The owners of Rocky Mountain Colby Pipe Co. set out to create the most automated PVC conduit plant in the country in Pendleton, Ore., after a major downsizing and overhaul earlier this year.
The goal to modernize and focus strictly on PVC conduit for the electrical industry has been met, according to William Quinn III, vice president of operations.
The revamped facility will reopen by the end of September and employ 40 following a seven-month shutdown and millions more dollars invested on the heels of a $10 million renovation in 2014. Three of the eight extrusion lines will resume production for starters at the business, which has new computer control systems for both office and manufacturing space.
"Additionally, we have invested significantly in our quality control, compounding, extrusion and downstream equipment," Quinn said in an email. "Our compounding system will be entirely automated as will all aspects of the extrusion process. Operator interaction has been limited almost entirely to testing quality, packaging and handling the pipe."
RMCP is a privately held company undergoing a lot of change in the last 18 months. Created in 1996 when Rocky Mountain Pipe Co. acquired Colby Plastics Converters Inc., company officials at the time said the expanded business was the single-largest producer of ABS pipe in North America. Twenty years later, however, in July 2016, the company put its four plants — two in Pendleton and two in Denver — up for sale. Each location had one plant dedicated to PVC and one to ABS.
Then, the Oregon plants were shuttered in February, in part so the PVC facility "could be retrofitted," Barry Taylor, vice president of RMCP's sales and marketing, said in a phone interview. An estimated 75 workers lost their jobs during the renovation.
In July, the Denver plants were sold to Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Co. and RMCP put its focus on making PVC conduit in Oregon. PVC electrical conduit accounted for 36 percent of overall sales in 2015, which was up from 24 percent in 2011, the company said.
"We are focusing exclusively on this product line for the industry so that we can give our customers our full attention," Quinn said.
Potential customers include utilities and builders of residential subdivisions and commercial projects, Taylor said, adding that he thinks PVC conduit sales will grow by double-digit increments again.
"Utilities install it to bring power through their distribution system," he said. "It also can be installed anywhere you're taking power when you're building something new."
RMCP makes three kinds of PVC conduit designed for mostly underground power systems that are encased in concrete or directly buried. The products vary in wall thickness but all feature a cellular core technology achieved from a proprietary manufacturing process aimed at making lighter, easier to handle conduit.
"The conduit meets or exceeds the performance standards in the industry while still drastically increasing the ease of handling," Quinn said. "We have received quite a bit of positive feedback from the companies who are actually installing the conduit and we're excited to get back into production."
Before it closed it in February, the Pendleton site had about 75 employees but the decreased product line and increased technology reduced the number of workers needed. About 40 people were rehired. Quinn said the staffing level will stay there for the foreseeable future.
With estimated sales of $99 million in 2016, RMCP ranks 42nd among pipe, profile and tubing manufacturers in North America, according to Plastics News' ranking.