Large-diameter polyethylene pipe manufacturer Krah Pipe Systems LLC is investing $20 million to refurbish and equip a 72,000-square-foot plant in Greenwood, S.C., that will become its headquarters and manufacturing site.
Krah Pipe is a U.S. subsidiary of Schutzbach, Germany-based Krah AG. The South Carolina project marks the German company's third attempt to win a share of the North American pipe market.
The plant, scheduled to open in July, will employ 75. It will start with just one extrusion line. Krah Pipe plans to add a second line by year's end, said Dorothe Krah, chief executive officer, in an April 26 telephone interview.
The company uses a patented technology to wind its extrusions into large-diameter pipes - a process Krah said can create pipes that allow for maximum installation flexibility. It allows for continuous pipelines to have varying wall thickness, depending on the application. That flexibility saves customers money, she said. The PE extrusions are wound around a polypropylene core.
``It's an engineering product, not a standard pipe,'' she said. ``Sometimes pipe goes underneath a freeway then goes through a pasture. You do not need the same pipe in both those areas. Our pipe is flexible and our thinking is flexible.''
Krah makes pipe for both low- and high-pressure applications in diameters as large as 150 inches. By comparison, flat-wall pipe extruders in North America are just now talking about making 72-inch pipe. Just a small handful of pipe makers can make 63-inch pipe.
``What we deliver is really a leading technology,'' she said.
Krah AG has tried twice before to bring its technology to the U.S. market. In 1999, Krah and a major North American pipe producer were working toward a joint venture, but the plan fell through. In 2002, Krah put a 50,000-square-foot extrusion plant on a 21-acre site in Early, Texas. That effort also fell short.
``[Krah] didn't complete the opening,'' said Wanda Furgason, community development coordinator for the Early Chamber of Commerce.
Before the operation ever got off the ground, Krah backed out and put the building and land up for sale. Today, part of the property is owned by a grain silo manufacturer and the other is city-owned and slated for commercial retail development.
``Previous attempts to bring Krah's pipe-making technology to North America were unsuccessful,'' Dorothe Krah said.
Some Krah pipe features an integrated electrofusion joint, with two wires built into the pipe wall, so installers can simply run an electric current through them to weld the joint. Krah said that creates a leak-free connection that can last 100 years.
In addition to pipe, the company also manufactures pipe-welding and pipe-making machinery that is sold stateside through Greenwood-based Krah North America Inc., of which Dorothe Krah is also CEO. The company makes manholes and other pipe-related products.
The company already is exploring expansion, as well as new business opportunities in North America, she said.
There is room at the new Greenwood plant for four extrusion lines, and Krah said she expects to have all four running within five years.