Hudson, Wis.-based GaMra Composites Inc. is increasing capacity with four new extrusion lines, including two twin-screw extruders to use lower-cost, nonpelletized resins, such as powder PVC.
GaMra is on track for a nearly 30 percent increase in business this year, according to President Greg Mitsch, who co-founded the company in 2000. He expects to end 2020 with $8.3 million in sales.
That is a nice wrap on a 20th anniversary year that also saw investor debt retired, a new chilled water system come online and new customers come on board.
This year's growth is spread across the markets served but is being primarily driven by window components for residential fenestration and commercial building components, Mitsch said in a phone interview. GaMra also extrudes components used to produce industrial hose, window treatments and power management systems.
"Window treatments are through the roof and residential construction is very strong as people are deciding to get out of the big cities and move to the country and work remotely," Mitsch said.
His outlook for 2021 is very positive with expectations for continued growth of 25-30 percent.
The new twin extruders will help GaMra meet the demand. The machines can process powder PVC, which Mitsch said reduces cost, increases output and is an accessible resin in a tight market.
PVC supply was constrained as construction markets recovered from COVID-19. Then supply tightened again when Formosa Plastics Corp. USA had operating problems and set force majeure sales limits. After that, Hurricane Laura hit the plastics-heavy U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 26.
"Almost immediately, PVC resin dried up," Mitsch said. "It's a lot easier to get powder ... than pellet compound."
GaMra is growing organically in the residential building market, adding customers in the commercial building market and seeing increased interest in its cross-head extrusion capabilities.
Mitsch said one new customer developed a building that can be used for temporary hospitals and housing. The project will be commercialized in early 2021.
Another customer is involved with Hudson Yards in Manhattan, a $25 billion, 28-acre mixed-use development that is the largest in U.S. history. The first phase opened in 2019 with eight buildings for residences, a hotel, offices, a mall and a cultural facility. The next phase calls for more housing, an office building and a school. Construction is expected to continue into 2024.
For this customer, GaMra supplies glass-filled ASA thermal breaks used in the aluminum curtain-wall construction of Hudson Yard buildings. The nonstructural outer coverings prevent air and water infiltration. The thermal breaks are pieces of extruded plastic that keep the interior metal from coming into contact with exterior metal, which stops heat loss.
Yet another GaMra customer developed a new product to create detail on the outside of tilt-up walls. The extruder is making the parts used to create an indent when the cement is poured.
At its facility, GaMra now has 12 extrusion lines. The company also invested this year in a new chilled water system with modular expansion capability and a "free cool" glycol system for lower operating costs when temperatures dip below 45° F. Mitsch said the system maintains process stability, assures consistent quality and increases output.
In addition, early this year, GaMra added a new Haas VF2SS vertical milling machine to its three Makino wire EDM's and other Haas VF4SS CNC machine. This gives the company the capability to speed up the process of die design to sample in as little as two weeks.
Mitsch requested GaMra's first EDM from the board of directors in 2008 to go after work to extrude window blinds.
"We were spending a lot of money with outside toolmakers, sharing our tool design knowledge with them, and exhausting an inordinate amount of time in development of new tools," he said.
The board not only consented but went further. Mitsch said they encouraged him to install an in-house machine shop to speed product development and get an edge over companies using outside machine shops.
"This strategy transformed our company as we landed a major contract that led to explosive growth over the next few years," Mitsch said of the window blinds.
The project turned out to be the largest product launch by a major window treatment company that supplies one of the U.S. major home improvement retailers.
"At that time, we had four people in manufacturing, three in the office including myself, and two extrusion lines. We went 24/7 and started adding more machines," Mitsch said.
The tool shop is an essential part of GaMra's continued success, he added, saying the company produces more than 150 new dies and downstream fixtures annually.
GaMra has undergone several other expansions over the 20 years, including moving to a larger 60,000-square-foot facility in 2016 to reconfigure plant layout to increase efficiency.
"We needed to add a mezzanine for additional offices and more recently we built a new centrally located quality control office with manufacturing offices above to allow room for future growth," Mitsch said.
A hiring sign is outside the business as GaMra looks to bolster its workforce of 37 employees.
The company's co-founder has been so focused on expanding physically and meeting demand, he forgot about GaMra's anniversary milestone on Sept. 6.
When he arrived to work one day in September and saw staff and party favors in the break room, he asked who was having a birthday.
"They said, 'Look at the cake!' It said, 'Happy 20th, GaMra.' I was moved," Mitsch said. "I started from scratch and made 20 years."