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Guest Post: Burlington Engineer Wins Prestigious Elmer A. Sperry Award


MY TAKE: It is always fantastic when the efforts of one of our own are recognized on an international stage. On behalf of the City of Burlington, I want to congratulate George A. ‘Sandy’ Thomson — founder and innovator of the Burlington-based and fourth-generation-owned business Thordon Bearings — for his accomplishments and receiving the prestigious Elmer A. Sperry award! You have made me very proud to be your Mayor.

Also, to have this Burlington company recognized is a great business news story. Thordon Bearings services the global Marine, Hydro and Industrial markets. Sandy has been selected to receive this award in recognition of leading the innovation for water-lubricated main propulsion shaft bearings for marine transport through the application of polymeric compounds. This technology, created in 1967, has prevented millions of litres of oil from polluting our lakes and oceans.

Please see below a media release from Thordon Bearings Inc.

Burlington-based, Canadian manufacturer, Thordon Bearings’ founder and polymer materials pioneer George A. (Sandy) Thomson has been awarded the global transportation sector’s most distinguished accolade, the Elmer A. Sperry Award 2019 for “Advancing the Art of Transportation”.

Sandy joins a long list of Sperry Award recipients, which was established in 1955, including Sir Geoffrey De Havilland for the first jet-powered passenger aircraft and engines, Malcom McLean who developed the modern intermodal shipping container which revolutionized transport and international trade, and Bradford W. Parkinson for the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

“I am deeply honoured and humbled to win this award, which I accept on behalf of everybody at Thordon Bearings. 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.” — George A. ‘Sandy’ Thomson

Sandy is a native of Burlington, Ontario, Canada and is the second Canadian to win this prestigious award. He studied aircraft maintenance at Northrop University in Inglewood, California and graduated as a mechanical engineer. After a brief stint 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, so along with Dr. Pande and Dr. Bill Allan they 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 in Hamilton, replacing traditional rubber bearings that typically wore out within a few weeks.

Early on Sandy saw the potential for a wide variety of markets for the new polymer, and 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. Today McKeil is the largest tug/barge owner on the Great Lakes and still a loyal customer 40 years later.

The advantages of Thordon polymers were quickly adopted by ocean-going vessels, with hundreds of ships, including cruise ships and container vessels installing Thordon seawater-lubricated polymer tailshaft bearings. One significant breakthrough was supplying propeller shaft bearings to the Royal Canadian Navy – twelve Halifax class frigates, which had originally specified rubber bearings that were not meeting expectations. However, the products from Sandy’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 COMPAC’s proven performance in the cruise industry after 21 years installed on Disney Cruise Lines and Princess Cruise ships, Thordon now offers an unprecedented lifetime bearing wearlife guarantee.

Sandy’s pioneering work in eliminating a major cause of ocean pollution – oil leaked from conventional oil lubricated tailshafts – has prevented millions of litres of oil leaking into the sea and rivers, protecting marine ecology.

Thordon Bearings has now been passed onto a fourth generation, Sandy’s step-daughter Anna Galoni.  Anna remarks on Sandy’s achievement “The entire Thordon family is so thrilled with this incredible accomplishment. Thordon’s success over the years is due in large part to Sandy’s innovations. Canada has long been known for a wide range of manufacturing industries and people are often surprised to learn that a Canadian company just outside of Toronto is engineering innovative products that are changing the landscape of the marine industry.”

Sandy sums up his philosophy: “To be the best demands a genuine commitment to innovation, problem solving, service and quality. Our goal is to provide products and services that represent the best possible value for our customers’ needs, but also benefit the planet.”

Sandy onboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Hudson with SeaThigor mechanical face seal installed. / Thordon Bearings Inc. photo

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. The award will be presented to Sandy at the 2019 SNAME Maritime Convention on Oct. 31, 2019 in Tacoma, WA, U.S.A.

About Thordon Bearings

Thordon Bearings is a Canadian company that designs and manufactures a complete range of journal bearing and seal systems for marine, clean power generation, pump and other industrial markets. These products are built using Thordon proprietary non-metallic polymer materials that are lubricated with water eliminating oil or grease usage, meaning ZERO risk of oil pollution to our rivers, lakes and oceans.  Thordon systems and bearings are available worldwide through over 75 agents and distributors.


*Posted by the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist, John Bkila

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