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Games Slayter was key figure in developing fiberglass as an insulating material

Post Time:Dec 29,2011Classify:Industry NewsView:428

 

Games Slayter was a newly hired chemical engineer for Owens-Illinois Glass Co. in the early 1930s -- engaged in developing glass block for architectural use -- when he made an accidental discovery that defined his career and helped develop a new industry.

 

One day soon after beginning that job, he passed a furnace for melting glass and noticed a small amount of molten glass that had blown clear of the glory hole, the opening in a furnace that allows workers to look in. The glass was in the form of fibers.

 

Having already envisioned the use of glass fibers for thermal insulation, Slayter suddenly had a real-world demonstration of that potential.

 

That accidental discovery crystallized a principle that guided him throughout his career as a researcher for Owens Corning and leader of the company's research facility, the Science & Technology Center, which is celebrating its 50th year in Granville.

 

Slayter, who lived on a farm near Newark, died in 1964. Besides the imprint he left on Owens Corning, his name is affixed to Denison University's student union, Slayter Hall.

 

Slayter's philosophy -- which he hoped his staff of researchers would share -- always was to be ready for the unexpected, said Dutch Glaser, a retired Owens Corning researcher who worked with Slayter for a three-year period in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

 

Glaser characterized Slayter's credo as "When you are digging for gold and find diamonds, use the diamonds." Glaser said, "From what I heard from others, that was his philosophy for developing things."

 

An innovator

 

Slayter, partnering with Owens Corning researchers Dale Kleist and John T. "Jack" Thomas, developed a method for commercial production of fiberglass insulation -- the company's signature product.

 

It was Slayter's intellect and energy that for more than two decades fueled the company's investigations into new uses of fiberglass, a legacy that has earned him the moniker "The Father of Fiberglas," referring to the company's trade name for the product.

 

In the course of his career, he has more than 90 patents and was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron in 2006.

 

Slayter worked on the development of hundreds of products using glass fibers in different ways, said Tom Philipps, a former chemist at Owens Corning for 42 years who worked with Slayter on binders and other constituents of products under development.

 

When someone brought Slayter a piece of textile made from glass fiber that had been fabricated outside the lab, he foresaw a whole new product arena for the company, Philipps said. One of the products that ensued was matting used for the separation of battery plates.

 

Slayter went on to pioneer the use of glass fiber for plastic laminates, a new material made from fiberglass and one or more other constituents. Now known as composites, they are used in making aircraft, boats, storage tanks, large-diameter pipe and wind turbine blades.

 

"He recognized the value of it," said Philipps, 93, who lives in Granville. "He grabbed on to the idea and added staff to the lab."

 

A persistent scientist

 

Once persuaded by an idea, Slayter pursued it intensely, said Glaser, who worked in an Owens Corning laboratory in South Carolina on a project in which Slayter was interested -- improving the way long strands of glass were formed. Slayter met regularly with Glaser during Glaser's periodic visits to the Granville lab during 1958-61.

 

Slayter developed a new kind of loom that wove fibers in a circular motion, instead of pushing them at right-angles to each other as does a traditional loom, said Glaser, who now is 79 and lives in Granville.

 

"At the time, it was thought fiberglass could be woven into decorative objects like curtains," he said. "(This new loom) was a higher efficiency weaving operation and less damaging to fibers."

 

The loom was built but never commercialized.

As the leader of a team of researchers in the early years of the development of glass fiber for insulation, Slayter could be a "stern taskmaster, and a kindly understanding teacher," according to a company publication.

 

When unproven ideas were tossed around, Glaser said, Slayter wanted them tried out to see whether they would work.

 

"He was very results oriented. He was strict, but in a way also forgiving. He thought it was better to make a mistake than not to do anything."

 

Philipps recalled an instance in which he and Slayter were discussing their ideas for a particular step in the development of matting for insulation. Philipps believed his approach was better. Nevertheless, Slayter decided his should be tried first.

 

"His ideas were best, but he tolerated others," he said. "He tried other ideas and endorsed them after they worked."

 

Active in local affairs

 

Slayter was active in civic and educational causes in Granville and Newark, according to Heather Lyle, archivist at Denison University.

 

In 1956, he was awarded the university's Distinguished Citizen Citation. Three years later, he and his wife, Marie, gave $1 million to the university that it used to build a student union building that bears his name.

 

Slayter also was a board member of the YMCA in Newark and energized a fundraising campaign for a new building, to which he also contributed.

 

"He was very active in civic philanthropy and in giving to local causes," Lyle said.

 

In the eyes of Owens Corning employees, said Bill Hamilton, a retired communications officer for the company, two men deserve the most credit for the company's rise to prominence: Slayter and Harold Boeschenstein, the founding president of the company.

 

Boeschenstein's contribution was in business and marketing; Slayter's as an inventive genius.

 

"Owens Corning didn't invent fiberglass but made it commercially viable," Hamilton said. "Before that, it was a laboratory curiosity. Others could make textiles out of fiberglass, but they couldn't make it so inexpensively as to compete with other materials. Both composites and insulation are multi-billion dollar businesses today."

 

Source: http://www.newarkadvocate.comAuthor: shangyi

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