June 17, 2012

Bringing safety to heel

Falcon Performance Footwear in Auburn treads with purpose as it builds a niche making boots that withstand hard use in tough jobs.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Cheryl Arsenault tests boot liners for watertightness at Falcon Performance Footwear in Auburn.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Rick Nedeau prepares boots to be soled at Falcon Performance Footwear in Auburn.

Additional Photos Below

The material was developed through work with the University of Maine researchers, a grant from the Maine Technology Institute, and a $180,000 investment by Falcon, Spang said.

In addition to potentially making toe caps for other footwear manufacturers, Spang sees the high-tech composite material eventually being used in the avionics and maritime industries.

Such applications may be two to three years away, but Falcon is in talks to use its toe cap material in high-tech components outside the footwear industry.

The U.S. military also has expressed interest in the high-tech toe caps, but Spang said that level of production would mean too much growth for the 54-employee business.

"We have to be very careful not to kill ourselves at the same time," Spang said.

Falcon has been careful to grow in a measured way. It also has made forays to expand internationally to Canada and Chile, and potentially Brazil and Colombia down the road. Falcon's also benefited from an increase in mining activity in the U.S. due to high commodity prices for precious metals.

Falcon's ability to see different applications for its footwear technology and leap to expand internationally helped the company garner the Innovator of the Year award from the Maine International Trade Center.

"I'm the least knowledgeable footwear person in the room," Spang said. "And sometimes that helps."

Spang's background is in the computer industry, working at Digital Equipment Corp. and Sun Microsystems, and in lean manufacturing systems. He brings a different perspective to the company and helped introduce a new manufacturing layout and system that cut the time to make a boot to five days from 20 days.

Falcon started manufacturing children's shoes in 1963, but it shifted its focus to work boots in 1990. Spang and Globe Firefighter Suits bought the company in 2007, and forged an alliance to design and produce firefighter footwear. It introduced the mining boot two years later.

"We're pioneering new materials. We're leading these niches in advanced safety technology," Spang said. "We're not a high-volume company."

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@mainetoday.com

 

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Additional Photos

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Laurie Auger cleans glue from boots prior to shipping.

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Carl Spang, president of Falcon Performance Footwear, shows a boot that the company manufactures for firefighters.

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Miners’ boots are on display. The company, which makes high-tech industrial boots, has been shifting more of its operation to Maine.



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