Tour highlights high-tech operations at historic JH Rhodes factory

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VERNON — Members of the Mohawk Valley Chapter of ASM International and their guests recently toured the JH Rhodes factory, a subsidiary of Universal Photonics, Inc., in Vernon.

Founded in 1899 by James H. Rhodes to supply polishing media for industrial applications, the JH Rhodes Company, drawing on its over 120 years of polishing expertise, is recognized today as the world’s premier producer of polishing pads for high technology applications.

While polishing may seem like a simple operation, extremely smooth, scratch-free surfaces are often critical for high-tech as well as everyday products. JH Rhodes pads are used by companies around the world to polish precision optics, touch screens, and camera lenses for smartphones, flat panel displays, memory disk drives, semiconductor substrates, fiber optics, and numerous other products. 

Local members of ASM International, a technical society specializing in materials and their applications, call the JH Rhodes, Co. a “hidden gem” of technology in the Mohawk Valley due to its “cutting-edge” polishing pads it manufactures. The chapter likes to highlight local companies that produce high tech products, either by touring their plant or having them present a technical talk to its members at dinner-meetings.

From an historical perspective, for many years the JH Rhodes plant was in Franklin Springs, one mile southwest of Clinton, and it used red Clinton Hematite iron ore, which was mined off of Brimfield Street in Clinton, for color and as a grinding agent in some of its polishing pads. However, some years ago it replaced the red iron ore with a synthetic material. 

The tour was lead by JH Rhodes members Anthony DiRosa, Director, Factory Operations, and Todd Cagwin, Director of Research and Development.

Experts say JH Rhodes’ unique formulation process produces a micro cellular rigid foam elastomer product that yields an extremely durable surface. Impregnation of the filler with grinding media enhances the polishing action and increases stock removal, while minimizing free particles that can contribute to scratching.

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