RÃ¶chling Engineered Plastics has begun operating its second gigantic compression molding press to make ultrahigh-molecular-weight polyethylene sheet in Gastonia, N.C.
The new machine, custom-built by an undisclosed European manufacturer, has 12,000 tons of compressive force. It can make sheet as big as 8 feet by 20 feet and 4 inches thick. An UHMW PE sheet that size weighs about 3,200 pounds, said RÃ¶chling national sales manager Paul Krawczyk.
RÃ¶chling invested $4.5 million in a plant expansion, including the giant press, because demand for the sheets is growing in industries that take advantage of their wear resistance and toughness. The sheets are used increasingly in food processing, truck bedliners, lumber plants, industrial conveyors and other heavy-duty equipment. They can replace steel and other conventional materials.
Krawczyk said such large sheets, dubbed MegaSheets, allow users to fabricate without having to weld smaller sheets together, a costly process that can introduce weak spots at the seams. With 8-foot-by-20-foot sheets, a user can cut costs by as much as 30 percent, the company said.
General Manager Lewis Carter said his firm's large presses allow it to be a low-cost producer because RÃ¶chling gets greater volume out of each press compared with producers who mold 4-foot-by-10-foot sheet.
The firm produces Polystone-brand sheet in the large presses. In addition to UHMW PE, the product line includes high density PE and polypropylene sheet. The sheets mainly are sold through distributors in North and South America. Typically, the large sheets are shipped by flatbed trucks.
RÃ¶chling expanded its plant by 20,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet to accommodate the new press and provide room for two more in the future. The company began commercial production on the new press in late 2005.
Since not all customers can handle the extra-large sheets, RÃ¶chling can custom cut the sheet. The firm also runs smaller compression presses and extruding equipment to make a range of sheet, rod, tube and profiles.
RÃ¶chling is part of multinational RÃ¶chling Engineering Plastics KG of Haren, Germany. It bought the former Impact Plastics plant in Gastonia in 1987. Impact, founded in the late 1950s, was the first producer of UHMW PE sheet in North America. RÃ¶chling also has a distribution center in Ontario, Calif.
RÃ¶chling Engineered has grown to a 90-person business with annual sales of about $30 million.
``As one of the largest-volume shippers in the whole county, they take advantage of our interstate access and create additional jobs in supplier industry sectors,'' according to Donny Hicks, executive director of the Gaston County Economic Development Commission.