In about a year, a convoy of six tractor trailer rigs will wend their way westward from an East Coast port to deliver Agri-Industrial Plastics Co.'s seventh giant blow molding machine.
The Fairfield, Iowa, company ordered the machine to make six-layer fuel tanks for growing demand in turf equipment and power sports markets. Agri-Industrial has carved out a niche as a supplier of the high-end fuel tanks, a major business for the industrial blow molder.
Agri-Industrial personnel and contractors will take about three months to set up the blow molder, estimated Agri-Industrial President Lori Schaefer-Weaton in a phone interview. The company will rent a crane to help install it. The machine dwarfs regular blow molding equipment because it includes six extruders, robotics and a range of add-ons. Besides its big size, the machine is remarkable for the sophisticated control systems needed to lay down six layers precisely for each cycle.
“Installation in the first quarter of 2018 will coincide with our busy season,” Schaefer-Weaton explained.
Agri-Industrial is investing about $4 million for the blow molder built by Kautex Maschinenbau GmbH of Bonn, Germany. The KBSMart 120 model is a continuous coextrusion machine featuring a single clamp and robotic parison transfer to optimize production efficiency.
Demand for Agri-Industrial's fuel tanks is high because the six layers provide extremely low permeation of the fuel inside, necessary for the tanks to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other standards. Many OEMs have already converted to plastic tanks from metal but Agri-Industrial is capturing new business for its plastic tanks and growing with its existing customers.
The fuel tanks mainly comprise high density polyethylene. The structure has two virgin HDPE layers, two adhesive layers, an ethylene-vinyl alcohol barrier layer and an HDPE regrind layer. Agri-Industrial claims it was one of the first non-automotive blow molders in the United States to use the multilayer approach to achieve fuel barrier properties that exceed regulatory standards in the small engine and marine markets.
Agri-Industrial was founded in 1978. Its 340,000-square-foot factory in Fairfield houses 20 monolayer accumulator-head industrial blow molders and six continuous coextrusion machines churning out tanks and components for power equipment, recreational equipment, lawn and garden machinery, agriculture and watercraft. The newest coex installation will take place about three years after Agri-Industrial installed its sixth Kautex coex blow molder. The firm's annual sales have grown to about $45 million and its staff has increased to about 178. The firm ranks 40th on Plastic News' blow molder rankings.
“We're fortunate to have established strong relationships with customers who value our design, engineering and processing expertise,” noted Agri-Industrial director of sales Mick Stielow in a news release.
In addition to the six-layer HDPE constructions, Agri-Industrial blow molds polyolefins, PET, polycarbonate, ABS and thermoplastic elastomers.
Schaefer-Weaton is the second generation leader of family-owned Agri-Industrial and is well known in Iowa community and business organizations. In July, she was elected chairperson of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry for fiscal 2017 after 10 years of being active in the association.