The Early Years
Innovation, perseverance and close attention to customer needs have characterized Kennametal since its founding. In 1938, after years of research, metallurgist Philip M. McKenna created a tungsten-titanium carbide alloy for cutting tools that provided a productivity breakthrough in the machining of steel. “Kennametal®” tools cut faster and lasted longer, and thereby facilitated metalworking in products from automobiles to airliners to machinery. With his invention, Philip started the McKenna Metals Company in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Later renamed Kennametal, the corporation has become a world leader in the metalworking industry and remains headquartered in Latrobe.
McKenna Metal’s first full-year sales, with a staff of 12 employees, totaled some $30,000. But World War II saw American heavy industry shift into high gear. Kennametal’s annual sales approached $10 million and employment was nearly 900 as the company’s tools were used extensively in the war-time economy.
When the wartime boom ended, Kennametal sought new ways to exploit the toughness and wear resistance of tungsten carbide alloys. In the mid-1940s, the company pioneered the use of carbide tooling for mining, which led to the development of the continuous mining machine. Kennametal also found uses for tungsten carbide in demanding specialty applications where resistance to wear was vital, such as in valves, dies, drill bits and snowplow blades.
Kennametal developed an international presence from the start. Philip sold early patent rights to British industrialists who later also began Kennametal of Canada. Exports through the company’s first five years totaled more than $2.5 million, and by 1955 Kennametal had representation in 19 countries. The company’s overseas manufacturing started in 1957 with a joint venture in Italy. A joint venture in the United Kingdom and a German sales subsidiary soon followed. Between 1972 and 1981, foreign sales grew from 17 to 34 percent of the total.
In 1993, Kennametal acquired Hertel AG, a tooling systems manufacturer headquartered in Fürth, Germany, with operations throughout Europe and worldwide. This enabled the corporation to compete more effectively in Western Europe, gain better access to emerging markets in Eastern Europe, and offer additional product lines in Asia Pacific. The Asia Pacific effort was further expanded to include manufacturing joint ventures for mining tools in China and a metalworking tool manufacturing plant in Shanghai. In 2002, Kennametal acquired Widia, a leading manufacturer and marketer of metalworking tools in Europe and India. Other acquisitions that expand Kennametal’s capabilities to better serve its customers worldwide include Conforma Clad Inc., a leading provider of engineered components that deliver premium wear solutions, and Extrude Hone Corporation, a supplier of market leading engineered component process technology.
A Technological Leader
Kennametal was founded on the strength of a technological breakthrough, and a list of highlights demonstrates that it has continued to lead its industry in innovation.
In 1946, the company introduced the Kendex line of mechanically held, indexable insert systems that accelerated tool changing and increased machining precision.
Kennametal’s unique, patented thermit process for producing impact-resistant macrocrystalline tungsten carbide today remains the best way to produce extremely tough tool materials for demanding applications such as mining.
In 1964, Kennametal introduced tungsten-carbide-tipped Kengrip tire studs. Although studs clearly contributed to safe winter travel, they became controversial amid speculation about their role in road deterioration. After legislation limited the use of carbide studs, Kennametal left the business in 1977.
Leader in the development of silicon-nitride based “sialon” ceramics for the machining of exotic aerospace materials.
First to develop cobalt-enriched substrates for coated inserts, was first to commercially introduce physical-vapor-deposition (PVD) coated cemented carbide cutting tools and created the first commercially viable diamond-coated carbide inserts.
Leader in the development of quick-change tooling systems that today lead the world in versatility, speed and accuracy.
Kennametal maintains its technological leadership through its $30-million Technology Center in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and complementary facilities in various locations around the globe. The facilities are dedicated to rapid development of products engineered to meet specific customer requirements.
Kennametal has been named a four-time best-practice partner for excellence in our world-class product development and portfolio management processes by the APQC, a non-profit organization and internationally recognized leader in benchmarking, knowledge management, measurement and quality programs.