MSA plans to sell military helmet division
Mine Safety Appliances Co. said it intends to sell its once highly touted but now "increasingly challenging" North America military helmet business, but the company is not specifying the price and terms of the deal or naming the potential buyer.
The Cranberry-based safety equipment maker said it signed a nonbinding letter of intent to sell the business, and it expects to complete the sale within 45 days.
The helmets are made at a Newport, Vt., plant that employs about 40 people.
MSA officials said that in the last five years, the company has focused increasingly on core safety product lines in which it has strong expertise, global research and development resources and a large market presence.
Core items include industrial head and respiratory protection equipment, for example, along with other products such as portable gas detection sensors.
Joseph Bigler, president of MSA North America, said selling the business has been considered for some time.
"The competitive landscape for ballistic helmets has undergone tremendous change over the past several years, with multiple suppliers now intensely competing with MSA for this business," Bigler said.
"Quite simply, the manufacture of ballistic helmets for North American customers has become an increasingly challenging business for MSA, and this drove our decision to explore alternative strategies for the business."
MSA acquired French helmet maker CFG Gallet in 2002 and began making military helmets in 2003.
The U.S. Army Material Command named MSA's advanced combat helmet one of the 10 best inventions of 2002.
The helmet is the Army's current standard of issue, the company said, and in 2009 MSA secured a two-year, $45 million contract that is to end later this year.
Spokesman Mark Deasy said MSA once was the sole supplier, but the Army gradually diverted parts of the business to other contractors.
This cut MSA's margin, and specifications for the helmets made them tougher and increasingly expensive to produce, he said.
Last March, the Army notified the company that its design for an enhanced combat helmet, exceeding the advanced model in protection, did not meet all performance requirements. MSA said then that it would not participate in a contract for 240,000 of those helmets.
Deasy said the business also makes helmets for the Canadian military and to a small extent, for law enforcement agencies, and the sale won't affect ongoing helmet production in France.
About 15 people in MSA's Murrysville plant who worked on the helmets now are making other designs, so no job losses are expected there, Deasy said.
A few engineers in the Cranberry headquarters also work in the business.
MSA's 2011 sales were a record $1.17 billion, up 20 percent from the prior year.
The company reported a $70 million profit for the year, up 83 percent.