By Eric Peterson | Nov 28, 2017
Grand Junction, Colorado
200 (100 in Colorado)
Polymer panels and structures
Grand Junction, Colorado
Employees: 200 (100 in Grand Junction)
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Polymer panels and structures
After graduating from the college now named Colorado Mesa University in 1994, Baker went to work building the newly relocated manufacturer's 75,000-square-foot facility in Grand Junction. What began as a summer job emerged as a full-fledged career, and Baker rose in the ranks to head up the company's operations in Colorado.
Originally founded by Roger Reynolds III in California, Reynolds Polymer Technology has long won acclaim for manufacturing acrylic panels for enclosures at aquariums and zoos. In its more than 30 years in business, the company has roughly 2,000 installations in 57 countries, a portfolio that includes all kinds of showstopper tanks for sharks and other creatures of the deep.
In Baker's 20-plus years with Reynolds, he's seen the market grow -- as well as the size of the products. In 1994, he says, "A big window was 10 feet by 27 feet. Now we're making windows that are 130 feet long by 27 feet tall and three feet thick. We've really pushed the limits on acrylic."
Reynolds' "mega-panels” are made possible by a "signature bond" on seams of multiple smaller panels the company introduced in 2015. "We're the only ones in the worlds that can do that," says Baker. Proprietary monolithic pouring technology allow for laminate-free final products, he adds.
Reynolds is also moving from enclosures at aquaria into other markets, including aerospace and architectural and structural products. Recent projects included materials for military-grade flight simulators and artistic signage and sculptures.
"Pools are a big thing," says Baker, touting acrylic as the ideal material for infinity-edge designs. "We're doing a lot of commercial and residential pools." Transparent balconies and observation decks are also popular, he adds. "It's all acrylic and cantilevered over the building so you can see 40 stories down."
The company is expanding into the broader construction market in 2018. "Reynolds has a patent-pending technology for fire-rated acrylics," says Baker. "Nobody has been able to do that." What's the stumbling block? "Acrylic smokes really bad," he explains. "This is a game changer because glass only goes so big." Reynolds Polymer's innovation means buildings can make entire exterior walls of acrylic and skylights measuring 50 feet across.
Since 2015, exports have driven Reynolds' growth as China emerged as the company's top market. "It's over 50 percent of our business now," says Baker. "We've done a lot of big projects in China. China is booming." In 2016, the company launched a website specifically for the Chinese market.
The company services the market with the help of a manufacturing facility in Thailand with about 95 employees that makes panels less than four inches thick; the Grand Junction plant manufactures panels thicker than four inches.
"They go hand in hand with us here," says Baker, noting that Reynolds wasn't competitive in the thinner-gauge panels until it opened a 43,700-square-foot Thailand factory in 2000 and expanded it by 33,000 square feet in 2013.
As about 20 percent of 2017 sales went to domestic customers, the company is also growing in several other international markets. "It used to be 90 percent States, 10 percent international," says Baker, noting that Reynolds made the the world's largest acrylic cylinder for a mall in Moscow.
The company does not disclose annual revenues, but Baker reports an upswing. After plateauing in 2015 and 2016, sales are on the rise in 2017 and he projects 20 percent growth in 2018.
Challenges: Supply chain. The market for key ingredient methyl methacrylate is tight. "There's been an allocation of that material, so that's been a challenge for us," says Baker. "We definitely have to plan ahead and order it in advance."
Opportunities: Continued export growth. "Europe's starting to pick up again, as well as the Middle East," says Baker. "India's looking very promising as well."
Innovative new processes are another opportunity, and fire-rated acrylic structures are just one aspect. "Coming up in the near future, we're starting to cast structures to shape," says Baker. "We're in the R&D phase of building molds."
Needs: Employees. Reynolds is currently in the process of hiring 11 employees, ranging from material handlers to CNC operators, says Baker. "It's been a challenge to hire skilled labor." Oil and gas is hiring on the Western Slope, he adds, compounding the problem. "It's definitely taking workforce out of the community."
Another: "We have almost outgrown our facility, because of the material getting so much larger and the growth we've experienced since we built it," says Baker, noting that the decision to build or move has not been made. "It's millions of dollars to move all of our equipment."