Hercules Bacchus Works in western Salt Lake County started out making dynamite in the early part of this century, and now, celebrating its 75th year, its products have exploded on the world market in graphite production for aerospace and recreation.
Hercules began in 1913 as Hercules Powder Co., supplying dynamite to the mining industry in the West. By World War I, it began to diversify, and Hercules entered into chemicals production.As the space age began, the dynamite era at Bacchus Works ended. Hercules Powder became Hercules Inc. in 1966. An aerospace division was created in 1978, and by 1988, the 75th anniversary of the Bacchus plant, Hercules has become the main supplier of filament-wound graphite rocket boosters.
"The mining industry in Utah would not have developed if it hadn't been for explosives. If it hadn't been for Goddard, the rocket motor, which again is packaged energy, the whole space thing would not have happened," said G.R. Muir, Hercules group president over missile, ordnance and space.
"So the whole history of our country, even the whole history of the world, really evolves around explosives technology," said Muir.
As the firm celebrates 75 years in business, it holds the preeminent position of graphite technology with plans for expanding the uses and markets it can claim.
Graphite in aeronautics and aerospace
Hercules contends the adaptability, strength and weight of its filament-wound graphite boosters give rockets more "oomph" with less weight. The ligher weight makes increasing payloads easier, since the overall tonnage of a craft is lighter so that more can be carried.
Graphite has been used on F-16 and F-18 fighter jets and the B-1 bomber. The V-22 vertical takeoff plane will be made entirely of Hercules graphite composites.
"That's a truly significant program for Hercules," said company spokesman Jack DeMann. "Heretofore, our graphite has been predominantly used in structure and skin for the wings, the stabilizers (and) the rudder.
"But this is a real break in terms of graphite, even for fuselage. And some of the larger companies, Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas, are now looking at winding fuselages for their regular commercial jet aircraft out of graphite," DeMann said.
The Delaware-based firm in 1980 bought the filament-winding technology from a plant in England and adapted it for graphite fibers, a resin-like fiber made from the same material used for pencils. Graphite is stronger than steel and lighter than titanium -- two common metals used in rocket cases.
"Of course with the era of fuel economy, the light weight is just a super advantage" for air, sea and space craft, DeMann said. "There are some indications frankly that it will probably maintain its structural integrity longer than metals, and that ought to help as well."
The filament-wound cases, wrapped at the company's Clearfield plant, look similar to a giant, shiny ball of yarn. Company engineers increased the fibers' ability to withstand pressure from 200 pounds per square inch to 1 million psi.
Hercules held the contract for space shuttle booster cases the Air Force planned to use for launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Rockets launched there fly south into orbits around the Earth's poles, which is ideal for military reconnaissance because the entire planet is visible as it spins below.
There is, however, a catch - launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla., can take advantage of the Earth's eastward rotation to give rockets an extra push. That extra velocity is not available to rockets launched in a polar orbit.
More powerful boosters are then required to lift the same amount of cargo. And more cargo can be carried if the boosters' weight is reduced. Enter filament-wound graphite boosters.
But the Air Force's program was mothballed after the January 1986 Challenger explosion. The Air Force is evaluating the future of the $3.1 billion site, which could be used to launch Titan 4 missiles. Hercules also holds the contract for the Titan 4 boosters.
Hercules has, in the past 20 years, also produced the motors for Pershing 1 and Pershing 2 missiles, small intercontinental ballistic missiles, MX missile motors, Delta 2 rockets and Trident missiles.
Engineers at the Utah facility are now putting the finishing touches on the company's bid for the advanced solid rocket motors.
The second-generation rockets will be used on future space missions. Contractor proposals are due Oct. 31, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will decide early next year who gets the $1 billion contract.
Hercules has teamed up with Atlantic Research, Martin Marietta's Michaud unit, Bechtel and other operations to provide one-stop shopping for NASA, from building the facility and the rockets to running the government-owned, contractor-operated production.
Hercules-produced carbon composite graphite helped make the aircraft Voyager lighter, which enabled it to complete its record around-the-world flight without refueling.
Graphite also was used on the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite launched last month by the Discovery astronauts. The satellite will improve communications between mission control and the shuttle.
"We're high on the prospects of parts for satellites as well as rockets. But I think there are also some interesting things being looked at in ship building," such as submarines and boats, DeMann said.
The technology has proven itself in jets, race cars and missiles, and carbon-fiber materials are finding their way to dominant positions in equipment for skiing, fishing, golfing and tennis.
Graphite in recreation
"We make the graphite raw material and sell it to a manufacturer, who makes a product," DeMann said.
Graphite-composite bicycles, for example, are highly valued for their performance and light weight. So are tennis rackets, skis and fishing poles.
"Graphite has really come of age" in recreational equipment, said Rick Miller, assistant manager of the Gart Brothers store in Sandy. "It's extremely strong and lightweight in comparison to other matierials. It's twice as strong and twice as light."
The material can take a beating from golfers, tennis players and skiers. "Tons of skis have graphite layers in them," which Miller said allow skiers to have more control over the skis. The same goes for graphite in tennis rackets, which allows players more efficient control over the ball.
Wilson, which makes tennis rackets, gets all its grpahite composite materials from Hercules, Miller said.
"For the sports industry and the things it can be used in, not a high end tennis racket, ski or golf club doesn't have graphite," said Miller.
Kevlar, another space-age material used on shuttles, planes and satellites, also is making its way into the recreation manufacturing industry, he said. The composites technology Hercules has perfected is being used in recreational equipment, using different materials such as kevlar.
Hercules' future, products and position in Utah economy Hercules' future in the industry and in Utah looks "fantastic," said DeMann. "We will put in over the next four years one more additional fiber line for each of the next four years. At least that's the plan if the market goes like we will think it will go."
Graphite is becoming more accepted in the aerospace and aeronautics marketing world, although convincing customers has been a slow process.
"Like any new product, when you have human life depending on it, when you have very costly programs depending on it, people move slowly," DeMann said.
"They want to make sure that it will really do what you say it will do. They want to test it, they want to make sure that it can deliver, and then when they have that, things begin moving rapidly.
"Ten years ago, we were at the point where we are now in terms of just getting the aircraft manufacturers to consider using graphite on parts of it. And now we're at the point where they're considering making entire airplanes out of it," DeMann said.
If the Hercules-Atlantic team wins the advanced solid rocket motor contract, some of the preliminary work will be done in Utah while the government-owned, contractor-operated plant in the South is built.
An advertisement in last Sunday's daily newspapers called for engineers and marketing professionals in anticipation of the company winning the second-generation shuttle booster contract.
There was concern last year over whether Hercules would leave the area. Houses nudged closer to the firm's facilities, leading to concerns about possible damages that could be caused by an explosion at the plant.
The situation was resolved when West Valley City annexed the plant and prohibited further housing developments from getting too close to Hercules.
"We're not going to pull out," DeMann said. "This present year that we're in and the one coming up will be stable. We will be gearing up, completing the plant up on the hill, going into full-scale production with Delta 2 and Titan 4.
Employment also is expected to remain stable at about 4,000 workers for about the next year and a half.
"Then we see some increased hiring in the 1990 area" with the employees numbering a projected 6,000 people by the mid-90s, DeMann said. "The big development will be Bacchus West, where the second phase of that plant will mean $145 million worth of construction."
Hercules will continue to play host to Soviet inspectors who monitor shipments from the facility to ensure no Pershing 2 missile motors are sent out.
The terms of the intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty allow for up to 30 Soviet inspectors to monitor Hercules, the only permanent U.S. inspection site, for up to 13 years.
West Valley City also plans to build an industrial park south of Bacchus West so firms can locate near the manufacturer. The land was part of the annexation deal, and plans include an 18-hole golf course on the site.