TRIADELPHIA - The Touchstone Research Laboratory has come a long way since its days of working out of one room in a monastery basement.
Elizabeth Kraftician and Brian Joseph started the business in 1980 as a testing and research lab for private industrial companies that had cut back on their own research and development operations. Soon outgrowing its limited space, the company vacated the Carmel Road monastery and moved into a building on 14th Street in Wheeling. Even more growth prompted the firm to become the first tenant of the Millennium Centre, a high-tech park on Middle Creek Road in Triadelphia.
With 35 employees, Touchstone has evolved into a cutting-edge materials research and technology product development company occupying four buildings at the Millennium Centre.
Photo by Fred Connors
Testing fatigue strength of an aircraft engine component is Zach Witzgall, a mechanical engineer at Touchstone Research Laboratory.
Touchstone President and Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Kraftician said the company - with a broad array of lab equipment, design and simulation capabilities, and prototype manufacturing facilities - continues to provide testing and laboratory services for private businesses. It specializes in industrial problem solving; and has an experienced staff that includes chemical, polymeric and mechanical engineers, physicists, chemists, biologists and composite technicians.
Its customer base ranges from automotive and aerospace suppliers to metals and materials producers.
"Within the last 12 years, we have become increasingly involved in providing federal agencies with new technology developments, primarily through the Small Business Innovation Research program," Kraftician said. "Any federal agency responsible for more than $100 million in research and development per year sets aside 2.5 percent of its funding for small businesses to conduct feasibility and prototype projects in areas of importance to the government."
Touchstone Research Laboratory has invented many products, from CFoam to CStone and others. Will any of these products ever take off in defense or commercial applications?
While the company has touted its CFoam product as a lightweight, fireproof material for possible use in the defense and space industries, to date it is still being marketed to the government. CStone has similar applications, most notably being able to be used on runways for planes that would take-off and land vertically.
She said Touchstone has been awarded Small Business Innovation Research contracts by various branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, including the Army, Air Force, Navy and Missile Defense Agency, as well as by the Department of Energy, NASA and the National Science Foundation. In the last two years, it has received 10 Phase I and six Phase II contracts.
Touchstone is one of 27 companies in the nation - and one of two in West Virginia - selected to take part in the Defense Production Act Title III Program, which aims to ensure a domestic production capability that is critical for the nation's defense programs and includes areas such as technology items, components, and industrial resources.
Where a viable domestic capacity either does not exist or is insufficient to meet the nation's defense needs, the program aids selected companies with unique capabilities by increasing their industrial capacity with access to sources for defense-critical materials, components, and processes.
Touchstone owns more than 40 patents in areas ranging from coal-based carbon foam technology and metal matrix composites to radar emissions material, as well as an instrument that works within a scanning electron microscope to manipulate materials under study.
The company has a number of patent applications pending.
CSTONE, which stands for carbon stone, is a coal-based product that has been tested in various defense applications, including landing pads, missile tubes and rocket nozzles.
The editors at Research & Development Magazine liked the product so much that in 2007, they awarded Touchstone an "Oscar of Invention" for CSTONE, naming the product "one of the 100 most technologically significant new products for 2006."
Benefits of CSTONE on the take-off/landing pads are reduced maintenance, lighter weight and affordability.
CSTONE is black, like slate, and some people who hold it in their hands might actually believe they are holding a piece of graphite.
Graphite is used in nuclear reactors, piston rings, bearings, seals, lubricants, batteries, electrodes, paint, pencils, liners, molds, golf clubs, brake pads, and more.
Although CSTONE has primarily been evaluated only by the government, it also has a market in many industrial applications such as furnace floors or in applications where corrosion is a problem in the chemical industry.
CSTONE is a spinoff of a similar product created several years ago, called CFOAM, or carbon foam. That fireproof product continues to be tested for use on various applications, including military and aerospace. CFOAM also won an R&D 100 award.
Another of the company's innovations to win a R&D 100 award is MetPreg, a lightweight, fiber-enhanced product that is three times stronger than aluminum.
Examples of technologies now being developed by the company include metal matrix composite missile components, out-of-autoclave manufacturing of defense parts with carbon foam tooling, multi-layer aluminum alloys for armor, corrosion-resistant aircraft aluminum alloys, a hybrid atmospheric fluidized bed gasifier for high methane content syngas, and thermoplastic composite lockers for hazardous material storage on Navy ships.
The company has also won the Tibbetts Award for its outstanding SBIR work; and became the first research laboratory to earn the "National Blue Chip Enterprise," known as the Malcolm Baldrige award for small business.