AK Industries, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of fiberglass and polyethylene products for the wastewater industry. The Plymouth, Indiana based company produces a line of polyethylene septic tanks, sump pits, basins, and plumbing accessories as well as providing custom rotational molding services including product development and production.
“I believe that we are the only manufacturer that manufactures all of those different product lines,” says Business Development & Sustainability Director Pete Sabo. “It is complete water management manufacturing.” From massive 10,000-gallon fiberglass lift stations for municipalities to small capacity ejector basins for the residential market, the team covers it all.
AK Industries manufactures its fiberglass and polyethylene products in a state-of-the-art 150,000 square foot facility. While many other manufacturers have outsourced manufacturing overseas, AK Industries’ products are so large that the cost of shipping across the Pacific would negate any savings. “You cannot ship the products that we manufacture from China and be cost effective.”
Manufacturing in the Midwest allows the company to serve all of North America without enduring crippling shipping costs. “Our products are so big that you have to be in a centralized location for your market,” Pete explains. “Being in Indiana allows us to sell to the north, south, east, west – every area of the country.”
Manufacturing in the U.S. also gives the team control over quality. When John and Butch Sabo launched AK Industries in 1981, the brothers recognized the need for better quality – and delivered it. “One of the issues within the industry was that there was a quality level left to be desired,” Pete recalls. “So their strategy really was making sure that these basins had the structural integrity, they had the strength.”
The team is constantly tweaking their products to ensure that customers continue to get the highest quality solution. Company processes are also under continuous scrutiny. “We have gone back and finely tuned some of our products and changed little things that have made a dramatic difference to our customers. [This includes] little things varying from shipping processes to quality control processes to more immediate information sharing.”
AK Industries has just undergone an exciting expansion to increase production, adding massive new machinery to the company’s arsenal. “We have one of the largest rotational molding machines in the entire world and the largest three armed shuttle rotational molding machine in North America,” Pete reports. The SRM 4500 can produce products quickly and with great control due to advanced monitoring components. Completely computerized, the leading edge machine delivers advanced feedback on production cycle times, temperatures, and plastic molding flow. Independent, automatic controls for each arm allow three different products to run in succession without any interruptions. Bringing in the SRM 4500 has not only expanded capacity substantially; it has also added new jobs to the company’s 100-person workforce.
AK Industries’ increasing sales made the expansion a virtual necessity. “We have had increasing sales of at least 5% every year over the last five years,” shares Pete. Customer demand also drove the decision. “Customers have asked us how big we can go with polyethylene,” he explains. Now, with the expanded facility – specially built to house the new machinery – AK Industries can meet the needs of the biggest project.
While the SRM 4500 required a significant investment, the payback is almost guaranteed. “We have a really high retention rate from our customers, so [we can] rely on them for sales. We knew that by investing in this new machine we were not going to lose any of our existing product lines. All we were going to do was increase our manufacturing capacity.”
With the new SRM 4500, the company’s manufacturing capacity has increased to include over fifty different polyethylene rotationally molded custom products, from playground equipment and one-pound battery bins, to fenders for waste disposal trucks, transmission covers for trucks, and support bases for gaming tables. The team can run molds with parts under five pounds all the way up to parts weighing more than 1,000 pounds.
The team can handle custom product needs, and some of the company’s largest projects are specially made, out-of-the-box endeavors. AK Industries takes care of the entire process to deliver these complex projects, from product development and design to testing and tooling.
Hydro-Action, a wholly owned subsidiary of AK Industries, is an innovative leader in the aerobic treatment of wastewater. “Hydro-Action is an advanced wastewater treatment manufacturing company for onsite systems,” Pete explains. “It is in effect just a miniature municipal wastewater treatment plant that is designed for one household.” Households that are not on a municipal sewer line must use some type of onsite system, typically a septic tank, and Hydro-Action delivers a leading edge alternative. “Our aerobic treatment unit treats all of the waste water, including nitrogen which is contributing to a lot of the pollution loading into [waterways] and algae blooms.” While septic tanks create an oxygen-deprived environment, Hydro-Action’s system utilizes oxygen to break down waste. “It is using nature,” Pete explains. “An aerobic bacterium, which is fed by the oxygen as well as the waste, is effectively metabolizing all of the pollutants that would enter the environment.”
This natural approach means that the company does not have to resort to harsh chemical additives to treat waste. “We are really trying to promote a sustainable approach to wastewater treatment because you can’t just add chemicals to treat [waste]. You have to use a naturally occurring function in the environment and replicate that.”
AK Industries acquired Hydro-Action in the early 2000s, when the Sabos recognized the need for a better residential waste water management solution. “My father Butch and his brother John saw how the markets were going to change. He saw that because of urban density and population growth, people moving closer and closer together, there was going to be a greater demand for advanced treatment. It was going to become universalized.” As people become more environmentally conscientious it simply is no longer acceptable to release untreated waste into the environment, even though this has been the norm in many places for years. “It is amazing that some of the richest places in the country can have a major water contamination issue,” Pete remarks. Hydro-Action’s unique system has the ability to significantly reduce this contamination – without chemicals.
The commitment to sustainability seen in Hydro-Action’s products is an important part of the overall company culture. “We have definitely done a lot to lower our personal environmental impact,” Pete reports. For instance, the company recently retrofitted all of its lights to increase energy efficiency – saving the company an estimated $25,000 in energy costs. “That was a major, major cost savings to us, because it significantly decreased our demand for electricity, as well as saving carbon emissions.”
AK Industries is also committed to recycling, both around the office and within the production cycle. “With our polyethylene everything is recycled. We have a near 100% scrap recycled rate.” Of course, the company’s greatest environmental effort is its commitment to clean water. “The big one is that all of our products are protecting water,” Pete points out. “They are all for water management or water transportation or water movement or treatment. Our greatest environmental impact is that there are millions of gallons of water per day that are going to the treatment locations and not contaminating the environment.”
The company’s environmentally friendly culture is driven by the Sabo family, who remain at the helm after 35 years of ownership; employees also tend to stay onboard long term. “We have a lot of employees who have ten, 15, 20, even 30 years experience,” Pete reports. The family credits suppliers for the company’s success in addition to dedicated employees. “Our suppliers and vendors have kept their quality up as well as their lead times. They have been able to adapt to our increasing demands for raw materials and products. We are definitely thankful for our business partnerships that we have had as well as for our employees.”
A strong family atmosphere defines interactions with both employees and vendors, creating tight-knit relationships. “The family element is key,” Pete remarks. “It isn’t just a matter of clocking in and clocking out. It is being part of the larger group and understanding how one person’s actions carry over and help the other person. All of our employees understand that they are part of a larger picture.”
The Sabos are eager to continue moving forward while maintaining this family-oriented company culture. “We have been growing really consistently. It has been driven by the demand for sustainable water management. People are seeing that the availability of water is a limiting factor to growth. We are seeing a cultural shift to greater demand for water management technologies.” With a dedicated team and new, state-of-the-art machinery, AK Industries and Hydro-Action are both ready to serve this increasing market – and make a positive impact on the environment in the process.