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Cody: Hi and welcome to the AGRU America podcast. In this podcast, we’ll be exploring our recent blog on qualities to look for in a geosynthetics company. Specifically, we’ll look at how various policies and procedures help define a company in this industry.
Every month, the plastics experts at AGRU explore how geosynthetics, thermoplastics and fluoropolymers are changing the world around us. Discover more about AGRU at AGRUAmerica.com or by calling 1-800-373-2478.
Joining me today is Nathan Ivy, quality control manager here at AGRU. Thanks for joining me, Nathan.
Nathan: Thank you, Cody.
Cody: So for our listeners tuning in for the first time, I’d like to provide some background information about you, Nathan. Could you go over your role at AGRU?
Nathan: My current position is a corporate quality control and technical manager. In this role I have two functions. One is technical review of specifications coming in, working with engineers to get specification problems corrected prior to manufacture. Also, working with any failed material or other problems or complaints that come into the field after the material has been shipped or installed.
The second aspect of my current position as quality manager, I’m responsible for all the quality activities at each of our five manufacturing plants here in the U.S. Four in South Carolina and one in Nevada.
Cody: Would you say that you are up close and personal with many elements of AGRU’s manufacturing process?
Nathan: Yes, I try to spend at least one week per quarter in each of our manufacturing plants to work with the quality people there, make sure our calibrations are up to date, make sure that our procedures are being followed and make sure that our manufacturing procedures are also being followed to produce the highest quality product that we can.
Cody: So you’ve worked in the geosynthetic industry for quite some time now, correct?
Nathan: Yes, I first started in 1993 right out of college, and I’ve been doing it ever since. So 25-plus years in the geosynthetics industry, in various roles, whether it be sales, technical, on quality or product management.
Cody: And you’ve worked at AGRU for how long?
Nathan: Been with AGRU a little over six years, actually six years this past June.
Cody: If I could be so blunt as to ask, what do you think differentiates AGRU products from its competitors’ in terms of its manufacturing and quality?
Nathan: Well, far and away, the biggest differentiator is our manufacturing process. We use flat die extrusion, not a blown-film process. The flat die process produces a geomembrane that is much more consistent in thickness both edge to edge, along the roll length and from roll to roll as the job is installed. Also, our textured MicroSpike is a patented embossed pattern that produces highly repeatable asperity height; again, from edge to edge and roll to roll. With other types of manufacturing processes such as blown-film the texture is produced through nitrogen mixing with resin, which can produce much different texture characteristics across the roll as the manufacturing for a particular project proceeds.
Cody: So in a recent blog about qualifying geosynthetics companies, we began to describe the policies as long-term strategies set forth by geosynthetic manufacturers. How do you think AGRU’s policy to use flat die extrusion affects the company’s product makeup?
Nathan: I think it greatly increases the consistency of our material. Again, we use the same raw materials that we’ve been using for years at AGRU. Some manufacturers will use whatever happens to provide better pricing at that point in time, but at AGRU we use only the highest quality version resin, blended with carbon masterbatch to produce our finished geomembrane sheets.
Cody: So we know that policies are closely tied to how geosynthetic manufacturing companies implement various procedures or steps taken to produce a product. Can you describe some of the procedures associated with your line of work?
Nathan: GRI GM13 and GRI GM17 are sort of the industry standard specifications for testing density, melt flow, OIT, tensile-tear, all the other physical properties of a finished geomembrane, as well as for incoming raw material. GRI GCL3 is an equivalent for synthetic clay liners. In all instances, AGRU’s testing frequencies meet or exceed frequency specified in any of those industry standard specifications. In addition, many times our test values are much higher than what is specified in either one of those test standards. Especially as it relates to textured HD abd LLDP geomembranes. Because we do have the flat-cast extrusion line, we are able to get much greater tensile strength and tensile break elongation as a result of our flat-cast extrusion process with the MicroSpike texture.
Cody: In our blog, we mention how certain procedures help with something called ‘process control’. Can you help explain process control?
Nathan: Yeah, so, we mainly control temperatures, speeds, pressures, those types of things in any of our manufacturing facilities, whether that be a geomembrane, geocompositor, GCL. Part of the process control loop is laboratory personnel testing material as it is made, providing feedback to manufacturing personnel. We don’t wait for an item to fail before we alert manufacturing, if any value even starts to dip, or gets below where we would ideally like for it to be, we immediately alert manufacturing so that they can initiate some steps to correct the problem in advance of any failing material being produced.
Cody: So what are some procedures that we implement at AGRU that help improve our process control?
Nathan: As I mentioned earlier, GRI GM 13 and 17 and GRI GCL3 all list specific test frequencies for various test properties. At AGRU, because we test more frequently than what these minimum standards specify, we are able to control our product process better, provide more immediate feedback to our manufacturing personnel if we find any criteria that’s being out of tolerance.
Cody: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I know that, from top-down, AGRU has a very high view of product quality. It’s one of the things that, if you ever talk to our founder, he’ll say this is the most important thing in our products.
I know industry developments can lead to some industry procedures becoming obsolete, could you describe some of the ways AGRU keeps up with changes in the industry to ensure its procedures are always updated?
Nathan: The two main bodies responsible for property generation are the ASTM and GRI (Geosynthetic Research Institute). AGRU participates in the biannual ASTM meetings, we also participate in the biannual GRI meeting to ensure we are out front of any changes to ASTM, GRI test methods or GRI GM test standards, as far as membranes and GCLs go.
Cody: Before we wrap up, I suppose no conversation about policies and procedures would be complete without talking about how the implementation of those things occur.
Nathan: Most of our lab training is on the job training. We require that a new technician has to work with an existing technician for several weeks before they’re able to go out on their own and start testing product. We also have a lot of training matrices in our HR department that show what employees are proficient at which tests so that we can always ensure that we have an ample supply of employees that can perform any testing that’s required.
I just think a high quality product starts with high quality materials and high quality people and at AGRU we believe that high quality raw materials is very important. We still test those incoming raw materials to ensure they’re quality before we start manufacturing any of our products with them, which results in some of the highest quality product in the industry today.
Cody: Thank you for your time today, Nathan, I’m sure that this will be helpful for a lot of people.
Nathan: Thanks, Cody, good to talk to you.