Water Ways: Drainage Design for Our Age

ACO, Inc.
Written by Allison Dempsey

Dedicated to developing the best water management and drainage systems across the globe, ACO, Inc. improves the collection and reuse of water with its unique modular trench drains, in the process enhancing both the water and the environment.

ACO has production facilities in North America, Europe, China, and Australia, and more than 5,000 employees across 40 nations. In its efforts, the company works intelligently to protect natural resources, maintain building infrastructure, and promote industry safety.

The company has provided innovative products and materials for more than 75 years for all surface-water management and building drainage markets, including sports, hospitality, commercial, and transportation.

The one Formula 1 chose
The market leader in elite sports venues, including F1, MLB, NFL, NCAA, and international Olympic sites, ACO has provided solutions for inclement weather conditions that could adversely affect outdoor events. Whether it’s the local high school or high-octane car racing, the show must go on, and safely.

In fact, ACO’s latest success story is the newly built Formula 1 Grand Prix track at Miami International Autodrome, which involved the consideration of a variety of potential natural risks in southern Florida.

“Leading by innovation is how we handled this big F1 Miami track,” says Ben Aulick, East Regional Sales Manager. “ACO was involved from design to installation at every stage of that project. What makes it unique is that, not only was it one of the largest projects we’ve ever sold as a company, and one of the most high-profile, but that we developed new custom products specifically for this one.”

This speaks to the innovation and the agility ACO has being a global organization, but also family-owned, and the ability to meet customer needs quickly, he adds.

“We’ve actually done about 23 or so different Formula 1 tracks across the world,” says Technical Services Manager Jason Jonke. “This one was a unique project being in Miami with the water table so low; it was pretty difficult for any other drainage company to do what we did.”

Full-on and hands-on
ACO was successful due in part to its in-house R&D team. The company manufactures everything in Arizona and Ohio and was able to attack the project more full-on and hands-on than anybody else could have.

Due to the proximity to the water table, everything was kept as shallow as possible to effectively move the water further away. Slot drains set considerably higher than usual carried the water into drainage pipes, allowing use of a gravity feed across greater distances than a regular slot drain. There was also a very efficient drainage system throughout the site, including vast storage tanks beneath the stadium.

“While we were heavily involved in the design and developing new products, we also had people on site for weeks assisting with the installation,” says Aulick.

While most spectators remain unaware of the importance of safe and efficient drainage, excess water on a track can cause untold damage, whether with safety issues during an event or disintegration of the track over time.

“ACO drainage is used on many running tracks, starting with 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany, and has been involved with every Olympics since,” says Jonke. “Even down to high school is a big market for ACO—removing water as quickly and safely as possible from the surface to increase their life expectancy.”

Racetracks are designed to remove any standing water. ACO drains assist and take over in crucial areas to rapidly remove water from the surface and transport it to a water detention or infiltration system.

“It’s obviously pretty important for safety,” says Aulick. “Many of these tracks are designed so they won’t stop the race when it starts raining. Evacuating water off the surface is critical, and a major part of the design of the track is how water flows off the track and is removed.”

What about the water?
What does an ACO system do with the water it collects?

“We care for water,” says Chris Califano, Marketing Assistant. “We are more than just a drainage company. We have a wide portfolio of products around caring for water. Every product we make fits into a piece of our system chain: Collect, Clean, Hold, Reuse,” he explains.

“‘We care for water’ means focusing more on the water,” he says, “because it’s Earth’s greatest resource and everything ACO does protects people from water, and water from people. “What we’re working on is more products and innovation within the hydrological cycle,” Califano says, “collecting the water, cleaning the water, holding, and controlled release back into the ecosystem.”

In fact, ACO has created products to help businesses adhere to the tougher environmental pollution controls that the globe is seeing everywhere, including oil, water, and solids separators, as well as spill containment systems using materials such as corrosion-resistant fibreglass and polyethylene.

“We’re working on adding more products to our portfolio especially on the cleaning side, whether it is for FOG, sediment, hydro carbons, or heavy metals,” Califano says.

It’s interesting when looking at how ACO’s missions have changed over the years, adds Aulick.

“We’ve innovated and developed products that match what we’re doing,” he says. “We’re a full-service stormwater-management provider of stormwater products now. When you look at that sector, we sell some of the most innovative products, so we know what essentially needs to be done better.”

Sticking to the standards
The market is driven by stormwater standards and codes, with standards to be attained and companies developing products to better meet the needs of engineers, distributers, and contractors. Where ACO takes a different approach, since it manufactures most of what it sells and doesn’t use many third-party vendors, is that it’s able to develop products that are great for engineers and easy to design with, but also designed with the contractor in mind from an installation standpoint.

“That’s usually what’s missing in these markets, because when manufacturers manufacture, they don’t necessarily design and engineer products,” says Aulick. “We really consider ourselves an engineering and marketing company that adds to the treatment train of water.”

Hygiene made in America
A project ACO has been working on the last few years is a new stainless steel manufacturing plant on its Casa Grande Arizona Campus, developing a building drainage division which focuses more on products inside a building.

“A huge issue there is hygiene,” Gert Laumann, Leader of Building Drainage, says. “Everything needs to be stainless steel. We needed a new plant to support that business and growth as well. It just made everything a little easier that we’re manufacturing everything on site, and we’re sourcing more materials locally as well to be able to truly say that everything is made in America. That’s been a big focus the last couple years in dealing with supply chain issues.”

Coming out of the pandemic as a medium-size company, ACO was able to handle the challenges “very well,” says Aulick. While many companies saw a reduction in workforce through that era, ACO did not.

“We were able to maintain ourselves,” he says. “Supply chain issues placed the kind of demands on organizations that we’ve never seen in our lifetimes, but as a company we adapted very well in how we handled our manufacturing to meet demand.”

ACO has control over most of the products it sells due to manufacturing domestically in the U.S., using domestic suppliers for what it doesn’t.

“We’ve been able to meet the demand for the most part, and during that time have also seen record sales growth,” Aulick says. “It’s been pretty exciting to see what we’ve done, being agile and able to adapt to what the market throws at us.”

The company has also recently bought its own semi-trucks to help ease some of those supply chain issues, another tip of the hat to innovative thinking

The inside story
“We do a lot of things well on the inside as well to become a world-class company,” Aulick says. “We’re unique. We’re a U.S. manufacturer, but part of a bigger global organization. We have a global network of great engineering and the kind of great minds that have helped our products to be market leaders, and over the years, when we launch something, you see a lot of people follow suit with similar designs.”

More importantly, when looking at the product line’s position in the construction industry, it wouldn’t be considered a commodity, Aulick says. It’s a designed and engineered system for each project.

“What we’ve done differently is that we’re a manufacturer that structured our customer service and sales team to operate like a distribution or wholesale company, and because of the engineering side, we put a lot of support behind the design and engineering of our systems for the market,” he says.

Not only does ACO innovate products, but it also provides industry-leading marketing and design tools for its engineers, along with tools that nobody else in the market has at all. The result?

“It’s the reason why we’re the most highly specified product in the country when it comes to surface water management.”

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