Drawing its name from the proprietary spiral-wrap product it created in 1955 and still manufactures, custom profile and tube extruder The Spiratex Co. has spent the next half-century-plus expanding its business and reach so that it now has more than 1000 customers.
“Customers can go through turbulent times—we try to maintain ourselves in many different industries so that when one is down, another is up,” explains Garry Markle, VP. “It allows us to balance things a bit.” The sheer number of customers—and profile, tubing, and chuting programs—also require some balance and processing agility on Spiratex’s part, with the company splitting work between plants in Monroe and Romulus, MI.
“Some things run continuously year round,” Markle says, “and some things will run for a day, so we have this huge mix of high and low volume.” Markle recalled a former marketing campaign—“We extrude by the inch or the mile”—as he walked through a typical day at Spiratex, leaving one to conclude there really isn’t such a thing as a “typical day” at the company.
“At one plant, there are probably 50-some customers’ jobs running and probably 10 at the other,” Markle says, “so maybe 60 different things in just the one day. And tomorrow will be different. It might not be a lot different—it may be only 10 of them are different—but things are changing every day.”
The multitude of customers also means a plethora of applications and materials. When MPW visited, products in various stages of manufacture included a profile for school buses and a polyurethane fin used to reduce fuel consumption on ships, as well as parts for dog sleds, conveyors, and air-bag deployment.
On the last item, Markle is keen to point out that the component is integrated into an assembly in Mexico, one instance of several where Spiratex ships product to countries that more often take work away. “We’re doing things that people cannot do, or find it difficult to do,” Markle says. “If things are very common or easy to do, those kind of things are moving to China and somewhere else.” In addition to Mexico, Markle says Spiratex exports parts to Europe, Canada, Asia, and Australia, serving customers in aerospace/defense, automotive, food, building/construction, marine, and geophysical markets.
Proprietary product launches custom business
MPW visited the company’s 75,000-ft2 facility in Romulus, which runs 16 single-screw extrusion lines. In Monroe, MI, Spiratex operates a 60,000-ft2 plant featuring 105 ram-extrusion systems that utilize a plunger instead of a screw to process ultrahigh-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) spiral wraps. A proprietary process invented in the early ’60s by Spiratex co-founder Hugh Archer, the spiral-wrap product propelled the company into extrusion. Archer developed a process and equipment to continuously extrude the coils, which were, and still are, used to bundle wiring. Before this advance, cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB) was wound by hand on poles and baked.
Experienced staff, new technology
In addition to a diverse customer base, Spiratex says it’s committed to investing in the latest technology. True to its word, a new single-screw Davis-Standard (D-S; Pawcatuck, CT) extruder was being installed when MPW visited, with Spiratex having the line customized to run hotter than a standard system.
Another key for Spiratex, which is employee owned, is the tenure of its employees. Markle has been with the company for 20 years; Spiratex President Robert Racey more than 35 years; and Plant Manager Larry Steinmeyer is approaching 25 years.
“We know what we can do,” Markle concludes, “and we know how we can get it done.” —[email protected]