Front Street’s parent company, Turn 14 Distribution, works hand-in-hand with many of the performance industry’s prominent manufacturers. As a result of these relationships, the Front Street staff often has opportunities not afforded to the general public – such as the subject of today’s post: an informative, behind-the-scenes visit to Cometic Gasket in Concord, Ohio.
During a recent visit to the area, I checked in with Cometic’s CEO, Bob Gorman, and Kristen Damberger, the company’s Marketing Director; they invited me to come and check out their massive, 70,000-plus square-foot facility dedicated to one thing – making gaskets for all types of engines from automotive to powersports and even agricultural applications. Basically, if there’s an engine to seal, they’ve got the capabilities and engineering staff on-site to design and manufacture the solutions for just about any application regardless of origin.
Gorman, who started the company with three other partners – all former veterans of Wiseco Pistons – originally focused their manufacturing capabilities on the powersports business.
While these four founding partners were employees at Wiseco, that company had developed a powersports piston product line and were unable to obtain satisfactory gasket materials, which led them in the direction of creating the product themselves as a side gig, which subsequently became Cometic Gasket, Inc.
Later, as Cometic’s manufacturing capabilities grew, the company entered the automotive and custom gasket manufacturing arena, and the business very quickly turned into a full-time obsession that has since enveloped the entire Gorman family – Kristen is Bob’s daughter, son Jeff Gorman runs the research and development department, and wife Bindy is the Director of Accounts.
The facility is impressive, both from the outside and on the inside. Although the exterior appearance is imposing, unless one recognizes the Cometic logo on the flag flying proudly next to the Stars and Stripes, it could be any other manufacturing facility. The company prides itself on using American-made materials to create its American-made gaskets. Inside, they proudly display their heritage, including display vehicles which have won in their respective forms of motorsports.
Believe it or not, this expertise progressed from the manufacture of one single part number: a top end gasket set for the 1983 Honda CR80.
The heritage is also on display on what I’d call the catalog wall; each of Cometic’s printed catalogs from the company’s history is snugly tucked into a frame, from the very first catalog, which housed 900 part numbers, to today’s massive, multi-catalog assortment across the company’s different product offerings. Over 85,000 part numbers exist in the world of Cometic today.
Many of the company’s multi-layer steel (MLS) head gaskets are created in a machine such as this laser cutter. The machine moves so quickly it’s virtually impossible to get a clean and clear photograph. I stood here and watched it work for a couple of minutes. The precision with which it cuts the gasket material is staggering to witness up close and personal.
Some of the stainless-steel scraps left over from the head gasket manufacturing process – this material is recycled to reduce material waste.
This area houses some of the manufacturing equipment, and there’s another huge room just next door filled with equipment as well. Each machine has a defined capability, and the company not only makes long runs of stocking part numbers but is capable of quickly pushing out custom designs when necessary.
Just some of the gasket material stashed in the facility. Many of the company’s products start off in these huge rolls of stainless steel.
Not only does the company manufacture thousands of multi-layer steel gasket configurations, they also build many gaskets from synthetic blended material. Some gaskets are still made using the old-school tooling method which punches the gasket out of the composite material.
One of the company’s monstrous presses making quick work of an entire sheet of material.
Gasket development isn’t just hinted at around here; the Cometic team has a fully-equipped engine dyno where they torture-test their products to prove out the capabilities of each type of design. On the day I was there, an LS engine sat on the dyno, but unfortunately there was no testing planned during that time block.
In addition to the high performance multi-layer steel head gaskets for which Cometic has gained so much acclaim over the last several years, the company also stocks a huge inventory of rubber, cork and composite gaskets for many applications.
Believe it or not, each and every MLS gasket is inspected by hand and random samples are chosen for further inspection and verification against the blueprint. There are no cookie-cutter gaskets coming from this factory.
MLS gasket steel shim sections – these are combined with the top and bottom layers to make a full gasket.
These gaskets don’t engineer themselves; over the years the Cometic team has assembled a wide assortment of various engine blocks and other engine components, which they use for research and development purposes.
Sometimes their engineering staff doesn’t even get the hard parts to work with; instead, they’ll get a tracing of an engine block’s deck surface with measurements and other pertinent information, and then they’re challenged to build an effective gasketing solution for the combination of parts.
One part of the engineering process involves using this pressure-sensitive material to test a particular clamp load; it’s placed between the engine components to see how the fasteners spread the load around the gasket material. This tells the engineers how to design the embossments or other sealing solution to keep the fluids away from the combustion. You can see in this example how the two fasteners at the bottom of the cylinder don’t effectively spread the load, which could cause leakage over time.
The small ridge at the edge of each cylinder (left) works in conjunction with the embossments for the gasket layers to seal the combustion gases and coolant within their respective passages.
The multi-layer-steel head gaskets can have as few as three and up to five or more layers; it depends on the desired gasket thickness and type of sealing required.
One of the company’s steel and rubber valve cover gaskets fresh out of the mold. The steel frame permits fastener torque to be achieved, while the rubber perimeter layer effectively seals any imperfections in the valve cover’s surface.
The Cometic team is proud of their achievements; these particular head gaskets are part of a display showing both pairs of gaskets from the one and only time the Sprint Cup championship ended in a tie – 2011, when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished the season with the same number of points. Stewart ended up taking home the title on the tiebreaker of more victories (five) during the Chase portion of the series; the pertinent fact for the company is that the top two points finishers in the hard-fought battle both used Cometic head gaskets.
All in all, this was an extremely interesting trip. I sat and chatted with Bob Gorman for a while once my tour was over. It was fascinating to hear the story of the company, how he and his family have made it into the immensely successful business it is today, where he’s been and where he thinks the industry is going. Much thanks to my tour guide, Kristen, and the entire Cometic team for the hospitality!