Plastics Take on New Form and Function
Innovative Technologies and Processes Push LRM Industries to Manufacturing Forefront
by Josh Field | Photography by Jason Hook
Not every space age technology is developed in a sterile research lab housed on a university campus, high tech incubator or government facility. In fact, some of the most significant innovations are borne in home garages and basements. Today, new technologies for replacing traditional materials, parts and components used in a plethora of industries are being perfected in an unassuming manufacturing facility right off Gus Hipp Boulevard in Rockledge.
LRM Industries International, Inc. is breaking the paradigms of how engineers, architects, fabricators, inventors and entrepreneurs have approached numerous construction and manufacturing projects in the past. “We ask these constituents to step outside the box and open their minds,” explained LRM Senior Vice President Jim Callough, “and imagine substituting their current structural material for a new composite material that is lighter in weight, environmentally-friendly, noncorrosive, durable, recyclable and offers longer-term efficiencies.”
The “a-ha moment” comes when Callough explains that this new composite material for replacing steel, concrete, wood and other carbon composites is actually plastic! “There are many preconceived notions about the material, but our patented technology delivers on the promise,” said Callough.
A Competitive Advantage
LRM’s technologies and processes are so revolutionary, the majority of their clients requested anonymity (for this article) to protect their competitive advantage (i.e. their partnership with LRM). “We work with many of the top companies in the aerospace, military, construction, transportation, oil and gas, and material handling sectors,” explained Callough. “Our sweet spot is partnering with customers who require LARGE-sized, feature-rich components in HIGH quantities.”
An example is a client who needed a relatively large plastic composite container (with approximately 50 cubic feet of storage capacity) for handling waste products. Initially, the company was uncertain of the number of units that would be required, but felt the volume upside was huge. Their challenges were the significant upfront costs of the traditional injection molding process – a steel mold can cost up to $1 million before the first unit ever rolls off the production line – plus the conventional rotomolding process may only yield 8-10 units per day, or less than 4,000 units annually on a dedicated production line.
Fortunately, LRM’s patented STF Sheetless ThermoFormingTM process was the solution. Using a more cost efficient aluminum mold and its innovative STF process, which requires no pre-formed sheet to mold the product, LRM could significantly reduce some of the upfront costs, eliminate a process step and remove the premium material costs charged by sheet manufacturers. Instead, STF drapes the mold with a molten sheet of the composite material profiled to the product shape and thickness. The computer-automated process runs on up to five trolleys per production line, which allow for faster cycle times and continuous manufacturing – literally producing hundreds of finished goods daily, which proved to be critical given the order for this particular container may reach 80,000 units annually!
STF extrudes a molten polymer sheet based on the customer’s specs as opposed to using pre-manufactured thermoplastic sheets, which can run 25-30 percent higher in material costs alone. And, because STF utilizes closed loop recycling, any material trimmed off the finished product as it comes off the line can be immediately put right back into the process and reused.
The STF production line at LRM’s Rockledge facility is capable of producing products up to 12-feet wide and 25-feet long.
Branded vs. Custom Products
Another item produced using this technology is a storm water drainage chamber that the company has trademarked as HydroDome™. These uniquely designed aqua colored units are over 8’ long, 4-1/2’ wide and 3-1/2’ high with a 600-gallon capacity, thus requiring less land for the same storm water capacity. The chambers, which are interlocking on both ends, require less excavation, stone and other in-ground materials during installation, which also contribute to its overall efficiency. HydroDome™ is also produced as a smaller, 300-gallon version.
While the majority of LRM’s business is custom molded products and components, HydroDome™ is one example of the company’s efforts to market its own branded products. Sold exclusively through a master distributor, the system has been available commercially for about a year. “We’ve had tremendous interest in this product,” said LRM president and CEO Rick Cochrane, “the efficient storage, cleansing and redirection of storm water is a huge issue for many government and private sector organizations.”
Other branded products available from LRM include ValuStair™, an environmentally-friendly, low-maintenance 22-foot unitary, self-supporting stair system used in water parks; and ValuBeam™, a sturdy, light-weight 12-foot composite truss beam for construction that is about to hit the market.
ValuStair™ was developed in a partnership with Water Safety Products, Inc. – a local company headquartered in Indian Harbour Beach – that has exclusive rights to this unique, innovative green product in the water park, commercial pool, resort and theme park industries, where corrosion on traditional stair units is a very costly, high-maintenance issue. Meanwhile, ValuBeam™, which measures 12” tall x 4” wide and is 12’ long, has a patented design that includes vertical ribs on the sides and boxed ends for high strength. Weighing in at only 78 pounds, ValuBeam™ is easy to install and transport. Plus, the sustainable component will not corrode or rot like other building materials; all of LRM’s branded products are 100 percent recyclable.
Going With the Flow
The roots of LRM’s technologies date back almost two decades, when Dale Polk, Sr. and his son, Dale Polk, Jr. invented TPF ThermoPlastic Flowforming® in a very small, bare-bones facility in Mims, FL. TPF is a technically-sophisticated and computer-controlled extension of the cavity molding process (think of it as a giant, yet sophisticated, waffle iron) that automatically produces structural, feature-rich thermoplastic composite parts and components on a size scale that is beyond the economic and technical viability of existing injection or compression molding processes.
“We like to describe TPF as ‘putting the plastic where it’s needed’ in the mold,” explained Cochrane. “Using a computer-driven dynamic die to lay down the molten polymer allows for a compression pressure in the press that is dramatically lower than any other cavity molding process.”
Much like STF, this technology creates the platform for TPF’s competitive differentiation, which includes:
- Large, Feature-rich Molded Products – Ribbing and structure in any direction on very large products beats injection molding, which has a press size and investment limitation;
- Stronger Composites – Composites can be reinforced with fiber for exponential strength;
- Fast Cycle Times – Allows for very high productivity;
- Lower Cost Molds – At 25-30 percent of the cost of steel molds, the savings from aluminum molds are significant and quicker to amortize;
- Insert Capability – Components for support or product features can be positioned in the mold and formed around.
Signature Systems Group, LLC has contracted with LRM using TPF technology to produce MegaDeck™, a heavy-duty matting system that uses interlocking panels to help move heavy equipment over soft ground. The patented custom panel designs provide extreme weight bearing characteristics while providing a durable, stable, slip-resistant surface in any environment, while also protecting the ground beneath. Signature markets the MegaDeck™ to stabilize the largest construction equipment and drill rigs, in addition to providing temporary roadways for rough terrain that might also be environmentally sensitive.
The huge rib structured MegaDeck™ base panel weighs 410 pounds molded and fully assembled the product is 7.5 ft square, 4 inches thick and weighs 525 pounds.
Molding the Future
As more companies face growing pressure for cost efficient products and parts that not only increase bottom-line profit but top-line demand as well, business owners and engineers are seeking new and green alternatives to conventional materials, processes and suppliers. With a growing portfolio of proven and patented technologies, LRM Industries stands at the crossroad of innovation, positioned to provide great value to its partners and customers.
“Our technologies may have been a little ahead of its time a few years ago, but the time is now and we’re ready to help mold a new future using thermoplastic and polymer composite products and processes to replace traditional materials,” said Cochrane.
Added Callough, “We’re all about turning our partners’ imagination into a reality…as the possibilities of what we can do with TPF and STF are truly infinite.”
LRM Industries International, Inc.
CEO: Rick Cochrane
Location: Rockledge, FL
No. of Employees: 79