Thordon Bearings Founder Wins Prestigious Sperry Award

Sandy Thompson onboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Hudson with a SeaThigor mechanical face seal installed (Thordon)

By The Maritime Executive 09-06-2019 08:36:39

Polymer materials pioneer George A. "Sandy" Thomson has been awarded the global transportation sector’s most distinguished recognition, the Elmer A. Sperry Award, given for “advancing the art of transportation."

The Elmer. A. Sperry award is given jointly by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 

Thomson joins a long and illustrious list of Sperry Award recipients, like William Francis Gibbs, the designer of the Liberty ship and the SS United States; Douglas Aircraft founder Donald Douglas; Porsche AG founder Ferdinand Porsche; British aviation pioneer Sir Geoffrey De Havilland; and Malcolm McLean, the inventor of the modern shipping container.

“I am deeply honoured and humbled to win this award, which I accept on behalf of everybody at Thordon Bearings,” said Thomson. “To be presented with this prize is a testament to the talent and dedication of all those working tirelessly within the company to develop safer, more environmentally-friendly solutions for all sectors of industry. It really is a collective effort rather than any one individual. It is our material scientists, technologists and engineers – some of the best in the world – that must take all the credit.”

Thomson studied aircraft maintenance at Northrop University in Inglewood, California and graduated as a mechanical engineer. After working for a Boston based mechanical seal manufacturer, he returned to Canada to join Thomson-Gordon Ltd, founded by his grandfather in 1911.

The prospect of producing engineered components made from elastomers intrigued Sandy Thomson, and along with two colleagues, he developed the Thordon polymer in the late 1960s. After several prototype bearings, the world’s first polymer alloy bearing was produced and installed in 1967 into a vertical pump, in partnership with a local steel plant, replacing traditional rubber bearings that typically wore out within a few weeks.

After the successful installation in more vertical pump applications, the marine market on Lake Ontario seemed like the perfect place to test the bearing in horizontal applications. The world’s first Thordon water lubricated propeller shaft bearing was installed on a Great Lakes tug owned by McKeil Marine in Hamilton in the late 1970s. McKeil is the largest tug/barge owner on the Great Lakes, and it is still a loyal customer 40 years later.

Thordon polymers were quickly adopted by ocean-going vessels, with hundreds of ships installing Thordon seawater-lubricated polymer tailshaft bearings. One significant breakthrough was supplying propeller shaft bearings to the Royal Canadian Navy's Halifax class frigates, which had originally specified rubber bearings. However, the products from Thomson's newly-formed company – Thordon Bearings Inc. – solved the problem. Since then, over 40 global navies and coast guard fleets have chosen Thordon’s COMPAC propeller shaft bearing system. Based on the proven operating performance on cruise ships, COMPAC bearings are now offered with a lifetime bearing wearlife guarantee. 

Sandy’s bearing technology has also helped the environment: it eliminates oil leaked from conventional oil lubricated tailshafts, and it has prevented millions of liters of oil leaking into the sea and rivers, protecting marine ecology.