No-Wait Welding

The South Dakota headquarters of Integra Plastics is surrounded on three sides by acres of corn and bean fields. Yet it's the 81,000-sq-ft facility that just may be the fastest growing plant around.

For 16 years Integra Plastics converted heavy-duty polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheets for use primarily as covers and liners in agriculture, construction, landfill applications, and marine markets. Integra purchased the films from outside suppliers and used proprietary hot air devices to “weld” strips of film into sheets as wide as 10 ft, in thicknesses from 3-60 mils. Some of these covers ultimately spread over 20 acres or more.

To reduce costs, speed delivery, and enhance its market presence, Integra recently expanded its facility and installed a 90-in. extrusion laminating and coating line from the Converting Systems Group of Davis-Standard. The line, installed in June 2007, enables the company to produce a broad spectrum of films in-house, including material that may be used as a replacement for films that previously came from overseas.

“Many of our customers requested this material, and rather than send them someplace else, we'd just as soon supply them ourselves,” says Integra president Mick Green of his decision to install the extrusion line. “For a little company like us, it was a lot of money. But the customer is going to come out the real winner, since the response time will be much, much better.”

Three-Ply Laminating

Why Davis-Standard? According to Clark Lee, Integra's director of new business development, “I knew Davis-Standard had a history of building the type of equipment Integra needed and would be knowledgeable of the special considerations we wanted in this line. We were impressed by their ability to work quickly and efficiently through the design phase and deliver the equipment on time.”

The custom-built Davis-Standard line includes a 4-in. (100-mm) extruder with in-line resin-blending capabilities, a 90-in. (2,286-mm) extrusion laminator, shaftless unwinds, and jumbo surface winder. The extrusion laminator is capable of laminating three substrates in one pass or coating one. The unwinds use pneumatic-actuated web threading belts to insert the web into the splicing nip for continuous and safe operation.

The winder features rotary knife transfer technology for cutting a range of engineered, laminated fabric constructions and for continuous operation during transfers. It is modular in design, with the drives and controls pre-mounted for what is said to be quick and easy installation. The line speed will vary dramatically depending on the material being produced, according to Lee, but the extruder typically will run at about 1,000 lbs/hr.

While hot air welders can seal seams at speeds of 50 fpm, they can be extrusion-welded as fast as 250 fpm. Plus, the ability to extrusion-weld pieces of film opens a new market niche that Integra previously couldn't serve.

“We've added a whole new product line,” says Green. “With increased demand, we need to be able to go faster just to keep up with the number of orders. Either that, or we just say, ‘This is as big as we're going to get, and that's it.’”

Expanded Product Line

Green says prior to the installation of the new line, Integra's operation was primarily focused on converting other suppliers' coated and laminated nonwoven fabric into finished products. Now, Integra is able to do much of the coating and laminating in-house, keeping an even tighter grip on quality control and competitive pricing, both key contributors to the company's success.

“The new line expands the number of products offered by Integra, products that many of our customers have already expressed an interest in purchasing,” explains Lee. “It also takes us a step closer to our goal of adding ‘one-stop’ shopping while further improving our commitment to customer service after the sale, as well as quality and pricing.”

Traditionally, Integra built its own hot air welders, which, Lee says, are less expensive to use than extrusion welding, and PE film actually offers superior elongation and stretch characteristics too. Consequently, hot air welders are used to produce the vast majority of covers and liners.

However, since extrusion welding can be five times faster than hot air, the quicker delivery times can far outweigh cost as a consideration, particularly those for whom silo covers, for example, can literally be an afterthought. But, as many suppliers can attest, just because the customer forgot to order in advance doesn't mean the supplier isn't expected to deliver the order when needed.

“If a potential customer calls up and you don't have it pretty much sitting on a fork truck, ready to be loaded, they're on down the road to the next supplier,” says Green. “In our business, the response time is almost everything.”

Green says it can take as long as two months to get materials from overseas suppliers in Japan, Korea, China, and Vietnam — just one more incentive to extrude the films. “Our customers have a lot of major concerns; a lot of things happen, and they happen fast,” explains Green. “We've got to be able to respond when they need something.”

Consequently, being able to extrude films and seal them quicker than before gives Integra a big competitive advantage. It's also good for the customer, says Green, which is the ultimate no-lose situation.

“We are going to provide them with a broader range of products, some of them at a lower cost, and with a reduced lead time because the processing time is reduced,” says Green. “If they can use or absolutely desire the new products, they can get them cheaper and faster from us.”

Contributing editor Edward Boyle, based in Reading, PA, has covered the converting industry for more than 23 years. Contact him at EJB Communications; 610-670-4680; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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