Custom rotational molder Centro Inc. plans to expand two North American molding sites within the next year.
Centro said it will double production space at its Claremont, N.C., plant to 100,000 square feet by the first quarter of 2005, gradually phasing in five rotomolding machines to double the current stable. At the same time, the firm has imported European technology as a cost-effective means to mold nylon 6 products and will incorporate the technology, known as rotomolded anionic polymerization, at its headquarters site in North Liberty, Iowa.
``We do see exporting this [technology] to our other locations. To our knowledge, nobody's doing it in North America today,'' President Brian Olesen said in a July 28 telephone interview. ``There are some derivations that are being done.''
With the RAP process, liquid caprolactam, a catalyst and an activator are combined in an aluminum mold. The mold is rotated continuously in an oven, and the ensuing chemical reaction turns the raw materials into nylon 6. Officials said RAP is much faster than the current practice of melting powdered nylon resin.
Officials said RAP has been used in Europe for years to produce motorcycle fuel tanks. But Centro has designed its own manufacturing system, said Alvin Spence, director of research and development. RAP parts can be painted to a Class A surface finish, are stable at higher temperatures and have good barrier properties.
``We felt that the existing systems lacked appropriate safety measures, and we also saw opportunities to improve machine productivity through design,'' he said.
Those safety measures include automating the process to inject hot liquid into the mold. Traditionally, that work has been done manually.
Centro will reorganize the entire Iowa plant, adding a new custom rotomolding machine, a robot to dispense the raw materials and a new chemical lab. Centro also will add 25 employees at the site, which currently employs about 315. The firm received a $132,000 forgivable loan from the Iowa Department of Economic Development.
``The RAP process combines lower-cost raw materials with a faster production process, thereby creating a product that is much less expensive than steel,'' Jim Lewis, director of new product development, said in a news release.
Centro has focused on advancing rotomolding technology through alliances with suppliers and by sponsoring university research.
``We believe that this is a great opportunity to advance technology, create jobs and fill a much-needed market niche in North America,'' Olesen said. ``We have partnered with some exceptional companies both in Europe and the U.S. to bring this technology to North America, and we have been overwhelmed with the initial interest in the technology from the marketplace.''
In addition to Claremont and North Liberty, Centro has molding sites in Valley City, N.D.; Horicon, Wis.; and Ankeny, Iowa. The firm reported $66.5 million in rotomolding sales for 2003. Its end markets include tanks, sporting goods, lawn and garden, and nontank agricultural and industrial products.