WYOMING, MINN. — If Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Premier Plastics Inc. is the rotational molder of 10,000 boat parts.
Actually, Premier, a year-old shop in Wyoming with a single machine, makes more than rotomolded boat parts.
Premier has invented sponge traction pads that fasten to the floors of boats, replacing glue-on pads that get wet and fall off. Instead of using a spray-up process to make composite boat parts, such as sinks and tables, the company sprays on polyurethane, which is much quicker.
Premier recently expanded beyond boats, winning custom rotomolding work from two Minnesota companies: a storage box for an all-terrain vehicle from Polaris Industries Inc., and chemical sprayer tanks for Cambridge Metals and Plastic Inc.
To handle the new work, Premier plans to order a second rotomolder soon, according to President Bob Menne III.
Premier Plastics began molding last year on an FSP Roto Flow M-80 A.T.I. The machine from FSP Machinery Co. (Canada) Inc. of Winkler, Manitoba, has three independent arms.
Boats still are the molder's biggest market.
That becomes obvious as you drive to the 12,000-square-foot plant, located in a complex that includes retailer Hallberg Marine and pontoon boat maker Premier Marine Inc. Next door is a small firm, Paddle Boat Co., that mounts bicycles atop pontoon floats.
Menne is the son of Bob Menne Jr., who owns Premier Marine. Although Premier Plastics molds lots of seats and consoles for Premier Marine, the two are run as separate businesses.
The rotomolder even will make plastic parts for competing pontoon boat builders, said Bob Menne III.
Menne wants to do more custom molding, but restrict the customer list to a few large companies.
``Our feeling is we'd like to get a couple of accounts and do a good job at it,'' he said.
The two companies share the plastics expertise of Jerry Wellen, who worked at Polaris for 18 years in posts such as vice president of product development and senior product coordinator. Menne also worked at Polaris, in marketing.
Polaris is to Minnesota plastics companies what General Motors Corp. is to Motor City mold shops — a big, important customer. Polaris, in Roseau, Minn., is a leading maker of snowmobiles and ATVs.
Wellen, a plain-spoken man who can swing easily from fishing to molecular properties of plastics, has worked in plastics for the recreational industry nearly his entire career. He has encouraged Premier Plastics to push into new areas.
Premier Plastics is one of the few companies to use spray-on urethanes instead of spray-up fiber-reinforced plastics. Premier Marine has replaced all its FRP parts with urethane. With urethanes, Premier Plastics can make parts four times faster, while using the old FRP equipment, he said. The company avoids FRP's emissions concerns.
A worker first applies a gel coat to the mold. Next, a two-material sprayer applies PU, then a curing agent. Finished parts have a high-gloss surface. There is no need to roll out bubbles, as with FRP, Wellen said.
Spray-on urethane should grow in other markets, such as signs, he said. He wants Premier Plastics to license its expertise and not become a major urethane products factory.
Wellen developed the new brand of Croozer Soft Touch Traction Mats. The company plans to sell the mats, used to cushion feet and knees when people get onto a boat, through boat dealers. According to Wellen, the old glue-on pads are an easy mark: ``They all come off; I don't care whose boat you buy.''
Croozer mats have molded-on plastic gaskets. Fasteners pop through the gaskets to secure the mat to the boat. A patent is pending.
Premier can make soft vinyl pads in any color or design.
Wellen paid quick dividends when he designed the new Polaris ATV storage box, a solid-black container with a molded-in hinge. Premier, the young upstart, beat out veteran Minnesota rotomolder Pawnee Rotational Molding Co. of Maple Plain, which had supplied the product.