From Mine to Manufacturing

Wollastonite, a mineral world renowned for its whiteness and brightness, has been mined and processed in Willsboro for more than 50 years. The Imerys facility there — formerly owned by NYCO Minerals — currently employs about 70 people. Jobs at Imerys include reliability specialists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, skilled tradespeople and those in accounting and logistics.

Tim Boshart has spent his career in manufacturing — 24 years at Georgia Pacific, plant manager at Mold Rite Plasics, in regional sales for Plattco and now the new site man- ager for Imerys’ processing plant located on Mountain View Drive in Willsboro.

Ore from the Imerys mine, located about 14 miles from the processing plant and managed by another division of the company, is trucked to the processing plant where it goes through several processes to get to the form where it can be sold. Wollastonite is a naturally occurring calcium metasilicate mineral with needle-like particle shape. It can withstand temperatures of 1500°C and it can be used in plastics, paint, rubber, cement boards, and adhesives and sealants. Some of Wollastonite’s properties that make it useful in these capacities include a high brightness, low moisture and oil absorption, low water solubility, low volatile content, high melting point, acicular crystal structure, and a high hardness.

After viewing a safety video and gearing up with steel toed boots, safety glasses and vest, and earplugs, I was given a tour the plant by Boshart and Operations Supervisor Jeremy Greene who walked me through the process the material goes through. When the ore arrives at the plant, it is dumped into a hopper that feeds a crusher. A series of screens separate the material by size. It then moves on to the next process where the different components of the rock are separated. Magnets are used to separate garnet, which is one of the by-products. The garnet is sold for use in highway and cement manufacturing. From there the material goes through additional processes depending on the needs of the customer. There are long aspect ratio and short aspect ratio products. Product can also be chemically treated to enhance performance. The plant operates three shifts, seven days a week.

Imerys makes significant investments annually to improve plant safety, focusing on physical improvements as well as procedural and process improvements to reduce risks in the workplace. (Proof of this commitment can be found on a sign in the lobby by the front entrance that proudly states it has been more than 1100 days since there has been a workplace accident. Impressive!!) Boshart explained, “There is a unique focus on safe behaviors outside work as well as inside. The key is to help employees recognize risk and shape behaviors to avoid potential injuries.”

Greene stressed the importance of being adaptable for the success of the business. “Some customers prefer their product bagged in 50 pound bags, some prefer the 2000- pound bags; some like pallets stacked 10 rows high and some prefer seven. Our business changes and transforms with our customers’ needs,” he said.

Ensuring that the plant has the capability to meet the needs of customers is critically important for Imerys. Each year the company invests millions of dollars in innovative technology that improves the longevity and sustainability of the plant. Boshart emphasized, “We are fortunate to have a strong team of corporate resources to help develop and implement the most effective and innovative upgrades in safety, quality and reliability, as well as process and product enhancements. Our goal is to make this a world- class facility that creates value for society long term.”

Imerys employees volunteer for various organizations in the community and the company allocates funds each year for regional charities such as Honor Flight, local veterans agencies, Mission of Hope, Willsboro Central School Booster Club, Willsboro Youth Sports, and the Elizabethtown Dog Park. Imerys also donates tailings to the town for use on roads.

“We are continuously focused on driving out waste so that we can stay competitive and keep good jobs in Willsboro,” Boshart said. Imerys is working with the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing (IAM) at Clinton Community College to help build capabilities in some of its more technical positions. He emphasized the value IAM offers and that he looks forward to working with them to develop programming. “We are thankful we have that resource in our back- yard,” he concluded.