Injection molder Rolco Inc. is banking on a horseshoe of a different color.
The Kasota, Minn.-based firm has added a new two-shot press and annealing ovens to begin making a thermoplastic horseshoe that aims to become the equivalent of a Nike for the equine set.
``I can't help but think that if I were a horse, I think I'd prefer one of these to those iron things,'' said Mark McCourtney, vice president of sales and marketing.
The two-color shoe, made with special blends of polyurethane engineered by Huntsman Corp. to provide stability and flexibility, is the first two-shot polymer shoe available in North America, said Larry Schlasinger, director of Easywalker USA LLC. Chetek, Wis.-based Easywalker is the firm that hired Rolco.
The vast majority of horseshoes sold in the United States are the same iron design that have shod horses for centuries. But with an annual sales base estimated at $80 million, the horseshoe business is big.
``The market seems huge,'' McCourtney said. ``Even if they get just a small percentage of the market, it could be a great business.''
Schlasinger first saw the horseshoes in 2003 when visiting a friend in Europe. Horseshoe Technologies of Vienna, Austria, created the shoe with a base layer of one blend of urethane designed to provide structural support, and a top layer of a more flexible blend for traction.
The shoe had a visual clue to its two-shot background, using green for one blend and yellow for the other.
The Austrian creators eventually decided to get out of the business, and Schlasinger bought the company in early 2005, he said during a May 11 telephone interview.
Easywalker sold about 100,000 horseshoes from the back stock made in Europe, even as it sought out a U.S. manufacturer. At a trade show, the company encountered Rolco, a contract molder with a specialty in two-shot injection molding.
Ten of Rolco's 32 presses are two-shot machines. The 300-ton Krauss-Maffei press purchased for the Easywalker contract is the company's third 300-ton machine in a fleet that goes down to a 7-ton press.
``We're investing in the future of their company as well as ours by adding equipment,'' McCourtney said. ``They're putting a lot of money into advertising and promotion, and we're both anxious to see this grow.''
Easywalker has been promoting the shoes with farriers and horse owners, with an extra focus on participants in endurance and jumping events to promote the product's capability as a lightweight performance shoe.
McCourtney is quick to point out that the multimaterial makeup means the company could produce shoes that match team or even national colors for equestrian events.
A major breakthrough will not be easy, though. Easywalker's shoe sells at $13, compared with about $2 for a standard iron shoe.
Even considering that the urethane system can outlast metal on some surfaces and Schlasinger's take on improved animal health with the lighter, flexible system, Easywalker faces a steep sales curve.
``People talk about a product forcing a paradigm shift when they're marketing something new,'' McCourtney said. ``This is a paradigm that goes back a very long way.''