A Canadian maker of above-ground, steel swimming pools has found a receptive market for tanks blow molded of modified polypropylene.
Plastics open design opportunities, said Gilles Lebuis, vice president of marketing for Vogue Pool Products in La Salle, Quebec.
Steel designs focus on metal's width and length, but use of plastics adds depth, yielding ``much more flexibility in industrial design,'' he said in a telephone interview.
Opening as a wholesaler in 1957, Vogue became a manufacturer of PVC pool liners in 1971 and steel pool components in 1979. Vogue added injection molded plastic pools in 1991. Vogue introduced blow molded pools in 1998 under the Impact brand in North America, Australia and New Zealand and the Summum name in Europe. Vogue contracts for blow and injection molding services.
Gad Shaanan Design Inc. of St. Laurent, Quebec, worked on Vogue's evolution to the blow molding process, which permits smooth contours, shock absorbency, lateral strength, corrosion-free parts and screwless assembly.
``Our client really trusted us when we suggested moving away from the traditional sheet metal [and] injection molding,'' President Gad Shaanan said at the firm's San Diego office. ``Blow molding is a very imprecise method of molding, and the pressures, especially on large parts, are huge.''
The largest plastic component measures 65 inches by 9 inches and, as a cosmetic part, requires precise color matches and safety-critical edge trims. The pool's ledge had to resist 200 pounds through 48 hours.
Temperature tests pushed filled PP's limits, and cold-climate ground shifts were checked.
``We went through a couple of winters testing to see if it would crack,'' Shaanan said.
Round pools have diameters of 12-27 feet. Ovals pose ``more of a technological barrier,'' Shaanan said.
``We can eliminate nuts and bolts because of snap fits and cams and plastic screws,'' Lebuis said, but ``most difficult was to find the right resin.'' The company uses a proprietary filled PP compound.
Pushing the concept, Vogue eventually used in-house and molder resources to create more blow molded designs. The more modular Discovery model was introduced in 2000, and the hybrid Atrium model is entering certain markets now. Both compact easily, saving on warehousing and freight costs.
Vogue markets through dealer, wholesale and retail channels with about 60 percent of sales in the United States, 20 percent in Canada and 20 percent elsewhere.
In comparable Vogue 24-foot-diameter lines, a retail consumer pays about US$2,700-$3,500 for a plastic pool and about 25 percent less for a steel product.
Vogue's home province of Quebec ``is a big above-ground pool market,'' Lebuis said.
His father, Guy Lebuis, founded the company and remains as chairman, handling special projects.
Vogue, a division of 2679965 Canada Inc., employs 125 including those at a Lyon, France, sales-training-service facility. Vogue plans to consolidate into a single structure.
Current operations occupy 125,000 square feet in four La Salle buildings for plastic liner fabrication and heat sealing, steel processing, testing and warehousing.