Space suit maker ILC Dover repositions itself for growth

ILC Space Satellite
ILC has built its reputation by creating suits for the military and the space program. As NASA is moving in new directions, the company has shifted to more private sector work.

By Sam Waltz

Founding Publisher

Long known in Delaware as “our space suit maker,” ILC Dover is repositioning itself for business growth in the private sector, including acquisitions that have added about 150 new Delaware manufacturing jobs.

Founded in 1947 as International Latex Co. (ILC), it was 1956 when a spinoff of the company that became ILC Dover got into the business of making spacesuit helmets. From there its business blossomed and grew as America’s commitment to space exploration and travel also grew.

That business matured after a half century, and even leveled off as President Obama in 2010 announced a repositioning and repurposing of NASA. Gen. Charles Bolden, head of NASA, said in an interview that the President had told Gen. Bolden “he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering” via NASA operations.

Floating Radar
The inflatable floating radar lab

ILC Dover, now owned by Behrman Capital, has made two strategic acquisitions in the last three years, said CEO Francis “Fran” DiNuzzo, Grayling Industries in Alpharetta, Ga., and Rossens, a Swiss company that makes a line of products branded as Jet Solutions.

“ILC Dover today has four lines of businesses,” said DiNuzzo, “two in the government sector and two in the commercial sector. We’ve rebalanced ILC Dover from being predominantly a Federal – DOD – aerospace supplier to a much stronger portfolio in commercial markets.”

“It’s our acquisition of Grayling Industries in 2012, and the move of 150 jobs from Juarez, Mexico, in 2014 to Seaford, in a former DuPont Company facility, that is expanding ILC here in Delaware,” said Doug Gurney, a native Kent Countian and second generation ILC employee who joined ILC in 1983.  He is product director for protective equipment.

ILC put the manufacturing of Grayling’s Guardian ™ flexible intermediate bulk containers in Seaford. “They’re single-use containers that lower the capital costs and the operating costs of product movement inside a plant, often from one process to another, used more often in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, foods, cosmetics and personal care item manufacturing,” said Gurney. “In addition, depending on the company, and what they’re using them for, some containers can be recycled.”

Another Grayling line, Vail ™, a single-use disposable bag used in asbestos remediation as a tent-type fixture, attached to a ceiling or other fixtures like pipes, continues to be made in Mexico.

Vail
Another Grayling line, Vail ™, a single-use disposable bag used in asbestos remediation as a tent-type fixture, attached to a ceiling or other fixtures like pipes, continues to be made in Mexico.

Just over a year ago, in early 2014, ILC’s acquisition of Rossens’ Jet Solution products allowed it to expand a foothold in Europe. “They were making and selling specialty processing equipment and systems, used in chemicals, foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals,” said Brad Walters, general manager for the Space and AIM (Aerospace, Infrastructure, & Marine) business unit, who joined ILC in 1984.

“ILC is continuing that business in Switzerland, but we’re just beginning to expand it in the U.S., and we think it can lead to some expanded markets for all of our commercial products,” said Walters. “It brings us a certain connectivity virtue. They were a distribution partner for us in Europe, and our pharma-containment products could often be used in concert with their processing solutions.”

ILC goes to the market with a multi-channel strategy, said DiNuzzo, including distributors, agents and catalogs, but more than 50 percent of its business, perhaps even 60 percent, continues to be generated by direct sales.

Actual revenues are not disclosed by the privately held company, but its Private Equity Ownership Behrman Capital of ILC Dover does not own assets with less than $100 million in revenues, according to David Bernstein, principal in RLS Associates, Delaware’s largest Investment Banking, merger and acquisition firm, who believes ILC could be approaching $200 million in revenues and accelerating.

After a period of some of the most remarkable stability in Delaware business history – former CEO Homer Reihm, who joined the company in 1960, ran it for some 30 years as its CEO until his 2001 retirement – DiNuzzo said he was brought aboard for “my experience in commercial businesses, to add to the efforts that were underway here already.”

Former CEO Bill Wallach recruited DiNuzzo in January 2014, and he was promoted to CEO a few months later. A self-described “nomad” because his father’s work caused enough relocations that he never called any place home for long, DiNuzzo holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of New Hampshire.

He previously spent 5½ years at the helm of Strategic Diagnostics, a small publicly-held, Pencader-based food-safety assay testing company that liquidated its assets. Previously, DiNuzzo spent a 25-year career with Hewlett Packard, working his way through its management ranks, and its technology spin-off Agilent.

“ILC Dover is without peer as one of Delaware’s most iconic smaller corporations,” said Durney. “We have produced some of the most memorable and iconic products the world knows, the spacesuit, the Pathfinder Rover on Mars. It’s given us a global presence. It gives us instant credibility for our other products, whether they are large fuel tanks, or others, they all come from the company that created ‘space suit technology’.”

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