As a business, what’s more remarkable than surviving the ups and downs of the American economy for more than fifty years?
Well, how about traveling to the farthest reaches of our solar system at 38,026 miles an hour and withstanding temperatures as hot as +260 degrees Celsius and as cold as -270 degrees Celsius for more than 40 years.
Unbelievable? No. That’s precisely what miniature aluminum extrusions from Minalex have been doing aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft since 1997. With headquarters and manufacturing facilities located in Whitehouse, NJ the fifty-year-old family-owned Minalex company supplies parts to a long list of clients in industries that include military, healthcare, medical, lighting, construction and of course, aerospace.
The decades-old relationship between Minalex and the twin Voyager spacecraft was the result of the unique forming characteristics and heat dissipating qualities of aluminum, and the ability of Minalex to manufacture extrusions that conform to NASA’s amazingly precise specifications needed to withstand the environmental extremes encountered on their travels through deep space.
“We regularly produce aluminum extrusions with extremely tight tolerances on one or more dimensions of an extrusion, depending on the shape,” says Michael Casey, Vice President of Sales & Planning for Minalex. “In the case of Voyager, this unique ability enabled the scientists and engineers to design and specify extrusions in situations where close tolerances are required.”
Today, Minalex is regularly called upon to provide extrusion parts with tolerances that can be as exacting as +/- 0.001, walls as thin as 0.018”, and holes as small as 0.040.
Michael Casey continues, “With our ability to extrude in diameter sizes that range from as much as three-and-a-half inches all the way down to one quarter of an inch, we can create one-off and short run extrusion designs in a virtually endless variety of configurations, and on a very short schedule.”
The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The adventurers’ current mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM), will explore the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain and beyond.
Voyager 1 is in “Interstellar space” and Voyager 2 is currently in the “Heliosheath” — the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.
Most recently, Minalex has continued its presence beyond the reaches of earth’s atmosphere via a relationship with SpaceX. Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the driving force behind the breakthrough all-electric-powered vehicle brand Tesla, the company has been a continuing customer for over a decade. “We originally caught the attention of SpaceX because of our qualifications as an AS9100 and ISO9001 certified company, with Aerospace Materials Standards (AMS) Specs,” Minalex General Manager, Chris Casey recalls. SpaceX followed up with a visit and conducted a direct audit to verify the operations and quality standards of Minalex.
Following that initial inspection, Minalex was awarded a project for an aluminum extrusion that was a structural part in the cargo hold of a rocket, which delivers supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Among the more than 30 parts currently supplied by Minalex to SpaceX, one can be found in the Dragon2, a free-flying spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to orbiting destinations and safely return cargo to Earth.
Along with its standard and custom extrusion capabilities, Minalex also offers a variety of value-added services, including precision cutting, deburring, tumbling, finishing and CNC machining. In addition to the parts they supply, the company believes longstanding client partnerships are one of the most valuable things they provide. Michael Casey concludes, “Now in our second half-century, the many, long-term client relationships we’ve ‘manufactured’ are our greatest source of pride and satisfaction.”