By Eric Peterson | Feb 20, 2023
Advanced ceramic materials
"Most people know the other Coors in Golden, so it's nice, every now and then, to talk a little about us," laughs Coors.
There's plenty to talk about: With more than a century of history, CoorsTek is one of the oldest manufacturers in Colorado.
It started when John Herold founded the Herold China and Pottery Company in 1910 with help from brewing magnate Adolph Coors in Golden. The catalog quickly expanded: Art pottery led to labware and dinnerware.
Adolph Coors took over the business in 1915, and rebranded it as Coors Porcelain Company during Prohibition. The company started supplying electronics manufacturers in the 1950s, the same decade it developed the first recyclable aluminum can.
Many more innovations and two name changes later, CoorsTek now supplies technical ceramic products to just about every industry out there: aerospace and defense, automotive, medical, consumer goods, chemicals, energy, electronics, and semiconductor. The company also continues to supply tooling for aluminum can manufacturers.
"As technology has evolved, ceramics is not typically the first selection, but it ends up being the sustainable selection long-term because it often exceeds the needs of whatever the company is trying to engineer," says Coors. "Where traditional materials like metals and plastics no longer work, ceramics have historically become the viable alternative."
The benefits to ceramics include resistance to high temperatures, water absorption, gas permeability, and hardness that can resist wear 100 times longer than conventional metals. These properties have catalyzed the company's constant expansion into new markets.
"Where I think we excel, generally speaking, is when companies come to us with the hard problem," says Coors. "We are not a company that just innovates with no end market or customer in mind; we almost exclusively do it with a partner."
For example, in the semiconductor capital equipment market, explains Coors, "We provide a component for wafer fab equipment companies for equipment that gets sold on to chip manufacturers for production of logic chips, memory chips -- everything that's powering the whole world these days. That's probably one of the most dynamic markets for us."
About 1,200 of 6,000-plus employees are based in Colorado. CoorsTek manufactures at facilities in Golden and Grand Junction, as well as Arkansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Tennessee. Beyond the U.S., the company has plants and R&D centers in Canada, Mexico, Czech Republic, England, Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands, South Korea, Thailand, and Japan.
Many of CoorsTek's business units have been booming since 2020. "It's been quite a dynamic and exciting last few years," says Coors. "With a fair amount of our business being semiconductor-related, you can imagine the pandemic had an interesting impact on us, as it did on all companies, but we actually saw, much like the semiconductor market did, a fair amount of growth on the back half of the first year of the pandemic. Moving into 2021 and 2022, the growth rate has been quite tremendous."
Challenges: Supply chain and hiring. "The world is responding to the ups and downs a little bit differently than it was before the pandemic," says Coors. "Getting the right talent and the right capital equipment in place, we've been successful at it, but it hasn't been without its challenges."
The U.S.-China relationship, he adds, "is a challenge that we can't do anything about, but it has an impact on our business, specifically in the semiconductor space."
Opportunities: With domestic semiconductor manufacturing poised to boom, CoorsTek is positioned for growth in the sector as a supplier. Coors says the industry could double its output by 2030. "From where we are today, that's relatively significant growth," he notes. "Our role in that and our portion of that looks similar as we grow."
Defense is another focal point, with CoorsTek recently acquiring the ceramics assets of a Kentucky-based body armor business. "It's very much a key part of our business because of the fact that it's made here in the U.S. and supports our troops here and abroad," says Coors.
Coors also highlights the potential of ceramics in medical applications, electric vehicles, green energy, and spacecraft that could also drive growth.
CoorsTek's geographic footprint in Asia also sets the stage for growth. "One thing we're watching and paying a lot of attention to is the emerging middle class in Asia," says Coors. "The largest population growth of consumers will be happening in China and southeast Asia . . . Being a global company, we want to make sure we're positioned well to offer our products and services to where the consumers are, because ultimately, while we're not a consumer company, the disposable income and growth of disposable income, the vast majority will be happening over the next 10 or 15 years in that region of the world."
Needs: Talent. "One of the things that we're very keyed in on with universities like Colorado School of Mines is continuing to build the bench of engineers and tradesmen and women who continue to help the U.S. grow its manufacturing base," says Coors.