First, automakers adopted multilayer technology to reduce emissions from their plastic fuel tanks.
Now the makers of powered off-road equipment - including lawn mowers, snowmobiles, boats and all-terrain vehicles - are following suit.
Pending changes in environmental regulations is prompting equipment manufacturers and their suppliers to invest in multilayer production capacity.
``We're taking everything one step at a time and working with our customers,'' Dick Smith, president of Agri-Industrial Plastics Co., said July 28 by telephone.
The Fairfield, Iowa-based blow molder has purchased a Kautex coextrusion blow molding machine to make six-layer tanks for ATVs, water scooters and other off-road equipment. Those systems will replace monolayer tanks and will be required under an Environmental Protection Agency rule change taking effect in 2008.
Auto industry veteran Duane Fish launched Advanced Polymer Concepts Inc. in Fenton, Mich., earlier this year to design and thermoform multilayer tanks for lawn and garden equipment to meet California Air Resource Board requirements that will be phased in during 2006.
``There's really going to be a lot of turmoil coming up,'' Fish said. ``Right now, we're in the beginning stages of a lot of issues.''
The basic concern behind the new regulations is similar to those environmental and health issues that prompted emission controls for cars and trucks. The reasoning, Fish noted, is that it does little good to keep clamping down on regulations for cars and trucks while ignoring thousands of small engines.
A 2003 study for CARB noted that lawn and garden equipment tanks with less than a one-quart capacity - such as those on trimmers and edgers - generate substantially more emissions than modern cars and trucks while in use, or even while standing idle. Adding permeation barriers can reduce those leaks.
Some federal requirements will call for more than a year of testing, Smith said, meaning that suppliers like Agri-Industrial must be ready to begin production soon.
``It seems like it's a long way off, but when we point out to people the timetable, then all of a sudden it really hits,'' he said.
The Iowa firm has 18 blow molding machines already, making tanks and other industrial components. The new equipment will supplement that, Smith said. Production and research already done for the auto industry will provide important information as multilayer technology moves into the off-road arena, he said.
Fish is counting on his expertise in developing partial zero-emission fuel systems for carmakers as the lawn equipment business takes on the same concerns.
``I've seen a lot of these same questions come up in automotive that [new customers] are asking now,'' he said. ``To a certain extent, the auto industry is going to provide some good building blocks.''