From Roger Steele’s post-war laboratory in the basement of a suburban home to the production of the lunar struts of the Apollo 11 lunar landing module, Hexcel has been synonymous with innovation throughout its history. Hexcel was ready when the defense aerospace industry needed strong lightweight materials in 1946, and our company remains a leader in delivering innovative advanced composite solutions to our customers.
The House That Berkeley Built
The company that came to be known as Hexcel was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California, nurtured by a band of fraternity brothers from the University of California at Berkeley. The bonds that joined Hexcel’s co-founders – Roger C. Steele and Roscoe T. "Bud" Hughes – were forged on the football fields of Piedmont High School and were reinforced by their stints in the Navy together during World War II. From football contests to fraternity rites to fighting for their country, it’s little wonder that Hexcel demonstrated remarkable cohesion during its early years.
Indeed, the pioneering spirit and sheer persistence that have always epitomized Hexcel – or, as it was first known, California Reinforced Plastics – were the very qualities that distinguished its early leaders -- Roger Steele (1920-2014), Bud Hughes (1920-86), Paul V. Ammen (1920-81), Ken Holland and Ed Rule (1918-2011). As Hexcel’s first management team, these veterans from the Bay area possessed a fortuitously well-matched and diversified set of talents. Steele furnished the visionary spirit and the unrelenting conviction that “honeycomb was and is the most efficient structure that man will ever achieve.” Bud housed and helped finance this vision and brought extraordinary sales skills to the task of purveying Roger’s inventions. “Bud could sell ice to the Eskimos,” Roger said.
Paul, the one member who did not attend Berkeley or study engineering, served as chief financial officer, having secured an economics degree from Stanford. A friend from Piedmont High, Paul arrived in 1948, and none too soon. “I used to go to the bank every Friday to borrow money against receivables to keep the payroll checks from bouncing,” Roger said. In addition to his economics background, Paul brought the good faith and financial skills of his mother, Vera, who financed many of Hexcel’s first offices.
Ken Holland, a fraternity brother of Roger, joined the company in 1948 with Paul, bringing with him a chemist’s expertise in resin and adhesive technology. That expertise quickly proved invaluable as Roger contended with the challenges of manufacturing fiberglass honeycomb for the company’s first contract with the military.
Finally, Hexcel secured the managerial and production talents of Ed Rule, “the backbone of Hexcel for decades,” Roger said. Ed Rule, a late arrival to the inner circle having met Steele after the war, took perhaps the biggest gamble on this fledgling outfit. He left a job as head engineer of an established tool and die company in 1951 to join a company that was operating on a shoestring and struggling to keep up with sales. Rule quickly took over all manufacturing responsibilities, overseeing every aspect of plant construction and production design for the next 30-plus years. When Ed retired, Hexcel had grown into a global company with more than 3,500 employees.
While (Roscoe T. "Bud" Hughes finances the fledgling company by working as an engineer for the University of California, Roger Steele devotes his full-time energies to investigating the many new plastics and other technologies developed during the war, trying to identify those with the best business prospects.
For almost two years, the Hughes' basement serves as Steele's office, workshop laboratory and bedroom as he designs and builds machines out of space parts to fabricate his discovery, expanded honeycomb.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Aero Research Ltd. (Duxford, England) -- founded in 1934 by Dr. Norman de Bruyne, a physicist/engineer and faculty member at Cambridge University -- pioneers new applications in aircraft adhesives and impregnated fabrics. Among the company's many advances are its Aerolite, Araldite and Redux adhesives, its Aeroweb honeycomb core, its Fibredux glass fiber epoxy prepregs and its Fibrelam panels. Aero Research Ltd. is acquired by Ciba in 1947.
Chemist Ken Holland and economist Paul Ammen join Hughes and Steele to take over resin R&D and financial administration, respectively. After Steele impresses attendees at a government plastics conference with his homemade fiberglass honeycomb, California Reinforced Plastics is awarded its first contract by the Air Material Command at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base for research and development materials, methods and equipment for making honeycomb for radomes on military aircraft. In September, the company incorporates, marking the official beginning of what is later known as Hexcel Corporation.
California Reinforced Plastics takes a big gamble and submits an intentionally low bid to furnish fuel cell support panels for the wings of the B-36 bomber. The gamble pays off.
Roger Steele is invited to speak at an important Air Force conference on adhesives and sandwich construction. "I took some really deep breaths and told those government, Air Force and industry people that they could look forward to a whole new era in aviation if they only would open their minds to the usefulness of this honeycomb work," Steele later recalled.
The Vautour bomber/fighter is one of the first French military aircraft to use a significant amount of composite parts made with glass fabrics and sandwich panels.
California Reinforced Plastics changes its name to Hexcel Products, Inc.
Pierre Genin & Cie, a Lyon-based silkweaver founded in 1933, is becoming one of Europe's leading weavers and prepreggers of glass fabrics. The company also runs a composite parts development shop in this facility in Les Avenières, France. This shop works under contract with various companies to promote new composite applications. Later in the decade, Les Avenières also uses a special fiberglass fabric to make a ballistic plates for the French–Algerian War.
In the early hours of November 12, one of the ovens in Hexcel's Berkeley plant explodes, igniting the whole building. Employees work day and night to restore limited operations within 14 days.
Harold Heath, a journeyman machinist trained at Boeing, acquires Tecna plastics and combines it with his modest machine shop in Renton, Washington. Heath Tecna Plastics is launched with an $800,000 order for insulation batts for the Boeing 707.
The slump in sales caused by military cutbacks prompts an internal reevaluation, and William S. Powell, a partner at Booz Allen & Hamilton, is elected president. Powell exits unprofitable business lines and from 1962 through 1967 the company achieves some of its best profit-to-sales ratios to date.
Strapped in the Friendship VII capsule, Astronaut John Glenn, Jr. returns to earth safely protected from extreme re-entry heat and possible impact injury by materials manufactured by Hexcel.
Donald Cambell's revolutionary Bluebird car, incorporating honeycomb core panels supplied from Ciba in Duxford, England, breaks the world speed record.
Chemicals manufacturer Hercules Inc. is gaining experience in the composites business, convincing major military customers to use these new lightweight, high-strength materials in important defense programs. As U.S. involvement in Vietnam heats up, so do Hexcel's military sales. Perhaps the biggest boost to sales are the temporary airfield landing mats, which use Hexcel's aluminum honeycomb core. In only two years, from mid-1966 to mid-1968,Hexcel produces more aluminum honeycomb than in previous 20 years combined. Work begins on a new facility in Casa Grande, Arizona.
Hexcel gets an early taste of the challenges of globalization as it opens its first overseas plant in Welkenraedt, Belgium with a Flemish supervisor, German management team and Walloon workforce.
To mitigate dependence on military sales, Hexcel purchases one of its principal suppliers, Coast Manufacturing, with manufacturing plants in Livermore, California; Seguin, Texas; and Lancaster, Ohio. Danutec is formed by the Austrian Chemie Linz Group. The pilot plant in Linz grows to become one of the leading suppliers of laminates and prepregs for the ski and tennis industries.
Even before Neil Armstrong, Hexcel materials make the first footprints on the moon. The foot-pads on the Apollo 11 lunar landing module are made of a crushable honeycomb foil made by Hexcel. Harvie M. Merril is named president and chief executive officer as Hexcel enters a three-year slump in sales attributable to military and commercial aerospace cutbacks. He moves quickly to staunch the losses by closing plants and reducing staff. When Concorde, the world's first commercial supersonic aircraft, makes its maiden flight, it contains material from both Hexcel and Ciba.
Hexcel begins manufacturing skis, bringing together a number of the company's materials and technologies into a single finished product. The fast, lightweight, durable snow ski quickly becomes a status symbol on the slopes the world over.
Acquired four years previously by J.P. Stevens, the world's second largest textile manufacturer, Pierre Genin & Cie becomes Stevens-Genin and shifts its focus to emerging areas such as composites and electronic components, such as printed circuit boards.
Hexcel convinces design engineers at Cincinnati Milacron to build the five-axis, numerically controlled ("NC") honeycomb carving machine, which allows Hexcel to begin supplying complex, contoured parts such as the speed brakes on the F-15 fighter. Ciba Composites, now part of the merged Ciba-Geigy organization, sells its Fibrelam® panels, the first non-metallic aircraft flooring material, to Boeing for the 747 aircraft.
Hexcel enters the medical field with its acquisitions of Tower Scientific, a company that specializes in the manufacture of custom implants for knee, hip and shoulder joints.
Ciba-Geigy acquires J. Brochier et Fils, a Lyon-based glass weaver founded in 1898.
The silkweaver, J. Brochier & Fils is founded in 1895 and quickly builds a strong reputation. In 1950, the company enters the glass fiber weaving business, supplementing it with carbon and aramid fiber weaving in the 1970s. Brochier is manufacturing prepregs by the time Ciba-Geigy acquires the company in 1980. As recession grips the economy , Hexcel focuses its operations around its core composites business, exiting such lines as ski and medical products. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Hexcel acquires a 50 percent interest in Stevens-Genin to ease access to European markets.
Hexcel plays a vital part in the construction of the Columbia space shuttle, supplying materials for the nose cap, payload doors and wings.
Danutec is formed by the Austrian Chemie Linz Group in 1968. The pilot grows to become one of the leading suppliers of laminates and prepregs for the ski and tennis industries in succeeding decades. After Ciba-Geigy acquires a 50% ownership stake in 1984, Danutec diversifies its product line, producing special glass fiber epoxy prepreg for use in windmill rotor blades and industrial grade panels for marine applications.
Pierre Genin & Cie, Lyon-based silkweaver founded in 1933, develops its first fiberglass fabrics in the 1940's and first prepregs in 1950. It is soon furnishing fabrics and prepregs for a variety of applications ranging from electrical insulation in the Nautilus submarine to composite parts for planes and helicopters. J.P. Stevens acquires the company in the 1960's, renaming it Stevens-Genin, and the company begins developing fiberglass fabrics for the printed circuit board industry. Hexcel acquires a 50% interest in 1980 and the balance in 1985, to bolster its presence in the European market.
Hexcel plays a major role in the historic non-stop, round-the-world flight supplying materials for the nose cap, payload doors and wings of the Voyager aircraft. While Hexcel's composites materials occupy approximately 80% of the Voyager's structural volume, they account for only about 20% of its weight. Hexcel undergoes an orderly transition as Harvie Merrill retires and designates president and COO, Robert L. Witt as his successor. Hexcel begins building a brand new 160,000 sq. ft. production facility in Chandler, Arizona to support the company's involvement in the B-2 bomber program, among others.
Hexcel co-founder Roscoe T. "Bud" Hughes passes away.
With a small amount of capital borrowed from relatives and a staff of three, Harold Heath, a machinist trained at Boeing, purchases a modest machine shop in Renton, WA in 1950. While he procures sporadic early work—including inventing a device to add chocolate and strawberry stripes in ice cream—Heath's company does not take off until he gets his first $73 order from Boeing. The company moves to Kent Valley, WA in 1956 and Heath acquires Tecna Plastics in 1958. Heath Tecna assumes a preeminent position as a supplier of finished aircraft interiors and structures. Ciba-Geigy purchases Heath Tecna in 1988.
Bob Witt resigns as CEO in July, and two of Hexcel's directors, John J. Lee and John L. Doyle, take over as interim CEOs. After an attempt to restructure debt obligations fails, Hexcel voluntarily files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Lee stays on as chairman and CEO.
Over the course of the year, Hexcel sharply refocuses its operations by reducing its headcount, selling or exiting non-core assets, closing plants and repositioning the company's product line. It also raises $50 million in new equity financing.
In February, Hexcel emerges from Chapter 11 and begins consolidating the overcapitalized composites industry.
In 1996, Hexcel more than doubles its size, strengthens its financial foundation and achieves world leadership in an industry poised for strong growth. In February 1996, Hexcel acquires Ciba-Geigy's composites business. In June, Hexcel purchases the composites operation of Hercules, acquiring key aerospace qualifications and substantial carbon fiber capabilities. The company moves its headquarters from Pleasanton, California to Stamford, Connecticut.
History of Ciba-Geigy: In 1947, Ciba, a multinational group of chemical companies headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, acquires Dr. Norman de Bruyne's company, Aero Research Ltd., marrying their respective strengths in resin technology. In the ensuing years, Ciba merges with Geigy, another Swiss chemical concern, and builds a leading presence in adhesives and composite materials through the steady acquisitions of Orbitex, Reliable Adhesives, Deco Manufacturing, Brochier, Heath Tecna, Panel Air Corporation, Salver and Danutec.
Founded in 1947 by the Miller brothers, Ben and Rudy, Fiberite begins making molding compounds for the aircraft industry. During the late 1960s and early 1970s Fiberite becomes a pioneer in making composites to use in space. Most major space structures launched since 1967 use its projects. In 1980, the Millers sell the company to Beatrice Chemical, who in turn sells it to ICI Americas in 1985. After a short stay with the Carlisle Group, which purchased Fiberite from ICI in 1996, in 1997, Hexcel acquires Fiberite's satellite prepreg product line and a royalty-free license to Fiberite's proprietary prepreg technology.
The combination of Hexcel, Ciba Composites, Hercules Composites, and the Fiberite product lines gives Hexcel -- celebrating 50 years in business -- the most comprehensive array of technologies, qualifications, geographic mix and vertically integrated capabilities in the industry. The company is well positioned for growth and diversification. At year end, the company achieves more than $1 billion in sales.
Lean manufacturing principles decrease product cost through reduced inventory levels, improved production efficiency and shorter production cycles. All Hexcel manufacturing facilities are actively implementing Lean. The program is based on the production system techniques first developed by Toyota, but also includes other business improvement tools such as Six Sigma and ISO Quality Management Systems.
Following the death of John Lee, Dave Berges is appointed Hexcel Chairman, President and CEO.
In October 2003, Hexcel opened a new 134,553 sq. ft. production unit at Les Aveniéres, France dedicated entirely to carbon fiber weaving and multiaxial and preforming operations.
Hexcel celebrates 50 years of Redux 775 film adhesive, created in May 1954. It was the world's first film adhesive for aircraft structural bonding. The first aircraft to be built with Redux 775 Film were the Handley Page Herald, Hawker Siddley 125, Armstrong Whitworth Argosy, Bristol Britiannia, Sud Aviation Alouette and SAAB's Lansen and Draken aircraft. Since these early days, Redux 775 film has been used on a continuous basis, particularly by the European aerospace industry.
Airbus unveils the first A380, which takes its maiden flight. Hexcel is a principal supplier to the A380 program, with HexPly® M21 and 8552 prepregs qualified for many primary and secondary structures. Hexcel’s RTM 6 resin and Injectex® fabrics, Redux® adhesives, HexWeb® honeycombs and machined and heat-formed honeycomb parts are also on board.
Hexcel decides to narrow its focus and consolidate activities around its carbon fiber, reinforcements for composites, honeycomb, matrix and structures product lines. Hexcel will explore strategic alternatives for its Reinforcements business segment which includes its ballistics, electronics and architectural product lines. Reinforcements products related to composites will be retained and, together with the Composites and Structures business segments, merged into one business unit.
In June, Hexcel opens prepreg plant in Stade, Germany. Hexcel announces plans to build prepreg facility in China. Hexcel wins JEC aerospace innovation award for Acousti-Cap® noise-reducing honeycomb for aircraft engines. Nordam pioneers composite window frames are made from Hexcel’s HexMC® for Boeing 787. Boats built with Hexcel composites take 1st and 2nd place in Transatlantic Jacques Vabre sailing race.
Hexcel celebrates its 60th anniversary and is awarded the largest contract in its history to supply carbon fiber prepregs for the primary structures of the Airbus A350 XWB. Hexcel adds additional carbon fiber capacity in Salt Lake City and opens its first European carbon fiber plant in Illescas, Spain. Hexcel opens an aerospace prepreg plant in Nantes, France. In Tianjin, China, Hexcel constructs a plant to supply prepreg to the wind energy industry.
Hexcel breaks ground at its newly acquired site in Windsor, Colorado. The plant will produce prepregs and other composite materials predominantly for the American wind energy industry. In November, Nick L. Stanage becomes President of Hexcel after serving as President of the Heavy Vehicle Products business of Dana Holding Corporation.
Boeing delivers the 1st 787 Dreamliner and 1st 747-8. Both aircraft use Hexcel materials extensively.
In June, Hexcel continues to grow and strengthen its position in Russia and the Central-Eastern European region following the opening of a new sales office in Moscow, Russia. Hexcel is a major supplier of composite materials for Russian commercial aerospace programs supporting customers with HexTow® carbon fibres, HexPly® carbon fiber/epoxy prepregs and HexWeb® honeycomb materials, Redux® adhesives, HexForce® reinforcements and engineered core Products.
In November, Hexcel commissions two new carbon fiber production lines at its Salt Lake City, Utah plant. The new lines increase Hexcel’s global carbon fiber output to 16 million pounds of nameplate capacity.
Sikorsky selects Hexcel for S-97 RAIDER™ helicopter composites. Hexcel opens prepreg plant extension in Stade, Germany. Hexcel Parla, Spain prepreg announces that the plant is doubling capacity. Hexcel wins Innovation Award For Aerospace at JEC Americas Show.
A350 XWB makes its first flight. Dave Berges retires and Nick Stanage succeeds him in August. Boeing and Hexcel celebrate a 40 percent factory expansion of their joint venture in Malaysia. Team USA and Oracle win the Americas Cup, and Hexcel supplied composite materials for the winning boat. The Indian Space Research Organization Iaunches a spacecraft carrying a satellite that is destined to orbit Mars. HexPly® high modulus prepregs, HexWeb® honeycomb cores and Redux® film adhesives were used in the lightweight composite structures.
Hexcel Duxford Celebrates 80 Years of Innovation in Composites in April. Hexcel celebrates the 80th anniversary of its site at Duxford, UK that was acquired on April 7, 1934 by Cambridge University Don, Dr. Norman de Bruyne.
In April, Hexcel co-founder Roger Steele passes away at age 93.
In July, Vincenzo Nibali and Team Astana win the 2014 Tour de France on bike wheels manufactured by CORIMA using Hexcel’s carbon fiber composites. Corima’s AERO+ MCC is a 100% carbon fiber wheel for road bikes produced using a complete composite process. The wheel rim, spokes and hub are made from Hexcel’s HexPly® UD Prepregs and Prepregs based on Hexcel’s unique lightweight gap-free carbon fabric called PrimeTex®.
In September, Airbus successful completes the maiden flight of the A320neo. In addition to the HexPly® carbon fiber prepregs and HexWeb® honeycombs that Hexcel has been supplying to Airbus since the A320 was launched, the A320neo benefits from wing tip devices called Sharklets made from Hexcel’s HexPly® M21E/IMA. The PW1100G-JM PurePower engines from Pratt & Whitney that powered the maiden flight benefit from Hexcel’s HexWeb® engineered core assemblies. Hexcel also supplies engineered core and HexPly® 8552 prepreg using HexTow® carbon fiber for the nacelles.
Also in September, Hexcel announces plans to expand its carbon fiber production capacity through the addition of new precursor and carbon fiber lines in Roussillon, France. The new facility is part of Hexcel’s ongoing worldwide investment to create a diversified and robust global supply chain to support aerospace customers’ growing demand for carbon fiber composites.
In November, Hexcel breaks ground for a new £6 million R&T facility and additional investments for capacity expansions at its Duxford site to further expand R&T expertise and continue the development of leading edge technologies that will enable composite materials to penetrate further in aerospace structures and in selected industrial applications.
In December, Hexcel announces that it has taken a 50% interest in Formax UK Limited, a leading manufacturer of composite reinforcements, specializing in the production of lightweight multi-axial fabrics.
Hexcel’s HiTape® technology wins JEC Innovation Award for Aerospace.
In May, guests are welcomed at a groundbreaking for the new Hexcel carbon fiber plant in Roussillon, France, and Hexcel announces capacity expansions at nearby weaving and prepreg facilities.
Hexcel Burlington (Washington) celebrates 25th anniversary.
First qualification batches of resin film are producedon the CM4 line at Hexcel Duxford.
Hexcel wins 2015 Bronze Award from Vestas for quality performance and innovative development.
Hexcel Pottsville (Pennsylvania) celebrates 35 years.
Hexcel is featured at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris through a video produced by Nordea Investment Management for the company's efforts to produce products for customers that help reduce environmental impact.
Hexcel completes a multi-year project to complete a successful ERP implementation to streamline its global processes and make data entry more efficient and timely.
In January, Hexcel announces that it has acquired full ownership of Formax UK Limited, enabling it to further advance dry reinforcements technology for future aerospace applications and to provide scale for growing industrial markets.
Also in January, the first Boeing 737 MAX 8 takes to the skies with Hexcel composite materials used on the airframe and engines to deliver superior strength, stiffness, weight savings and fuel efficiency.
Hexcel Casa Grande (Arizona) celebrates 50 years.
March 10 marks the end of production for Redux® 775 -- the first ever aerospace film adhesive, which was launched in May 1954 from a formulation initially invented in 1942.
In April, Hexcel breaks ground on new manufacturing plant in Morocco.
In May, Hexcel announces strategic investments in two U.S. companies renowned for innovation -- Oxford Performance Materials of South Windsor, Connecticut, and Luminati Aerospace of New York.
On May 24, Hexcel celebrates the opening of its new Innovation Center at Duxford, U.K.