Two years ago, when they started Village Plastics Co., brothers Kevin and Tom Gerstenslager thought they had found a simple product to extrude - plastic welding rod. Wrong! They quickly learned that extruding high-quality rod is tough.
Customers buy spools of the thin rod for heat-welding plastic parts together. One big market is corrugated polyethylene drainage pipe, where processors use the rod to fashion T-joints and other special fittings and shapes.
Welding rod is a single filament. It looks simple. But it's a challenge to maintain a tight-tolerance, consistent shape, said Kevin Gerstenslager, president and head of sales.
``The problem they have in the welding industry is rods that are too fat or too skinny. Also there can be air voids in the rod,'' he said in an interview at the Norton plant, near Akron.
``We were not satisfied with current manufacturing processes,'' said Vice President Tom Gerstenslager, who is head of plant operations.
So the brothers set up their own advanced extrusion shop. They rebuilt extruders and added Allen-Bradley controllers, built downstream equipment and tied in a Zumbach laser micrometer, closed-loop into the extrusion line. The micrometer measures roundness, diameter and shape, allowing the company to guarantee the quality of their Village Gold welding rod.
``We're creating a process that's repeatable,'' said Tom Gerstenslager. Village Plastics claims its equipment can hold tolerances to 0.003 inch.
The brothers said investment in a high-tech, closed-loop operation makes Village Plastics a start-up company with a difference. The equipment documents every length of rod. Every part of each line, from extruder to puller and spooler, is tied together.
Village Plastics employs six, including Jason Coffin, plant manager. Kevin and Tom's sister, Wendy Harrison, handles accounting and purchasing.
The company runs five totally refurbished Pilot-brand single-screw extruders. A sixth extruder, an NRM machine, should be delivered in August. Screw diameters range from 1-2½ inches.
The Gerstenslagers were not starting from scratch when they decided to form Village Plastics in 2003 in a small building. They grew up in their family's electrical contracting business. Working in northeast Ohio, they visited compounding and extrusion factories. Tom did work for several local compounders, maintenance projects like rebuilding gearboxes, drives and feeders.
The brothers settled on welding rod, putting in a year of research and development, and this past January closed on a 12,000-square-foot building in Norton, a former machine shop serving the rubber industry. The factory has overhead cranes and enough land for future expansion.
Village can run a range of materials in custom colors, including high and low density polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, ABC and high-molecular-weight PE.
``We run a lot of resins that a lot of other people can't run,'' Tom Gerstenslager said. A library of screws is available for specific rod types. Also, the firm has developed a laser engraving system that can customize the rod.
Village Plastics also wants to get into custom profile extrusion. But for now, the main focus remains elevating the modest welding rod to new heights.