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President Steve Edris explains to Gary Toushek why Thermafiber, a small manufacturer of mineral wool insulation, is attracting attention on the global stage 28 January 08 Thermafiber’s insulation products are in six of the ten tallest high-rise buildings in the world, and will be installed in some currently being or soon-to-be constructed, including the Trump Tower in Chicago, the World Trade Center rebuild, and projects in Dubai. Why? Mineral wool insulation is light-weight, and easy to work with. It’s acoustically sponge-like, so it absorbs noise, and it absorbs heat, too. It’s one of the most fire-resistant insulation products commercially available, able to withstand over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit without melting or combusting, thereby enabling more time for evacuation in emergency situations. The company was founded in 1934 in Wabash, Indiana, because of the abundance of Anichestrategy

January 08 29 local limestone, which was melted in extremely hot furnaces to make molten rock, then made into fibers, then either molded into a ‘board’ of building insulation, or left loose for applications such as ceiling tiles, packing, or brake shoes. As a protection from heat it’s used around industrial furnaces, kilns, ovens, boilers. Today slag, a byproduct of making steel, has mostly replaced limestone as the key raw material to make mineral wool, and coke is used as the primary fuel source. “We’re a scaled-down version of a steel mill furnace,” says president Steve Edris. “They melt iron ore and iron-laden rock, and we take the non-iron portion of their melt, cooled as slag. Then we melt the slag into 2500 degree molten lava, an energy-intensive process and one of our major cost drivers, but it provides us with a product with 80 percent recycled content and obvious attributes. It’s proven that mineral wool saves twelve times as much energy per pound as the energy used to produce it, in its first year in use as insulation. And with that hot melt, I’m pleased to say that we’ve gone two years without a lost time injury, so for a foundry-like work environment, we’re quite safe.” In 1959 Thermafiber, which had grown to five facilities, was acquired by Chicago-based United States Gypsum (USG), a public company formed in 1901 by consolidating 30 gypsum and plaster companies nationwide. All was well until a hostile takeover attempt in 1987; USG fought back with a poison pill and bought up all remaining stock by borrowing $1.6 billion from 135 banks and issuing debentures. To pay for all this debt USG had to sell off some subsidiaries, including Thermafiber. Unfortunately the timing was bad, the construction market began declining, and in 1993 USG filed a pre-packaged bankruptcy, which worked, and USG re-emerged. But in 1996 Thermafiber