The U.S. Air Force has an ally in one Northampton County manufacturer.
But as a small business that’s been operating since the early 1900s, the manufacturer also has allies, or more precisely, clients, all over the world.
As a maker of tapes and nets built to catch military aircraft during the landing stage, Victor Balata Belting Co. has few, if any competitors in its niche.
An outgrowth of a German company that started in 1910, the company has been at its nondescript facility on 16 acres in Wilson Borough for decades.
“The niche that we stayed with, the niche that has sustained us is the military,” said Larry O’Neill, the company’s sales manager. “As a defense contractor, we get credibility because it’s a flight safety item.”
O’Neill’s son, Tim O’Neill, owns and operates the company and serves as the president and CEO.
It’s a small, family run company of about 27 employees, and Tim O’Neill gets involved with fixing the manufacturing equipment himself, with most repairs completed in-house. With equipment that’s at least 70 years old, much of it from Germany, it’s similar to driving an old clunker when it comes to seeing what needs to be fixed, he said.
“We have our own machine shop and do our own welding,” O’Neill said.
Marta Kokoszka-Marques, quality assurance manager, carefully inspects and tests all materials and, along with O’Neill, buys them by the truckload.
The company uses nylon, cotton, fiberglass and Kevlar fibers, which are then twisted and woven on industrial looms into belting products.
The twisting process makes the product stronger and, playing such a vital role in military safety, means each tape is meticulously tested. Plus, the company keeps detailed files of each process.
The company also ships its products directly from its Wilson facility to government warehouses in Pennsylvania and California.
Additionally, Victor Balata now builds the brake device that stops the plane, in addition to making the tapes and nets.
These brakes were first made for bomber airplanes in World War II, Larry O’Neill said. The brakes consist of four centered 24-inch diameter plates.
Cornering a lucrative market did not come without help.
O’Neill cited the Manufacturers Resource Center in Bethlehem as an organization that helped Victor Balata expand its market outreach and stay successful. The company now serves Saudi Arabia, Israel and Canada by contract and also sold its product to Chile and Ecuador.
For about eight to 10 years, Victor Balata has been working with MRC, which helps in a variety of ways. These include providing testing equipment at Lehigh University so the company gets an independent source, helping the company achieve International Organization for Standardization certification and providing a global networking meeting with overseas officials, gaining clients in Poland, Italy, Spain and other nations.
“Where could I get that? We couldn’t afford a global sales force,” Larry O’Neill said. “Military people are not available. It takes awhile for them to feel comfortable with you and with your product.”
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