After five years of searching, South Carolina's Shakespeare Co. has found a California location for filament winding of its composite utility and light poles - a Fluid Containment Inc. plant that makes underground composite tanks. ``It's as if we're their West Coast plant,'' said Joseph Wiegand, who managers the Fluid Containment facility in Bakersfield, Calif.
In the unusual arrangement, Fluid Containment added 17,500 square feet of space to the plant, and will hire 50 new employees. Shakespeare built four filamentwinding machines for the operation.
Fluid Containment will manufacture the poles to Shake-speare's specifications, then ship them to Shakespeare's West Coast customers.
Shakespeare is working to meet demand for the fiber-reinforced plastic poles, which resist rot and corrosion and do not conduct electricity. The Newberry, S.C., company wound its first composite light poles 30 years ago, but demand really didn't start to soar until a few years ago, according to Lynn Derrick, vice president of sales and marketing.
Derrick compared FRP poles to the boating industry in the mid-1950s-ready to turn its back on traditional materials and explode into composites. Utilities are driving the growth. Shakespeare has sold more than 5,000 utility poles since it introduced the product in 1993, he said.
Those poles were filament wound in Newberry. A separate plant in Tampa, Fla., does hand layup of decorative light poles.
The Kern Economic Development Corp., which helped set up the deal with Fluid Containment, announced the partnership on Nov. 2.
Fluid Containment was born earlier this year when an investor group bought the tank division of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., with annual sales of $50 million.
The tanks are used to store gas at service stations.
Shakespeare is training Fluid Containment employees to make the poles.
Both companies use a mandrel to form their finished products, but their manufacturing technologies have significant differ-ences.
Shakespeare, using machines it makes in-house, winds resin-soaked glass roving around a mandrel. Fluid Containment uses a semiautomated process that mixes chopped glass with resin and drops it onto a rotating mandrel.
Because they resist corrosion, FRP tanks have captured 50 percent of the market for underground storage tanks at gas stations, at the expense of steel. Leaking tanks are known to plague several hundred thousand refueling sites, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
FRP poles have only a fraction of the market-for now.
But Derrick said global demand is soaring, as available wood supplies dwindle and emerging countries in Asia and Africa build modern electric transmission systems.
``It's either steel or fiberglass or concrete,'' he said.