatings. Founded less than a decade ago, SilcoTek is rapidly expanding and highly ambitious.
SilcoTek Corporation utilizes a special Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) process to apply coatings to valves, pipe fittings, tubing and other parts for enhanced surface properties, corrosion-resistance and performance.
In total, the firm has developed over 20 custom coatings, though in practical terms the firm focuses on “seven or eight main brands that we commercialize,” says Luke Patterson, from SilcoTek’s Marketing and Business Development team.
One of the company’s leading solutions is called SilcoNert®, a flexible silicon coating that Patterson describes as “the product that started it all for us.” SilcoNert is capable of making metal parts as chemically inert as glass. This enables companies to get rapid, reliable, and highly accurate samples of gases and liquids throughout their processes. Companies in oil, gas, petrochemical refining, power generation, and other energy-related industries have relied on SilcoNert for accurate chemical analysis since the mid-1990s.
A corrosion-resistant, durable inert coating called Dursan® is “the next biggest [solution] we offer… It brings corrosion resistance into play. It also has non-stick properties which can benefit a wide range of applications… That’s the most versatile coating we offer,” states Patterson.
SilcoTek’s coatings are proprietary. The company does not sell products through retail channels but coats parts for customers at its Bellefonte facilities. That said, SilcoTek partners with certain companies to provide standard products already-coated and ready to ship once the customer requests them. The company is considering building more sites to apply coatings in different locations and can also license its technology to clients who wish to make a substantial capital investment allowing them to coat their own products.
SilcoTek serves clients in the process analytical, chemical manufacturing, aerospace, oil and gas, refining, automotive, semiconductor manufacturing, bio/pharma and clinical diagnostics sectors. The semiconductor manufacturing market is currently one of the strongest revenue generators for the firm. The company is particularly focused on growing its business in life sciences applications, a field that includes bio-pharma and clinical diagnostics, says Patterson.
While the company doesn’t have any other manufacturing sites today, it does have a European associate, in the form of SilcoTek GmbH, based near Frankfurt, Germany. “They continue to grow each year. They’re doing well and have established a strong customer base. [SilcoTek GmbH] will send parts over to us to be coated, then they’ll stock them so when customers ask for them they don’t have to tell them it will be a month [before they’re ready],” explains Patterson.
SilcoTek was originally part of another company called Restek, and researchers at Restek developed a special Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) coating technology in 1987. In 2009, a group of employees formerly with Restek broke off to form a new company, dubbed SilcoTek, to solely focus on providing CVD coating services.
While CVD technology has “been around for a very long time,” acknowledges Patterson, SilcoTek has “taken it out of this niche scientific manufacturing process and turned it into a scalable industrial process… [We] can take anybody’s parts, no matter what they’re using them for, and give them unique properties that you are never going to get from standard dip, spray, or paint coatings,” he states.
The CVD process is the only method the company uses for applying coatings. “This is our business,” emphasizes Patterson. “We’re not a specialty division of a huge materials company. Our R&D people are passionate about this; they invented our coatings and they’re still here inventing coatings. That’s sort of what makes us stand out.”
While CVD technology is central to what the company does, SilcoTek also places a great emphasis on the human touch. To this end, the first step in the coatings process involves talking to the client to “understand the problem they’re trying to solve and what they need a solution for… We make a coating recommendation. It’s important that they provide a drawing or schematic so we can look at the parts and understand the exact requirements for processing,” states Patterson.
Once this is settled, SilcoTek uses a customized Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to send off a quote and a shipping document. When the part or parts arrive, they’re carefully inspected and photographed for traceability and verification purposes. The customized ERP system manages key factors in the process like serialization and part traceability.
“The next critical step is surface preparation. We can’t take parts and put them right into the coating process; they have to be clean first. Even a fingerprint, while it might not affect the performance of the coating, you will notice it. It’s important we remove any residual contaminants, fingerprints or grease,” Patterson explains.
Parts are then moved into a loading vessel which is placed in a specialty oven. A proprietary gas mixture is added and the oven is heated. This part of the process is carried out with the help of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) software. Once everything is heated then cooled, the company verifies to make sure all the proper parameters, such as temperature, pressure and heating times, were met. If the parameters were indeed met, parts are unloaded then moved to a quality inspection stage. Parts that pass the Quality Control (QC) process are photographed one last time then packaged and shipped.
In terms of quality standards, SilcoTek has ISO 9001:2015 certification, while the Dursan coating technology is National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certified for food contact.
While its coating processes are cutting-edge, SilcoTek also puts a substantial amount of effort into building its team and encouraging its workers. The company uses the acronym FISHING to spell out its core values and the term “Z.I.P. Code” to raise day-to-day awareness about quality.
F stands for “fast failure” which means “it’s okay to screw up, but you have to learn from that mistake,” states Patterson.
I is for “In the Light” meaning things are done in an open, transparent manner.
S stands for “Servant Leadership” or the principle that “the manager’s job is to make their employees successful… not just get the work done but to help grow their career,” states Patterson.
H stands for “Honesty” which is self-explanatory, he continues.
I is for “Innovation” which is inherent in “all we do,” adds Patterson.
N stands for “Never stop learning… Every employee is tasked with taking at bare minimum one educational program or course a year, just to stay sharp,” he states.
Finally G stands for “Give it all you’ve got – work hard, have fun,” concludes Patterson.
The FISHING concept “is truly what our employees and leaders are all about. If you don’t embrace that and that’s not who you are as a person or employee, you stand out pretty quick. I think people that don’t fit in realize it themselves. It’s a culture we live.”
The “Z.I.P. Code” slogan “is more of an everyday quality policy. Z is for ‘zero customer disappointment’. I is ‘integrity in all we do’ and P is plus one customer service. We’re handling our customers’ really expensive parts; we’ve got to treat every part like an egg. It’s important to appreciate the work they’ve put into their product up to that point, then it’s our job to make it even better. We always do that one extra thing to make the customer smile,” says Patterson.
This customer-centric approach extends to the company website, which is replete with product information, details about coatings and Chemical Vapor Deposition and an online learning center featuring FAQs, white papers and presentations. The firm believes in being “informative, educational and helping the customer and helping potential customers,” explains Patterson.
The company also produces webinars and attends roughly 15 to 20 trade shows each year. Through such outreach, SilcoTek hopes to educate engineers, scientists and other decision-makers about SilcoTek’s capabilities.
Recently, SilcoTek hit a “growth milestone” by passing the 50-employee mark, says Patterson. The current workforce stands at around 51 employees, compared with 43 or so last year. The new workers were hired thanks to “a sharp increase in business, particularly in the semiconductor sector,” says Patterson.
And the workforce isn’t the only thing growing at SilcoTek. The company plans to construct a new building in Bellefonte “that will double our manufacturing capacity,” he continues.
The biggest challenge for the company at present is “overcoming logistics.” Because operations are based in one location, customers are required to send in their parts and products to Bellefonte to be coated. Ideally, SilcoTek would like to “increase our capacity and simultaneously increase our geographical presence by having facilities in other places,” Patterson explains.
In addition to setting up processing ovens in other locales, the company has an ambitious plan to enter into 25 Technology Licenses over the next few years. “These licenses will help us partner with external entities to create win-win scenarios.”
Such plans reflect SilcoTek’s optimistic outlook for continued growth.
“I expect in five years to have a second manufacturing facility somewhere, outside of Bellefonte,” shares Patterson. “We’ll continue to add to our staff in terms of technical resources. We need more application scientists who are really focused on taking what we’ve got, testing it, finding new applications for it, and engineers to enable us to meet that vision of licensing and off-site oven installations. I think we’ll continue to innovate the process. The last thing would be continuing to expand applications. We find new applications every month.”