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In this article, we will share AGRU’s origin and growth to become one of the top HDPE pipe manufacturers, USA and worldwide.
Behind every company there is a story. For AGRU, the story is one of opportunity, determination, and innovation. In 1948, Alois Gruber Sr. founded two companies, a locksmith in Bad Hall and an anodizing company in Grünburg. Today, more than 70 years later, the company has reached international recognition as one of the top HDPE pipe manufacturers, USA and worldwide.
During the late 1940s, Austria was in economic and social recovery. The government, reformed as the Second Republic, was focused on rebuilding infrastructure, education, and trade. Although Austria would benefit from Allies assistance, including the Marshall Plan, full recovery would require time.
In this recovering environment, Gruber Sr.’s first forays into the world of business faced significant challenge. By the mid-1950s, seeking stability, Gruber Sr. expanded the anodizing business by adding the ability to apply powder coatings and developing an in-house wet paint shop. These decisions led to a successful and sustainable business.
Dawn of plastics
Although plastics were first discovered by accident as far back as 1898, it wasn’t seen as a viable industrial product until the 1930s when chemists demonstrated reproducible high-pressure synthesis for polyethylene. However, the true breakthrough for commercial production came during the 1950s with the discovery of manufacturing catalysts that could be used to promote polymerization at milder temperatures and pressures.
Seeing an opportunity, Gruber Sr. made a decision to begin manufacturing plastic products in 1961—focusing on polypropylene and polyethylene pipes. In 1962, AGRU finished the construction of a modest sized combination office, residential, and production hall and manufactured its first pipes. Business boomed. In 1966, major contracts for fittings and injection moldings led to the construction of the company’s first dedicated anodizing plant and plastics hall, which opened a year later. By this point, AGRU was also manufacturing sheets, round bars, and welding rods.
First major expansion
In 1974, AGRU had reached a significant milestone by exporting products to 20 countries. To keep up with the logistics of the growing business, the company moved into a new, spacious office building in Austria and modernized its accounting system by installing a state-of-the-art computer system.
In 1976, AGRU also expanded its production capabilities to include PVDF pipes and semi-finished sheets. AGRU’s first polyethylene liner production line was developed in 1985 at its Waldneukirchen, Austria plant, enabling the company to produce 5 m width liners using the calender method. Two years later, in 1987, AGRU finished construction of its first clean room dedicated to PVDF pipe and fitting production for specialized applications.
AGRU America and second major expansion
With overseas business growing at an exceptional rate, Gruber Sr. set the company on course to open its first international facility in the United States. In 1988, AGRU America was born with the construction of a facility in Boston, Massachusetts. During this time, AGRU entered a second period of rapid expansion.
By 1991, AGRU finished construction of its second production facility in Austria, a large 24,000 m2 facility dedicated to the production of pipes, sheets, and liners. AGRU’s first facility was now focused on fitting production and mold design. That same year, AGRU began a joint venture with FRANK GmbH (AGRU-FRANK GmbH) to manufacture pipe in Wölfersheim, Germany.
Passing of the torch
In 1998, Mag. Alois Gruber took over the responsibilities of managing the eponymous family business from his father. His first initiative was to execute his father’s vision for AGRU in the United States. Just a few years earlier, Gruber Sr. led a relocation of AGRU America to Georgetown, South Carolina, where the company would be better located to meet the growing demand for geosynthetics. The relocation coincided with Mr. Robert Johnson’s promotion to president of AGRU America in 1997.
Mag. Gruber oversaw further AGRU development in Austria, introducing the company’s first electrofusion fittings in 1998. The company entered the new millennium strong, building a dedicated production hall for electrofusion fittings and a high-bay warehouse for molds in 2001. AGRU’s success in the subsequent years led to further expansion overseas. By 2008, AGRU America opened its second production facility in Fernley, Nevada.
A commitment to HDPE pipes and fittings
In 2012, AGRU America acquired a production facility to produce nonwoven geotextiles, later expanding it to also include a dedicated facility to produce fittings sized specifically for U.S. customers.
In 2014, recognizing an opportunity to improve AGRU’s global presence, Mag. Gruber approved a plan to commence production of injection molded polyethylene butt fittings and transition fittings. Shortly after, AGRU America began construction of a new manufacturing facility in Charleston, South Carolina that would be dedicated toward the production of large diameter polyethylene pipes. The facility was completed a year later and by Spring 2017, the company shipped its first HDPE XXL pipe from the facility.
The $29.6 million investment has enabled the company to now produce among the largest diameter HDPE pipes in the world, with an outer diameter of 3,500 mm. The facility extrudes pipe strings of up to 600 m in length directly onto the water for ocean towing. Earlier this year, on August 2019, AGRU announced an expansion to its SDR7 molded HDPE AGRULINE product line with the introduction of a first-in-class 10” SDR7 HDPE Butt Tee (3). The 10” SDR7 Tee is especially beneficial in the oil and gas industry. Because the fitting is produced with such a high wall thickness, it can be heat fusion joined without additional wraps that are often required in the field. The result is a leak-proof piping system that is installed faster, and with fewer inefficiencies.
- 1. “The AGRU Story.” https://www.agru.at/en/company/history/.
- 2. Kavanaugh, “AGRU America manufactures massive HDPE pipe.” Plastics News. (2017). https://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20170411/NEWS/170419979/agru-america-manufactures-massive-hdpe-pipe.