CertainTeed Corp.'s new research and development laboratory in Chester County is nearly 60 percent smaller than the one it replaced in Blue Bell, but that doesn't mean the maker of roofing, siding, insulation, and other products is dialing back on expectations.
"We didn't really give up any capabilities when we moved it here," said Minas Apelian, vice president of research and development at CertainTeed, part of French building-materials giant Saint-Gobain, during a tour Monday of the new facility in East Whiteland Township.
The old R&D site, in operation for 37 years, had 105,000 square feet. "It wasn't designed the way you would design a modern laboratory," said Apelian, a chemical engineer who joined CertainTeed two years ago.
The individual workrooms in Blue Bell caused a great deal of inefficiency, according to Apelian. They were replaced by open labs in the 43,000 square-foot facility, where, for example, scientists can rearrange work tables as they see fit.
A short walk from the new R&D center, which opened in October, Saint-Gobain's new North American headquarters is under construction. Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed employees are expected to move from Valley Forge this fall, increasing Saint-Gobain's employment in East Whiteland to more than 800.
While CertainTeed's new laboratory, where 80 work, is smaller than the old one, Saint-Gobain's headquarters will be about 100,000 square feet larger than in Valley Forge.
Apelian said he's hopeful that close proximity of CertainTeed's engineers to its sales and marketing teams will lead them to work together more than when R&D was 30 minutes away in Blue Bell.
Saint-Gobain's ties to the Philadelphia region date to 1967 when it formed a joint venture with CertainTeed. Saint-Gobain bought CertainTeed in stages, completing the acquisition in 1988, when CertainTeed had $1.3 billion in revenue.
Last year, CertainTeed had $3.3 billion in revenue and employed 5,700 at 60 facilities nationwide. Total U.S. sales for Saint-Gobain were $6.9 billion last year.
Globally, Saint-Gobain, which was founded in 1665 to produce glass for the Hall of Mirrors in King Louis XIV's palace at Versailles, had $55 billion in revenue last year, according to the company.
The new facility is CertainTeed's R&D center for roofing, ceilings, and insulation. Gypsum wallboard and drywall will be added to the mix in the future. Those four product lines account for about 80 percent of CertainTeed's annual revenue, Apelian said.
Much of the work done at the lab involves the testing and analysis of materials and products, such as an asphalt roofing tile under development with an ingredient that makes it "super-hydrophobic."
Apelian demonstrated by spraying the tiles with water, which ran right off, instead of running off slowly, as it did on a traditional tile. The coating is not Teflon, but acts like it could be.
The lab has a set of machines to simulate environmental weathering over periods up to 30 years, recalling the "paint farm" in Spring House, Montgomery County, where Dow Chemical has thousands of painted panels exposed to weather to see how they perform over decades.
CertainTeed does outdoor testing as well, but at its factories nationwide, which are located in the coldest areas to the hottest, including deserts of the Southwest.
Bob Livsey, a senior product development engineer for CertainTeed Roofing, on Monday was building a wooden frame for a solar panel that was going to be sent to a factory in California.
The object was to test how it would withstand people walking on it. Livsey said the panel would have sensors to show how it would hold up to foot traffic.
BY THE NUMBERS
CertainTeed revenue last year.
CertainTeed facilities nationwide