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ILC Dover to expand space work in Delaware

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ILC Dover NASA space Frederica

ILC Dover, which produces the soft material that cushions space capsule landings, is bolstering its space program in Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ILC DOVER

FREDERICA – ILC Dover, the diversified private manufacturing company, is expanding its aerospace production in Delaware while moving its existing biopharmaceutical production to Mexico.

The changes will impact about 140 employees in Delaware, but some of them will likely be able to move over to increased production in the aerospace expansion, officials told Delaware Business Times. It’s not yet clear how many may be laid off by the end of the year, when the transition is expected to be completed.

ILC Dover NASA Frederica space

A new generation of NASA spacesuits like this are being designed by ILC Dover. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ILC DOVER

β€œWe recognize and appreciate that the expansion of our Space division impacts our Life Sciences workforce who has helped drive our success over the past several years,” said Rob Reed, president of Space and Engineered Solutions at ILC Dover, in a statement. β€œWe are committed to our people and will assist our employees during this transition period. We remain dedicated to our Space & Engineered Solutions businesses in Delaware and look forward to growing our Space capacity to fulfill the increased demand we have witnessed in the market.”

The Frederica production plant about 10 miles south of Dover has produced spacesuits for NASA astronauts dating back to the Apollo program in the 1960s. It branched out to produce other military equipment like gas masks, but spacesuits slowed as NASA mothballed its manned space missions in the 2010s.

ILC branched out to diversify its portfolio and began working on pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products that quickly became an important revenue driver. Acquired by the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, ILC has made several bolt-on acquisitions in the space in recent years, and it ramped up production of those products in Frederica.

In the past few years, however, aerospace production has picked back up as NASA has planned new missions and the increasingly crowded commercial sector for space offers new possibilities.

ILC Dover Sierra Space Frederica

ILC Dover produces the fabric material that will allow the Sierra Space module to inflate in low-Earth orbit. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ILC DOVER

ILC is designing the spacesuits for Boeing’s next-generation Starliner spacecraft that will ferry crews to the International Space Station. It is also partnering with the Colorado-based company Sierra Space on the development of next-generation spacesuits and a giant inflatable module that could be deployed into low-Earth orbit as a smaller, and cheaper, version of the International Space Station. It pressurizes a patented soft material manufactured by ILC that turns into enough space for a three-story building.

Expansion of production for the aerospace segment will come with an investment in additional manufacturing equipment, but ILC is still working on a cost estimate of that investment through a master site plan, said Natalie Hines, communications manager for ILC.

It will be moving its biopharmaceutical product manufacturing equipment to its Juarez, Mexico, plant, which it has operated since 2013. The move comes just over a year after ILC expanded that site for its Grayling Industries subsidiary near the Texan border city of El Paso, adding 20,000 square feet of new clean room space to support multi-site production of solutions for biotherapeutics, cell and gene therapy, and pharmaceutical markets.

ILC is also currently hiring about 30 jobs in Frederica, including roles like sewing operator, engineering technician, quality engineer, and technical sales engineer. Kelly Lawry, chief human resources officer for ILC, said the company expects to add even more positions in the future, but it is still getting a handle on how many and what types of roles will be needed for its new space contracts.

Like most right now, Lawry said the hiring market has been challenging.

β€œThe good news is we’re a really cool company. People are interested in what we do so I think that that sets us apart, especially in Delaware,” she said.

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