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 Business > Manufacturing

10 S. Riverside Plaza | Chicago, IL 60606 | www.SuperiorGraphite.com
 
 
 
 

The year is 1917. In Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution is setting the country ablaze, and a world war rages throughout Europe, as America prepares to join the fray. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Irish immigrant William J. Carney watches the demand soar for graphite, a key component in manufacturing the iron and steel so vital to producing machinery and weaponry. Recognizing a business opportunity when he sees one, Carney starts a small mining business in Alabama called Superior Flake Graphite. But once the war ends, the demand for graphite dwindles, and the mine closes.

In 1921, Carney moves his operation to the Midwest and opens a new plant in Bedford Park, just outside Chicago. There, the new business begins supplying graphite-based mold washes for use in foundries for the metal casting industry.

With the start of the Second World War, demand for graphite surges once again, and Superior finds its products are once more vital to the war effort. Local supplies of graphite are scarce, so the company opens several mines in Mexico to supply the rising need.

In 1954, the company is renamed simply Superior Graphite, and in the late 1950s, grandson Peter R. Carney joins the company. An expert geologist with the soul of an entrepreneur, Carney takes the helm in 1960 and quickly becomes the driving force behind the company's expansion and the development of new products.

Natural graphite is notoriously difficult to purify, so Carney searches for a way to produce a synthetic carbon/graphite that would meet his standards for purity. It must be something that could be produced from domestic sources, using technology that's environmentally sound and employing a continuous process for maximum efficiency.

Finally, after six years of intensive research, Superior succeeds and promptly trademarks its breakthrough material, which it names Desulco®. Superior manufactures this synthetic product in a patented high-temperature continuous furnace that operates at a temperature of nearly 2700 degrees Celsius. This searing heat vaporizes sulfur and other impurities and removes them from the raw starting material. Desulco is 99.9 percent pure carbon and an ideal additive for producing iron castings and clean steel products that are lightweight and extraordinarily strong. This new technology revolutionizes the range of Superior's products and transforms the company into an industrial dynamo.

Among the other industrial uses that Superior develops with this technology are products for batteries, lubrication, friction applications, advanced ceramics, and oil well drilling. Meticulous quality control at Superior plants in Kentucky and Sweden ensure that every product meets the company's rigid standards for purity. Superior also manufactures graphite electrodes for electric arc furnaces used in manufacturing steel at its plant in Arkansas. There, the company perfects the continuous graphitization of electrodes using a horizontal high-temperature furnace system, while Superior's plants in Illinois employ a myriad of custom sizing and grinding technologies.

The newest plant in Kentucky specializes in protective armor tile, while also making other shaped ceramic products. Meanwhile, the Superior plant in Arkansas perfects the continuous graphitization of electrodes in its high-temperature furnace system.

Superior Graphite has transformed itself today from a mining company and processor of minerals to a high-tech developer of unique materials for industrial needs in all locales. The company serves markets around the world, not just in the United States and North and South America but in Europe, China and other parts of Asia. Not bad for what is still a family-owned company, albeit a powerhouse that routinely competes - and wins - against the Goliaths of the industrial world.

Perhaps the attributes most responsible for the company's success are vision, ingenuity and seamless talent for innovation. With worldwide sourcing of raw materials and global sales coverage, Superior is well equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Thanks to a workforce that's trained, experienced and creative, and to its own adaptive technologies, Superior is ideally positioned to help industry develop new technologies and new materials for a world that's increasingly complex and closely interconnected.

The Power of the Family

Superior Graphite boasts eight manufacturing plants on three continents yet still maintains its headquarters and a key plant in Chicago. And here, as in Ireland, the family is everything. We asked the firm's president and CEO Edward O. Carney to tell us more about the founder, the family and the company itself.

Q. Can you tell us about William J. Carney, the Irish immigrant who founded Superior Graphite?
Carney: Sure. My great-grandfather was born in County Mayo, Ireland in 1855, only a few years after the Great Famine. At the age of 10, he emigrated to Chicago, and worked in various industries, including mining and timber. In 1917, he founded Superior Flake Graphite Company, and when he needed help with this new firm, he turned to his nephews Marvin Matthew and William Joyce.

Q. What other Carneys have been involved in the firm?
Carney: His son was William Roy Carney, who headed the firm for some years. My father, Peter Carney, was named president in 1960 and he moved up to chair the Board of Directors in 1998.

Q. How has Superior managed to remain a family-owned business while still expanding to its current size and position as a leading supplier to the casting industry?
Carney: It's part of the family ethic to continue investing in the business. And of course, we're never afraid to try new ways of doing things.

Q. What are some of the advantages of maintaining your headquarters in Chicago?
Carney: With its location at the heart of mid-America, Chicago is an ideal place from which to reach destinations around the world. And because it's in the Midwest, Chicago is a very down-to-earth, not at all pretentious. Our visitors also remark on how clean the city is.

Q. What's in store for Superior Graphite?

Carney: We're ramping up our activities in Asia, and have several initiatives in China and India to name a few. In addition, we are doing some unique work in Central Europe. The future looks very bright for Superior Graphite.