ACH's efficient new plant expected to drive growth

ACH Foam Technologies believes its expansion into new facilities at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center gives it a competitive edge that will drive its growth.

The Denver-based company is ramping up operations in the 180,000-square-foot plant after moving this summer from a Sparks location that was approximately two-thirds the size of the new plant.

The facility makes foam products ranging from molded shipping containers that protect bottles of wine to insulated concrete forms used by the construction industry and coolers used to transport medical samples.

At the new plant east of Sparks, polystyrene pellets about the size of a grain of salt arrive in large bags. Steam expands the grains of plastic into larger pellets think of the pellets that litter your desk after you tear apart a foam coffee cup. The expanded pellets are cured for a day or two, shaped into blocks and then cut and molded into shape for final delivery.

Production scrap is recycled, and Jess Varela, the general manager of the plant, is a fanatic about tidiness inside the new facility.

"A clean plant is a happy plant," he says.

Employment at the facility, about 60, hasn't increased since ACH moved from Sparks, and all of the staff at the Sparks location made the move to the new location.

But Varela says block-molding capacity has risen by more than 50 percent as workers take advantage of new equipment and sufficient space to operate efficiently. Not much of the equipment in the facility was moved from the old location at Sparks.

"For us, it's exciting because it's all brand-new," Varela says. "We're a showplace for the company."

In fact, ACH executives believe the northern Nevada plant is the first EPS that's the industry shorthand for "expanded polystyrene" operation engineered and built from the ground-up.

The design, Varela says, took the better part of a year. The company didn't miss a beat on production during the move after it built inventories to keep equipment operating even during the transition to a new location.

A key piece of the new plant is shape-molding equipment developed by the Hirsch Corp. Erich Brandt, vice president of industrial products for ACH, says the equipment allows the company to chase more customers who use foam for packaging or construction applications.

Because price competition is strong in those markets, Brandt says the new plant's efficiency will prove important to ACH.

The facility at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center largely serves customers in the West. It's one of 10 plants operated by ACH in the United States and Mexico.

The ACH facility occupies more than half of a 300,000-square-foot building owned by ProLogis.


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