Updated 29-III-2020

Willoughby Quartz Plant

The Willoughby Quartz Plant opened in 1957 as a dedicated production facility for quartz tubing, taking over these operations from the East 152nd Street Facility in Cleveland (OH). From 1973 it operated together with its sister factory, the Newark Quartz Plant, and the overseas venture Westdeutsche Quarzschmelze of Germany in which GE acquired a shareholding to provide quartz for its European operations. In 2005 a fourth quartz plant was established at Wuxi to meet the Chinese requirements. However the following year GE decided to exit the business of manufacturing quartz. The Willoughby site as well as the other facilities in Newark, Germany and China were taken over by Momentive Performance Materials, which continues to operate these facilities today.

GE Willoughby Quartz Plant 1

Address GE Willoughby Quartz Plant #7743, 4901 Campbell Road, Willoughby, Ohio 44094, U.S.A.
Location 41.6251°N, -81.4461°E
Opened 1957.
Closed Still operational.
Products Quartz and silica materials for lighting, semiconductor and optical industries.

Factory Origins
On 29th May 1956 GE announced that its board of directors in New York had approved plans to build a new quartz products plant in the Cleveland area. The purpose was to allow expansion of the existing quartz production facilities at the East 152nd Street Facility in Cleveland, which had outgrown the available space at that location.

After considering several suitable sites in the area, the Lamp Glass Department selected Willoughby in July 1956. Ground moving activities began in the autumn of that year, and the 70,000 square foot plant was operational in 1957. It was intended to employ around 125 skilled production operators and administrative personnel during the first year.

Expansion of Quartz Applications
GE's applications for quartz were at first limited primarily to the requirements of its lamp industry. This commenced at the end of the 1930s when the first low wattage quartz mercury vapour lamps were introduced. The main increase in volumes began following the 1955 introduction of linear quartz infrared lamps, and the 1959 launch of quartz halogen lamps for general lighting.

In the 1960s volumes continued to grow rapidly as quartz found another application in the semiconductor industry. The ultra high purity of this extremely refractive engineering material made it eminently suitable for the construction of reactor vessels to produce integrated circuits on silicon wafers. Whereas lamps required quartz tubing of at most a few tens of millimetres diameter, semiconductor processes called for much larger diameters up to around 400mm. It was impractical to draw quartz tubing in such enormous sizes, and such products were made at Willoughby by inflating smaller diameter heated tubing up to the larger proportions on fully automated glassworking lathes. Sales of quartz plate were also started - this being formed by first drawing a tube, slicing it along its length, and then rolling the heated cylindrical body out to a flat sheet.

Still another booming application for Quartz arrived with the fibre optics industry of the 1970s. Whereas semiconductors called for expansion into large diameter materials, optical fibres moved in the opposite direction to fractions of a millimetre. Quartz proved to be an ideal material in view of its outstandingly high optical transmission, enabling signals to be transmitted over much greater distances than the original glass fibres.

The applications of quartz are often highly specialised, for instance in 1967 Willoughby supplied a vast machined 158-inch diameter quartz blank for the mirror of the Kitt Peak National Observatory. The low thermal expansion coefficient of this material ensures more precise maintenance of its dimensions during fluctuating ambient temperatures, and thereby allowing a larger diameter reflector and improved optical resolution of that telescope. As production volumes continued to increase, the cost of quartz materials decreased. This opened up other applications that could not initially justify the high cost of quartz, for instance in laboratory glassware and other chemical reaction vessels.

For many decades all of these applications were served by the Lamp Glass Department at Willoughby, later known as the Quartz and Chemical Products division of GE Lighting. In 1995 GE made a major investment of $ 17 million to significantly expand its facilities at Willoughby. A year later in 1996 the plant was hit by a powerful hydrogen explosion which caused an estimated $ 3 million of damage, however when the author visited the site in 1997 both the quartz as well as the Lucalox ceramic divisions were fully operating.

Lucalox Ceramics
Another specialty material produced by GE's Quartz and Chemicals division was 'Lucalox', or transLUCent polycrystalline ALuminium OXide. Invented in 1955 by GE scientist Prof. Robert L. Coble, its first industrial application was as the ceramic arc tube material that facilitated the invention of the High Pressure Sodium lamp.

Lucalox was developed at the research laboratories of General Electric in Schenectady, New York, but since its primary application was for lamps its production was established at the Cleveland Bulb Works. In 1979 it was still being produced at that location, but following the closure of that facility it was relocated to the Willoughby Quartz Plant.

In view of the strategic importance of that material to the lighting division, at least part of the Lucalox materials production for ceramic metal halide lamps was transferred to the GE-Tungsram Budapest Light Source Factory.

Transfer to Momentive
During the late 1990s and early 2000s the lamp industry became immensely more competitive, primarily as a result of increased competition from newer Chinese manufacturers. Many of the traditional Western lighting companies struggled to remain profitable, and gradually lost interest in their lighting divisions which had once proved a major source of income.

The same was equally true of the raw materials required in lamp manufacture, including quartz. For many years GE had an association with the German producer Westdeutche Quartzschmelze (WQS) of Geesthacht to service the requirements of its European customers, but that operation also became less and less competitive. This led to GE's establishment of low-cost quartz manufacturing at Wuxi of China in 2005, but even this was not sufficient to counter the declining profitability of the quartz business.

In 2006 GE sold its Advanced Materials businesses, which included quartz, to the equity firm Apollo Management L.P. The newly-named company, Momentive Advanced Materials, acquired the GE Quartz and Silicones businesses and took over all four of the quartz plants in Willoughby, Newark, Geesthacht and Wuxi. Almost fifteen years later all plants are still operating under this dynamic new ownership. In 2009 approximately 80 of the then 130 Willoughby employees were made redundan, as part of plans to consolidate manufacturing at Newark, but the company indicated its intention to keep Willoughby open.

Aerial View, c.1980s Kitt Peak Telescope Mirror, 1967 Kitt Peak Telescope Mirror, 1967 Kitt Peak Telescope Mirror, 1967

Quartz Products
1993 - US
Optiq-100 Quartz
1989 - US
Synthetic Quartz
1989 - US
Lucalox Alumina Tubes
1981 - US

References & Bibliography
  1. GE Quartz Products Brochure, 1993.
  2. GE Gives Definite Word on Plant to be Located in Willoughby, Jim Collins, Newspaper article of July 1956.
  3. A Century of Light, James A. Cox, published by The Benjamin Company / Rutgers, 1979, ISBN 0-87502-062-3, pp.153.
  4. Obituary of John Trussa, 15-X-2010, implying employment at Willoughby Quartz 1955-1985.
  5. Woman Picket Faces Court, Willoughby News Herald, 9th October 1969, p.1, citing employment of Mrs. Phyllis Trudeau since 1965.
  6. Obituary of Russel E. Samples, 22-X-2000, implying employment at Willoughby Quartz 1964-1994.
  7. The City of Willoughby Fire Department History.
  8. GE: Decades of Misdeeds and Wrongdoing, The Multinational Monitor, Vol.22 No.7/8, July/August 2001.
  9. Momentive to cut 80 jobs in Willoughby, taking work to Newark, Ohio, and to China, Kathryn Kroll, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 28th March 2019.x