The Linden, NJ-based company, however, in recent years found itself up against a new and different type of challenge, presented by NASA's Mars Explorer and its Rover landing vehicles. The task facing NASA - and General Magnaplate - was the need to produce a coating that would actually increase friction levels as a means to ensure a safe landing of the Rover on the Mars surface. The increased friction was needed to boost the load-carrying capacity of the device that provided braking when the Mars Explorer Rover, or MER, made its descent to the Mars surface.
The high-friction coating developed by General Magnaplate is designed to prevent the Kevlar rope used in the braking mechanism from slipping. The coating is a version of the company's Plasmadize product, a proprietary material described as an enhanced thermal-spray composite coating that provides high levels of wear and corrosion resistance at temperatures as high as 1300 deg F.
Normally, the coating is formulated to provide low-resistance dry lubricity. For the Mars Rover, General Magnaplate was required to reverse gears.
"We developed a new version of Plasmadize to provide high levels of friction especially for this project, and the results were very successful," said Mike Prager, head of Magnaplate's California facility.
General Magnaplate says its history as a coatings company is closely intertwined with the U.S. space-exploration program. The company began developing coatings for space vehicles 50 years ago, formulating "synergistic" metal treatments that could withstand the extreme conditions that could cause conventional protective coatings or lubricants to literally "boil away" in the vacuum of space.
The company's founder, Charles P. Covino, worked closely with NASA to develop a variety of coatings for ferrous and nonferrous metals. Every American space vehicle since NASA was created has included "thousands of individual parts" carrying coatings made by the company, including cameras, telemetry equipment, drills, fuel valves, landing struts, protective shrouds, seat tracks, frames, doors and windows, latches and hinges, Magnaplate says.
The company's coatings also have been used for space suits, toilets, the moon vehicle itself, and the drill and soil sampler used to bring moon rocks back to earth.
In more "down-to-earth" applications, Magnaplate says its coatings materials find a variety of highly specialized uses, including anticorrosion materials for molds used to form plastic parts and coatings for copper tubing machines, boring machines used to dig the England-to-France channel tunnel, protection of metal surfaces of gas lasers from corrosive gases and heat sinks on mainframe computers.