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Feature Stories

Design Engineering

Plastic Fabricator's Success is Taylor-Made

The ability to custom fabricate, weld and machine everything from roulette wheel guards to reconstructing a 100-year-old clock is leading Taylor Plastics down the road to success.

By Chad Sypkens

The Thorpe & Co Jeweller's clock in Sioux City, IA, is back in action. The original clock was over 100 years old and was in need of replacement due to the wood rotting out . Taylor Plastics came up with an identical replica of the antique clock that should stand the test of time. The new clock is made from water-proof polyethylene.

The best source of advertising for Taylor Plastics has stemmed from a job that was almost passed by.

A four-faced antique clock located at the corners of 5th & Nebraska has been a fixture in downtown Sioux City, IA, originally built prior to 1900. A few repairs were needed following fires in 1904 and 1912 and after being knocked to the ground in 1953 by a passing truck.

By 1999, approximately 80 to 90 percent of the clock had to be rebuilt because the wood casing had rotted. A total construction project was needed to get it back to its original condition, only this time using plastic.

Historic Clock Enters Plastic Age

"When I went to look at this job I walked into a woodworkers shop and there was dust all over the pieces of this clock which were scattered all over the floor," says Mike Taylor, president of Council Bluffs, IA-based Taylor Plastics. "The woodworker looked at me and said 'I don't know how you're going to do this,' and I looked at him and said 'I have no idea.' I left there kind of like I don't know if I want touch this. But the closer I got back to the shop the more I thought its about time I give my guys something that will challenge them so we can see how good we really are."

Approximately 80-90 percent of the clock had to be rebuilt due to the rotted wood that comprised nearly the entire clock. .A total reconstruction project was needed to get it back to its original condition.....however this total reconstruction would be made from plastic.

The clock was rebuilt using all CPG Seaboard, a high-density polyethylene sheet designed to meet outdoor environments. The only original parts remaining on the clock after Taylor was finished was the base it sits on, the bezels and arms, which are aluminum, and the minute markers. The numbers were molded out of flat gold aluminum plate by Taylor to the original size.

"We had to invent a lot of ways to get it done, invent how we were going to form certain angles and radii and how we were going to put it together right and make it look good," says Taylor. "When we first quoted that clock, we weren't going to do the art carvings on it. But we ended up doing all the carvings except for a few pieces which the owner wanted done by a gemologist.

"The SeaBoard isn't available in any size over an inch thick so we had to extrusion weld 212-inch thick pieces together before we could start," says Taylor. "We milled all the outer shapes. All the carving done to the clock took me 15 hours using a hand grinder."

To get the carving to look accurate, Taylor took one of the original wood carvings, placed it in his small thermoformer and thermformed white high-impact styrene over it to get the exact shape. He cut out the shapes with a razor blade and laid them over the milled part, whited out the areas areas which needed to be grinded, machining it by hand.

Timely Challenges

"We used round rod to trim up the bottom of the clock, but we had to come up with some way to put round knobs down there to look like the original trim, says Taylor. "I found black polyethylene gear shift knobs that we screwed right in, but to get the round rod we had to use our DRO lathe to get the plastic knobs from square to round.

Taylor also needed a sheet of 14-inch Seaboard to finish the top cap, but could only come up with a 12-inch sheet. They decided to take the 12-inch SeaBoard surface mill the sheet down to 14-inch thick using their CNC Bridgeport mill.

Placing the numbers on the polyethylene face provided yet another stumbling block. They couldn't find a glue that would adhere to the polyethylene face of the clock. Fortunately, though, 3M happened to be coming out with an adhesive called DP8005.

"They came out with this adhesive at the same time I needed it for this clock," says Taylor. "The numbers adhered to the face of the polyethylene using the DP8005 and good luck prying them off of there. That got me out of a jam and not only worked but it knocked off 5 hours of heliarching off the job so we didn't have to heliarch studs onto the numbers.

"We got to the point where we had two weeks to get it ready to be put on the pedestal in Sioux City for a big media unveiling and we lived at the shop for two weeks," says Taylor. "While I was getting the design drawings finalized, I had Jeremy Wood programming in all my radiuses, Tim Shannon and John Jenkins, who did my welding, were working on the main body. Doing the final touch-ups, we went around this thing 100 times cause we wanted it perfect. When we did get done with it, we were $2800 over budget. It cost $12,000 to build the clock. But I didn't take this job to make money. I knew that the publicity and recognition would more then make up for it and the pride I got out of watching these guys was worth it to me when it was all finished."

From left to right: Jeremy Wood (kneeling), John Jenkins and Tim Shannon proudly display their finished clock (bext to the original clock) before it gets shipped to its home in Sioux City, IA.

And for future reference, Taylor took pictures and notes daily of what was done from start to finish to help bookmark all of the stages his four-man crew went through to finish the clock. Who knows, maybe they will need the diary for a future clock?

"I wouldn't mind doing another clock, sitting down and building another one. Now that we have done one, it wouldn't be so tough," says Taylor. "We still get letters from the owner saying how much people like it and how great they think it looks. There were times I wondered if we were going to get through it, but the closer we got to getting it done, and it started going together it got to be more fun.

"What I want to do next year is build one for my wife," Taylor continues. "She wants one for our front yard."

Plastic Welding

"The first time I heard about plastic welding I saw a picture of a plating shop in Germany and all these PVC vent hoods and thought they couldn't be glued. Did they weld them? I had done all sorts of welding and I couldn't believe that welding plastic was possible back then," says Taylor. "But once I actually did it myself I realized that welding of plastic was going to find its niche somewhere along the line and I wanted to be in the thick of it.

Taylor's dad was an engineer; His father-in-law owned a plating company in Omaha. When he told them he was going to start a plastic welding shop, they didn't bite. "They said, 'There's no such thing as plastic welding'," says Taylor. "I bought a welder and started welding plastics and they tried to break it. They couldn't. I still have a piece at my house they tried to break. They drove a forklift on top of a 90-degree piece of acrylic and the weld held, though the acrylic snapped after about 30 minutes. That is how it started."

Taylor likes to run his business the old fashioned way, if your in a business to take care of customers, then you should be geared up to service them.

"Being small like we are is kind of nice because it allows us a little versatility &emdash; we are more of a family-oriented-type shop. We very rarely if ever say no to a job and I'm not a believer in just-in-time because I think that hurts the industry. It doesn't matter if I have 5 or 50 employees. You have to care about people a lot more now then 10 years ago. People just want to be treated good."

Taylor actually got started welding plastic repairing tubs for the meat packing industry that would get rammed by the fork lifts. His crew would go on site and weld their tubs. At the time he was working out of his house using half of the garage. Then it was to small and he went to using both sides of the garage before he built a 24-ft. by 30-ft. shop which only lasted about 8 months before he outgrew that and moved to Omaha and a 3,000-square-foot building. But wanting the company in his home town, Taylor found his current 5,000-square-foot shop five years ago in Council Bluffs, which won't last too much longer if business continues its pace.

Taylor Plastics uses: four Wegener hand-held and extrusion welders; materials from either E&T Plastics or Regal Plastics; Onsrud Cutter router bits; saw blades from Forrest Mfg. and General Saw and welding rod from Prime Plastics.

CPG SeaBoard

CPG Seaboard, a high-density polyethylene sheet, is what Taylor has chosen to help his company's efforts in expansion. Formulated to meet specific requirements of marine and other outdoor environments, it is manufactured as a continuous extrusion by Compression Polymers Group. The Seaboard is the main ingredient in one of Taylor's newest concepts, Taylor Fountains.

Available in handicap or as a wall mount, the drinking fountain for park and recreational uses are basically maintenance free. The polymer Taylor uses is UV resistant which protects against the suns harsh rays, salt water resistant so that side walk salts and salt water will not harm or corrode them and impact resistant to reduce damage from vandalism.

Another advantage is being graffiti-resistant because most paints and markers are easily cleaned or brushed off making painting a thing of the past. The textured finish hides most surface scratches and provides an attractive look. Thus, SeaBoard was also a good choice for the clock job.

The fountains, available in a wide variety of colors, are ideal for any application. Taylor has been bombarded with requests for these fountains and they have spread from Council Bluffs to Denver and as far as Central America. Taylor is also entertaining the idea of selling some to the college campuses with Huskers, Hawkeyes or Cyclones for example, printed down the side.

He came up with the concept three years ago and has fabricated 16 of them for the parks in Council Bluffs.

"The city came to us and brought us an old fountain with the base all rusted out and dented. They would spend $300 every other year to get it repainted and get the corrosion of it," Taylor says. "I told them I would come up with a better system for them. I looked at every polymer on the market and I wanted something that was really impervious to everything. In three years we have only had one fountain returned and that was due to vandalism. They beat on it with a baseball bat and spray painted it and the city brought it back to us and we cleaned it up and now it is back in the park."

The fountains are equipped with theft proof doors and all stainless fasteners it them. A 316-inch stainless steel plate comes down each side with 58-inch carriage bolts holding that in, which is sandwiched and extrusion welded in between two 12-inch sheets of polyethylene.

"That way when the fountain gets bolted to the ground its going to take a MAC truck to get it off there," says Taylor. "If it's out in the park and someone drills a hole in it or runs over it with a car, the city can send it back to us because we can weld it up and repair it for them. It really isn't ever destroyed."

Taylor is getting ready to change the material on the fountains because the SeaBoard is only offered in three colors: black, gray and sand. "We have customers who want blue and green and so it happened at the perfect time that PolyHiSolidur came out with their brand new line of polyethylene, its Champ Line, which is used for playground equipment, is UV and salt water resistant," Taylor says. "I like the texture better and it takes the same beating as the material we are using now and we can offer more colors which has helped us makes sales in Denver; Topeka, KS; Crete, NE; college campuses and foreign countries. I had a call from Central America and they wanted a filter system in theirs to filter their water because it isn't the best so we are looking at filters that we can design one for the inside of our fountain so we can supply other countries.:"

Taylor has also had requests for urinals for rest areas and parks as well made from the same material. "The porcelain ones get broken and the stainless ones are so expensive that the polyethylene one would really fit the mold," says Taylor. "It's exciting to watch us in our growing phase right now. I have already talked to a few companies about switching to rotational molding machines and molds in case production gets up to where we have to prepare for it and that is what we will do, go to rotational molding and rotational mold them."

Taylor's main concern is quality and anymore that is tough to come by. "Anything that goes out here with my name on it, we make sure it's of the highest quality," says Taylor. "I have three fabricators in the shop now with 30 years between them. They proved themselves as far as what they can make."

Taylor Plastics also welds a lot of customer RV tanks, water holding tanks for boats or RV's for example. "Lets say your traveling through town and you crack your tank," says Taylor. "If you go to the local RV shop for a new tank, you're going to be out of luck. So we work with the local RV dealers and they send them here and weld together a tank and their on their way."

Custom work = Quality

"We fabricate acrylic P.O.P. pen displays for a customer who sells over $3 million a year in ink pens all over the world," says Taylor. "We just completed putting new polycarbonate guards on roulette tables at one of the casino's in the Council Bluffs/Omaha area. They wanted the guards one piece of polycarbonate all the way around because it was to hard to fight and get the guards on and off when they had to change the felt. We went in and designed a splice where they are two pieces with a nice tooling black cover that goes over them so they look nice. That is the type of thing we do for a customer if they want something changed, we'll work with them."

Walking in to Taylor Plastics on any given day, one never knows what type of work will be going on. "We usually have three different things going on in the shop at once. I have one guy in charge of acrylic/P.O.P. display work, one guy on welding and one on machining and thermoforming and as we grow we will add employees to each area. Before we tried to get everyone trained in every area and it just doesn't work. Its tough."

Taylor Plastics also welds together molds for short run thermoforming made out of polypropylene. "We only do 50 or 60 of these trays for a customer, and they don't want to spend a couple thousand dollars on a mold so the way we can save the customer money is we use scrap polypropylene and weld it together, put it our mill, mill the mold out of it and put our vacuum holes in it and its a short-run mold without giving the customer the high mold cost."

Taylor also does some embedding where he embeds objects into liquid acrylics doing the most work for the state of Iowa and their bug collections. This allows the collection to be picked up and looked at on all sides as it preserves them. In order to embed the collections, Taylor makes a mold and has a certificate from the state saying he can do this because some of the bugs within the collection are extinct and they have to be done very carefully. "I work with the local naturalists here and it is fun to do, but it is a touchy thing," says Taylor. "I work with the city and state quite a bit and I try and take care of their varying needs."

With all these different things going on everyday at Taylor Plastics, keeping everything in order may seem a bit tricky. "It's not easy, it really isn't," says Taylor. "I try and stay ahead of everything and I do a lot of work at home. My nephew has been with me for 10 years now and my other two guys have been with me ever since I started plastic welding so they have been with me from the start."

Training for the Future

Taylor is currently working with the local high schools on a work release-type program. He will have students come to his shop in the afternoons and he will train them to do plastic welding. "What better way to train future employees, right?" says Taylor. "I am also working with Iowa Western Community College with students that are learning AutoCAD and want a little experience so I have worked it so they can come here and get a little experience and class credit in their back pocket before they go out looking for a job."

Taylor though doesn't just cater to the teenagers and above. For the second year in a row, he's visiting the local community schools where he gives a two-hour seminar to fifth and sixth graders on how to thermoform plastic. "This is our second year doing this where I bring in small sheets of plastic, a few basketball and football molds and my small thermoformer from the shop and and let the kids thermoform the molds so they can see how a flat sheet is molded into a part. We let them put the plastic in the mold and close it and set the timer and it is amazing to see the look on their faces when they open the cabinet and they see this football or basketball come out &emdash; its amazing."

For more on Taylor Plastics, go to www.taylorplastics.com.

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