A Zen proverb simply states that the obstacle is the path. A confusing phrase for most but upon reflection, it carries a significant meaning. All obstacles can rightly be perceived as challenges. Most will shy away from a challenge, preferring to remain within the realm of the status quo, the secure and safe, carrying on business as usual.
But that doesn’t give rise to new ideas, new ways of thinking outside the box. Nor does it lend itself to new strategies for problem-solving. In fact, challenges can open up new opportunities and new solutions – and a vision for where they’re most needed and least expected.
Graeme Fraser had a vision – and nothing else but a $500 investment and an idea for an innovative product specifically designed to serve the need for industrial parts for a number of industries.
Graeme established the Redwood Plastics Corporation in 1971, later establishing Epic Polymer Corporation and Nylatech Incorporated to form a group of companies known as The Redco Group. As of October 2017, Epic Polymers Corporation, established nine years ago as a designer and manufacturer of industrially engineered elastomers and polymers, has amalgamated with Redwood Plastics Corporation, now officially known as Redwood Plastics and Rubber, of which Dale Delmage is President.
Redwood Plastics and Rubber is a distributor and manufacturer of a variety of industrial use moulded plastic shapes and rubber sheets, and prides itself on its ability to select and oftentimes customize the appropriate product material to suit nearly any given industrial requirement. The company also has a unique approach to both innovate and problem-solve. Although the Epic Polymer Corporation name no longer exists, its specialization as the manufacturing arm of Redwood Plastics and Rubber continues. Together these two sister companies have aligned themselves to further bring innovative engineered solutions in polymers and elastomers to a growing number of established customers.
Redwood Plastics and Rubber has seven locations in both Canada and the United States, including three British Columbia locations – two in Langley (distribution and manufacturing facility), and a distribution/fabrication facility in Prince George. There is also a facility in Edmonton, Alberta. Its U.S. locations include those in Woodland and Spokane, Washington, and Atlanta, Georgia, all of which provide and service products to a number of sectors including but not limited to forestry, infrastructure construction, mining, food and beverage, oil and gas, and marine.
The benefits of engineered industrial polymers and elastomers are many. These innovative products replace traditional materials, and could rightly be referred to as advanced manufacturing. The testament to their effectiveness is proven in the fact that lifespans of operating equipment and structures are extended. These unique products lead to increased production and decreased downtime by reducing friction, abrasion and shock, for example, and do so in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
Business in Focus spoke with Graeme Fraser’s sons, Greg Fraser, VP Market Development, and Kris Fraser, VP Manufacturing, to get a sense of how the experienced, skilled and innovative team of the manufacturing arm of Redwood is driving this company forward.
Greg and Kris acquired Epic Polymer Corporation in 2013 and explained, in simple terms, what the terms polymer and elastomer mean to help us better understand their product lines and why they’re considered to be more favourable and are garnering much attention in a number of industries. To put it simply, a polymer is a plastic and an elastomer is a polymer with elastic properties such as those found in rubber. A polymer and an elastomer are in the same family as synthetic materials but both have “unique properties and they complement each other. So they don’t compete with each other per se,” says Greg. “So for our company to specialize both in polymers and elastomers – that’s both plastic and rubber – we can offer a more complete solution to our customers.”
Greg notes that historically, Redwood Plastics and Rubber’s focus has been on the forest industry but changes in that industry in the past 20 years have led the company to “aggressively adopt diversification… It’s basically one of the survival reasons of our success through economic downturns. In fact, the company relies “on four or five [different] industries for the bulk of our business.”
Aside from forestry, the other four major industries in terms of the company’s customer base include infrastructure construction, food and beverage, mining, and bulk materials handling. Speaking to infrastructure construction specifically, Greg explains that Redwood “provides plastic and rubber components that are used in the construction of bridges, overpasses, high rise buildings and other major civil construction projects – principally supplying things like load bearing pads.”
He adds that other traditional options are more expensive, require more maintenance and have shorter lifespans. The value of Redwood’s products for civil construction can be justified by the fact that “the industry is trying to make bridges and structures last longer,” explains Greg, stating that in North America the objective is to make transportation infrastructure last as long as possible. “Products like ours, out of rubbers and elastomers, can be formulated to last 50 years or more.”
Using the bridge example again, Greg maintains that such structures are subject to movement from vehicular traffic, seismic action, and thermocycling, for example. Rubber elements can be manufactured to support bridges and “allow them to naturally move as much as their designing engineers need them to, because the rubber can bear the weight and is flexible in movement.” Where additional support is required, beyond the design limits of rubber, steel reinforcing plates can be used. Redwood Plastics and Rubber has extensive experience vulcanizing rubber to steel.
Staff members from all departments engage in an actively managed training program on a consistent basis. Greg says that the company “encourages training within industry resources. That might be conferences, educational trade committees as well as education programs put on by third parties such as technical colleges or trade organizations,” asserting that all team members “are very creative problem solvers with technical competency.”
To this, Kris adds that sales and engineering members “participate in training within the manufacturing process as well so that they better understand how the components are actually produced and manufactured. So we do actively participate in a lot of cross-training as well.”
Although Redwood Plastics and Rubber sells a product and a service, the real focus is on selling a systemic solution composed of part geometry, part material compound and part manufacturing process. It is the mastery of all three components “that allows us to solve problems more efficiently and effectively than other customers.”
The company is confident in its ability to reduce customers’ downtime. Downtime is both lost production and lost money. Greg believes that this confidence in having customers up and running as quickly as possible stems from the team’s 45 year history in innovating solutions, using plastics and rubber, adding that, “Our company was one of the first in western Canada and [the] western United States to specialize in these materials.” He affirms that the company is an avid driver of innovative solutions and, “we maintain our pole position in the industry with new products, adopting new materials and embracing material science and engineering to solve problems for our customers.”
In 2013, Epic Polymer Corporation acquired B.C. Rubber Supply Limited located in Langley, British Columbia, a strategic approach to inject some additional unique manufacturing talent in to the company. He explains that there were some products and markets that B.C. Rubber specialized in, particularly in the construction sector and the bridge bearing market, which Epic saw as adding value to its organization.
Indeed, Redwood Plastics and Rubber is continually evolving with a concerted effort to provide innovative products to the industrial market. Greg is ecstatic about the “continued evolution of our sheet rubber product line. In North America there are relatively few principal manufacturers of technical rubber compounds and premium sheet rubber products.”
With an existing strong base of products available, he is proud to announce two very unique additions to the product line, one of which is the Neptune™ line of food-safe sheet rubber products. “No other company in North America is currently offering FDA-certified high-visibility rubber,” says Greg. This Neptune™ line is blue, a non-natural colour, which enables accidental contamination in food manufacturing to be more readily noticed and corrected to avoid a possible product recall. “It’s been very well received and it’s truly a novel innovation in the rubber industry.”
Also recently relaunched is a product that has been a staple for the company for many years. Although this product doesn’t currently have a brand name, it is a range of rubber-covered rollers used as a component in the film, foil and plastic packing industry which is “an extremely precision-focused industry segment for rubber rollers. And there are very few companies in North America that are specialized in servicing and manufacturing these products,” says Kris. “We’re an industry leader in these highly precise, highly precision-manufactured products.”
Aside from being recognized as innovators, Redwood Plastics and Rubber has built a substantial client base by showcasing its team’s astute ability to act as problem solvers. Problem-solving takes effort, commitment, a whole lot of communication between teams and perhaps most importantly, an opportunistic approach to any given challenge. “Our customers have learned that when they have a problem or an opportunity to develop using non-metallic materials, we’re the company to come to – to talk to first,” says Greg. “We’re also the company to come to when they’ve talked with everybody else and nobody else can solve their problem. We have that 45-plus year track record.”
By taking a 360 degree viewpoint for a solution, “we’re able to find opportunities across an entire market that other people are not paying attention to,” says Greg. Kris adds that, “As a company we’re not afraid of and don’t shy away from what other companies would consider a significant challenge. We have a lot of customers that value that.”
Speaking about its amalgamation with Redwood Plastics and Rubber, Greg shares that Graeme Fraser’s vision is to realize the continued strengthening of the team’s manufacturing capabilities and to bring manufactured products closer to customers in all regions, both in North America and internationally. An acknowledged competency in product development, innovation, problem solving abilities, creativity, and the sensitivity to display a close working relationship with customers is what ultimately “makes us unique at the end of the day,” concludes Greg.