Day 6: Aluminum, bioplastics, grain and more in Eastern Washington (w/ video)
The range of what Washington can grow, produce, refine and create was on display during the sixth day of AWB’s Manufacturing Week bus tour, as the group swung south from Spokane to Pullman, Clarkston and Pomeroy.
From the ultra-precise equipment created by Wagstaff in Spokane Valley to cutting-edge research on how to do more with Washington’s natural resources at WSU - and then on to boat-building and grain storage - it was a reminder that Washington’s manufacturing sector is diverse.
Wagstaff Inc., Spokane Valley
Wagstaff, Inc. has been manufacturing direct mold casts in Spokane for over 70 years, and going into their fourth generation are still a family-owned company.
Today, they have 479 employees and over 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space across the world, with their flagship facility in Spokane Valley.
Wagstaff is the largest producer of direct mold casting in the world, exporting three-quarters of their products to over 58 countries. The company’s products are used in aerospace, nuclear technology and more.
AWB’s tour guide today was Cal Christen, who also teaches machining part time at Spokane Community College computer numerical control (CNC) machinist program - the same program that he went through at the beginning of his career.
The tour passed by Carl Bingham, a 17-year employee of Wagstaff, Inc. in Spokane Valley, who was using a boring mill to face a product that will become a filter for highly radioactive plutonium. It will take a full 10-hour day to finish his work on this part.
“It's an awesome feeling to know that I'm part of the production of the future of nuclear power and nuclear research,” said Bingham.
WSU Composite Materials and Engineering Center, Pullman
WSU’s engineering faculty met with AWB’s manufacturing tour group to discuss their cutting-edge research on cross-laminated timber, biofuels and bioplastics, composites recycling, and much more.
Among the lab’s projects: developing a process for recycling eroded wind turbine blades, old boats, RVs and other composites into a glass fiber product that serve as a replacement for plywood. It is ideal for environments with high humidity because of the material’s ability to stand up to humidity and fungal decay. It’s also good for environments where wood falls short, like for siding, commercial flooring or on oil rigs.
The lab demonstrated the strength of cross-laminated timber (CLT) compared to plain wood with a standard strength test. The test CLT section withstood 26,000 pounds of pressure before any part of the section fractured. That’s almost as heavy as three full-grown orca whales. In comparison, 500-800 pounds of pressure would break plain wood.
The product uses the small diameter timber that is a product of forest restoration, management and wildfire prevention.
Vikram Yadama, a WSU associate professor in civil engineering and site director of the university’s Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, showed off a construction product made from chips of wood held together with resin and then filled with foam. This light, strong, fully insulated product can be used as both drywall and frame for a wall — no studs required. The wall can be tilted into place.
Yadama and his colleagues at WSU are working on a number of innovative products designed to create products like fuel and plastics from wood and other organic, locally produced materials.
Renaissance Marine Group, Clarkston
Renaissance Marine Group produces 60 models of heavy-gauge welded aluminum boats under the Duckworth, Weldcraft and Northwest Boats brands. The company’s 75,000-square-foot production facility in Clarkston is home to 125 employees.
The company sells through 40 independent dealers in the western United States and Canada, and even St. Petersburg, Russia. Recent expansion has brought the boats into the Great Lakes markets.
In producing boats the company cuts a third of a mile of sheet metal each week, equaling 5 miles of cutting, all while increasing safety. In fact, the company has seen an 82% reduction in recordable injuries since 2014.
Jackie Johnson spoke with AWB while wrapping cables on a boat nearing the end of its production in Clarkston.
Johnson, who has worked for about six months for the company, is a finisher, meaning she helps make sure every part of the boat is right before it leaves the production floor.
“I absolutely love it,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do. We're the last stop on the line and the last people to see it before the customer sees it. Anything that could be wrong, I mean anything, it's our job to spot it and make sure it's addressed before it's shipped out. We're like the last line of defense. People save their entire life to purchase one of these boats,and I get to make it look ‘wow.’”
Pomeroy Grain Growers
The truck traffic is year-round at the Pomeroy Grain Growers Inc.
The grain elevator is currently home for 2.6 million bushels of wheat in its standing pit, and 1.8 million bushels in the ground pile. Starting this week, the 200-foot-wide, 600-foot-long pile will be tarped, with air pulled through it to keep it dry.
Their barge loader can move 15,000 bushels an hour, which will fill a barge in 6-8 hours.
The soft white wheat waiting for the barges will be transported by river to Portland, where it is then bound for international markets, including many customers in Japan.
The grain elevator will load 2-3 barges a week while the locks are open.
All of the grain here was grown in Garfield County by the owners of this cooperative enterprise that stores and coordinates the shipment of this Washington product to the world.
AWB’s Lori Maricle contributed to this report.