Better Bath Components is installing one of the largest rotary thermoforming machines in North America. The machine will help the company continue its move into new markets.
Better Bath plans to finish installing the three-station rotary machine by early April. The machine can make parts as large as 10 feet long by 25 feet wide, said President and General Manager Bill Mitchell. Each part can weigh as much as 600 pounds.
``As far as we know, it will be the largest three-station rotary machine in the world,'' Mitchell said in a Feb. 15 telephone interview. ``With the size capabilities this has, we are anxious to get into new product development. Our core market is the recreational-vehicle industry and manufactured housing, and this can help us develop new parts that we could not do before.''
The company, based in Waxahachie, Texas, will use the new unit to make one-piece panels for towable trailers and motorized RVs. Those front, rear and top panels traditionally are made in metal or fiber-reinforced plastic and assembled in sections, Mitchell said.
Making the section in one piece, and using weatherable resins, will save on cost and bring weight advantages to the vehicles, Mitchell said. Each part weighs 20-30 percent less than comparable panels now on the market, allowing for easier towing and better gas mileage.
The company also plans to use the machine in the marine market, he said. Better Bath has worked with Genmar Holdings Inc. to design boat hulls and finishes made of weather-resistant plastic. Better Bath designed prototypes for Genmar's Virtual Engineered Composites technology, a closed-mold process featured at NPE 2003.
The firm also can use the process for bathtubs and other parts in manufactured housing.
The large machine was built by Advanced Ventures in Technology Inc. of Gladwin, Mich. Shipping the machine will require seven trucks, said AVT President Al Petersen.
AVT's big rotaries are equipped with automated loading and unloading units that take parts off a carousel and put them on belt conveyors, Petersen said Feb. 15. AVT, which employs 30, plans to manufacture more of the large machines.
``The alternative in many cases is rotational molding,'' Petersen said. ``There seem to be a lot of opportunities in the marine industry and elsewhere.''
Better Bath is raising its roof to fit the rotary unit, Mitchell said. The company will add about a dozen employees once the equipment is installed. Currently, the company has close to 100 employees at the 200,000-square-foot site.
Better Bath is a division of Arlington, Texas-based Kinro Inc., a maker of vinyl and aluminum windows and doors for manufactured homes. Kinro is owned by Drew Industries Inc. of White Plains, N.Y.
Better Bath will have nine thermoforming machines once the new one is installed, Mitchell said. The machine is the first that the company has added since Kinro bought the Better Bath in 2001.
In the thermoforming business, any rotary machine as large as 9 feet by 17 feet is known as Big Bertha, Petersen said.
``Big Bertha has a big brother now,'' he said.