Pesident Enna Keller recites the history of American Insulock Inc. like a top student geared up to ace her final exams:
In 1987, Popular Science magazine featured its technology. In 1991, the polyurethane blocks were used in a test sound wall for the California Department of Transportation on the Ventura Highway in that state, acing their own exam in 1994 by staying put during a 6.7-magnitude earthquake.
Despite that fairly long history, the company's product - PU forms that are filled with concrete to build structural walls - aren't exactly mainstream.
Now, she says, the publicly held company, which has production in Mesa, Ariz., is ready to tackle the North American market.
``[At first], the product before didn't have a hope in hell of being marketed. We decided to manage the company ourselves so we could get a product into production,'' she said. ``We are the only company in the world that can make a building block out of polyurethane. To pull the block out of the mold, that has become our trade secret. We have spent a lot of money.''
The firm has begun production during the past year at the site in Mesa, where it molds the blocks via a low density, low-volume molding system. In March, it entered into a two-year lease under which it added an additional 4,000 square feet to make the equipment that molds the Insulock PU block, boosting the site to 7,000 square feet. American Insulock's long-term plan is to franchise its equipment to companies that are in the building supply business. Its short-term goal is to produce an initial inventory of 5,000-10,000 blocks to be kept in Mesa, officials said.
``We're going to be making the equipment and selling it,'' said Bob Jamieson, the company's vice president of engineering, in an Aug. 12 telephone interview. ``We think we're better off running the company as a technology and equipment company rather than manufacture the product itself.''
American Insulock in April announced its listing on the Canadian Trading and Quotation Systems Inc. to begin trading common shares. According to American Insulock, CNQ is a new stock market for trading equity securities of emerging companies. Now, the company also is offering a private stock placement, through which it hopes to raise $500,000.
American Insulock is familiar with being publicly held, because up until 2002 its stock was traded on the TSX Venture Exchange. It was straightforward with its financial problems that year, announcing to shareholders that it was too broke to hold an annual meeting. That same year, five directors stepped in to take over the company.
``It just would have died if we the shareholders hadn't stepped up to the plate. With five people, we turned around and funded the whole operation. Here we are,'' Keller said.
The company is using resin from BASF Corp. that contains a zero-ozone-depleting blowing agent. American Insulock chose the new resin in order to conform to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, officials said.
The market for insulated concrete forms is growing, with several companies announcing expansions recently. Lite-Form Technologies of Sioux City, Iowa, announced its plan to expand its corporate headquarters and research/training center with a $1 million investment. Officials said there is no plastics-related manufacturing expansion at this time.
According to the Insulated Concrete Form Association, based in Glenview, Ill., its mission is to grow the use of ICFs by 25 percent per year through 2007. Since 1994, the market in North America has grown from zero percent of the market to 3.8 percent.
``It's feast time right now in the residential market,'' said Joe Lyman, the association's executive director. ``It's really starting to take a hold, especially with designers and architects,'' Lyman said.
Beyond the North American market, there are cases where the forms are being used internationally. In March, American Polysteel LLC of Albuquerque announced its military project to help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan. Polysteel has been used in other military projects, including the Homeland Security Training Facility at Fort Knox, Ky., and support facilities at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.