Euclid plant manufactures components for naval nuclear reactors

U.S. Navy submarine
(courtesy of the U.S. Navy): A Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine heads out to sea after a brief port visit in Greece.

 

(An interview with Doug Paulson, general manager, BWX Technologies, Euclid, Ohio)

Tell me about how your business started.

BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT) traces its history all the way back to the 1850s when Stephen Wilcox patented the water tube boiler. Almost 100 years later, with the advent of nuclear energy, our expertise in the power generation business put us at the forefront of commercial and government nuclear industries. Operating for many years as the Babcock & Wilcox Company, we spun off our power generation business in 2015 to allow BWXT to focus on government and nuclear operations.

Why was the decision made to locate in Euclid?

BWXT purchased the Euclid operations from an offshoot of TRW in 2007. TRW’s predecessors have been in the Cleveland area since the early 1900s and here on Euclid Avenue since before World War II.

How are the products that you manufacture used?

BWXT’s Euclid site manufactures electro-mechanical components for naval nuclear reactors used in submarines and aircraft carriers.

For more than 60 years, the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers have safely steamed millions of miles using components manufactured by BWXT Nuclear Operations Group facilities – a track record that is highlighted by our commitment to safety, quality and integrity.

How many employees work in the facility in Euclid, and what kind of skilled labor do you hire?

About 350 employees work at our Euclid facility. Due to the high-consequence nature of our products, most of our employees are considered to be highly skilled. We employ machinists, welders, inspectors, engineers and a variety of professional support staff.

Are there ways that the company participates in the community?

We support the community through sponsorship of Euclid Chamber of Commerce events and contribute to a number of deserving charitable organizations in the community such as the United Way.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that manufacturing currently faces?

The retirement of the older generation of trade workers has, in many cases, left manufacturers with more openings than there are qualified and available employees. This is exacerbated by generally low unemployment. We have an advantage in that our factories have industry-leading safety records and that our work is especially meaningful. Our employees take tremendous pride in the fact that our products keep our sailors and our nation safe. These jobs pay well and do not require tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, so attitudes about trades and technical careers are changing quickly. Our schools and community colleges are helping us narrow the gap.

What does the future of manufacturing, especially in Northeast Ohio, look like?

We can only speak for ourselves. This is an exciting time to work for BWXT. BWXT’s Nuclear Operations Group, which includes our Euclid and Barberton manufacturing facilities, has reported record revenues each quarter for the last few years. The Nuclear Operations Group had a backlog of nearly $3 billion at the end of September. Our fourth quarter and full-year 2017 results are scheduled to be announced Feb. 28, 2018.

What inspires you?

Our products enable our sailors to carry out their mission to keep our nation safe. We keep those customers in the forefront of our minds in everything we do.

Are there interesting facts about you or your business that most people don’t know?

In August 2017, NASA awarded the company an $18.8 million contract to start designing a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) reactor in support of a possible future manned mission to Mars. With NTP technology’s high-energy density and resulting spacecraft thrust, NASA is projecting up to a 50 percent reduction in interplanetary travel times compared to chemical rockets, significantly increasing the crew’s safety by reducing exposure to cosmic radiation.

U.S. Navy U.S.S. George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier
(courtesy of the U.S. Navy): The aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush underway from its home port in Norfolk, Va.

Ever have a filling? A local manufacturing company shapes the drills’ cutting edges.

Dentist with drill

William Sopko and Sons Co., located at 26500 Lakeland Blvd., Euclid, Ohio, was started in 1952 in the basement of current owner Bill Sopko Sr.’s parents’ home on East 267th Street. His dad, also Bill, worked in the Maintenance Department at Tapco (now TRW) after returning home from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Prior to the war, he worked at Ohio Ball Bearing Company (now Applied Technologies) in the Spindle Repair Department.

Bill Sr., says, “Many people do not know what a spindle is. It is NOT the wood spindle on a staircase. In industry, the spindle assembly has a shaft that is mounted on bearings and turns at high speeds. The special bearings must support both radial and axial pressures. On the end of the shaft an adaptor holds either a grinding wheel or a cutting tool. The higher the speed, the more precise the spindle must be.”

Since his father had two young children at the time, one of them being Bill, Sr., Bill Sopko decided to go out on his own and start a business, William Sopko and Sons Co. His wife, Mary, did the paperwork. They picked Euclid as home because it was the perfect place to have a family and establish a business. In the early 1950s, Euclid was booming with industry.  Then they had two more kids to make a family of six.

Mary died in 1967 and Bill in 1974. The business still was located in the basement on East 267th Street. In 1971, Bill Sr. graduated from college, got married and rented a small block building on St. Clair Avenue. He purchased a milling machine, saw and surface grinder. Prior to this he had outsourced all of his manufacturing to local shops, many still in business today. In 1976, the company moved out of the basement into a building on Lakeland Boulevard in Wickliffe. In the early 1990s it needed more space and moved back to Euclid into the company’s current location on Lakeland Boulevard.

The current business has three segments, all related to precision grinding and machining. First, it is a precision spindle repair service company that rebuilds all types of ball and roller-bearing spindles. Most popular are surface grinders, cutter grinders, internal grinders, Moore Jig grinders, both foreign and domestic. The company has rebuilt more than 10,000 precision spindles during the past 64 years. Second, it manufactures grinding accessories that include wheel adapters, internal grinding quills, collet chuck quills, extensions, flanges, spacers and precision wheel screws. Finally, the company is a stocking distributor for spindle-related products. Its major lines include Dumore hand grinders, tool post grinders, parts, spindles and drill units, and Gates power transmission products including flat spindle belts, poly vee, variable speed and vee belts.

Sopko and Sons employs experienced machine technicians who can run manual lathes, CNC turning and milling machines and a complete precision grinding department to grind its products and spindle repair components, as required. Sopko does not do contact grinding for other companies. Grinding shops are its customers, and it does not compete against them. According to Bill Sr., “Some common applications of our precision spindles include forming and sharpening the cutting edges on the tiny drills the dentist uses to drill your teeth for a filling. Some spindles are used to grind hardened ball bearings, automotive engine blocks and jet aircraft components.”

Currently, the third generation is involved with the company. Bill Jr., Brian and Jillian Sopko all are on board to continue to serve valued customers all over the country.  With regard to the future, Bill Sr. says, “The future will have many technical advancements affecting the whole world. People in manufacturing will make products of tomorrow using precision machine tools. Our business will adjust to this new technology as it is discovered, and we will continue to service and supply the needs of the new century.”

William Sopko and Sons logo