Molded Polyurethane – what is it? You’ve likely encountered it more than you think: it is the leading product of choice for making roller-skate wheels, golf ball covers, bowling balls, scuba fins, and more. It is also popular in the industrial world, used in mining, agriculture, material handling, and the oil and gas businesses.
Argonics, Inc., located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, knows the effectiveness of polyurethane and uses it in applications around the globe. While other companies manufacture urethane (short for polyurethane) products, Argonics stays ahead of its competition with custom urethane formulations designed for durability, strength, and structural soundness.
The history of Argonics, Inc. begins in Colorado during the 1960s with a company named Kryptonics, a producer of a diverse range of industrial products for the mining and printing industries. Kryptonics developed proprietary urethane formulations that they marketed as Kryptane®, which became an industry leader in the urethane world.
During the mid-1970s, skateboarding exploded onto the scene, and Kryptonics began producing skateboard and roller-skate wheels. Due to the superior performance of the polyurethane wheels, Kryptonics became the world’s largest manufacturer of polyurethane skateboard and roller-skate wheels. Wheel production alone brought in $80 million in revenue, not accounting for inflation.
In early 1993, Kryptonics moved its operations from Boulder, Colorado to Louisville, Colorado. At the same time, it sold its mining and industrial division to Bob Flood, who had previously been employed by a distributor of Kryptonics products. Flood had been designing and marketing molded components to mines in both the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Arizona/New Mexico. The mining and industrial division purchase by Flood, (which was incorporated under the name Argonics, Inc. shortly thereafter) included molds, machinery, inventory and general information; however, the main reason for the acquisition was to become a licensee of the manufacture and sale of the proprietary polyurethane formulas.
On December 29, 1993, Argonics first poured urethane from its dispensing machine; yet, this new Michigan plant was in need of a distribution network and set out to find what customers wanted. During the next few years that followed, Argonics began working with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) and their engineers to improve products, while also developing a line of replacement blades for other manufacturers’ conveyor belt cleaning systems.
“We made retrofit blades with our polyurethane. It worked out well as they were far superior to anything that was available in the market at that time,” said Robert Welker, current marketing manager at Argonics, Inc.
Drawing on the success of the retrofit blades, Argonics came out with its own patented belt cleaner system called The Eraser. Named because of the way it erases dirt from a conveyor belt, The Eraser was the beginning of Argonics’ conveyor product line.
In the late 1990s, the line of roller-skate and skateboard wheels made by Kryptonics was also sold off (including the company name and trademark Kryptonics), leaving a small urethane manufacturing plant in Louisville, Colorado, operating by the business name Kryptane Systems. In 2006, Argonics purchased Kryptane Systems, securing the rights to the proprietary urethane formulations.
This purchase allowed the expansion into a greater market of products. With the Argonics-Kryptane Systems partnership, the company continued to look for ways to make a difference with urethane products. The spirit of doing and creating paid off, and in 2007, Argonics received an award for Entrepreneurial Excellence from Operation Action U.P., a private-sector economic development organization.
Argonics had no plans of slowing down, and in 2009, it took a big step and entered a long term lease agreement for a 72,000 square foot facility in Gwinn, Michigan on a decommissioned Air Force Base called KI Sawyer. The new location provided a significant upgrade from the company’s prior facility in Marquette, Michigan – located about 20 minutes from Gwinn – which had been comprised of five separate buildings and totaled only 40,000 square feet. Extensive renovation was put into the Gwinn building, allowing the entire operation to finally be under one roof.
With hard work comes success, and in 2009, Argonics was named one of Michigan’s Top 50 Companies to Watch.
Although the company had found success in the conveyor industry, Argonics continued with its strategic goals of being “more than a conveyor parts company.” The new facility proved to be a catalyst for entry into other markets and industries. Today, the company makes products, big and small, for businesses and applications around the world.
“We now manufacture items for military applications, gas and oil pipelines, and medical devices [used in prosthetic limbs],” said Welker. “We also got into developing a line of public works products and have had success with that.”
Having Kryptane Systems as a division of Argonics has also made an impact on the range of products that can be manufactured and sold. The Kryptane acquisition has allowed Argonics to add to its lines of products: noise-free polyurethane springs for reclining movie theater seats, luggage wheels, wheel chair wheels, specialized agriculture products, and more.
“It’s a nice synergy. In the past, we had turned away a lot of requests for quotes on small items that needed manufacturing,” said Welker. “The Colorado plant can [now] handle this.”
Overseeing all the products is a new Quality Assurance position, which is what Argonics won its most recent award for: the 2017 Plus One Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
“This was awarded to us due to a new hire/position that we created … we do so many different parts in so many different ways, and they all have different tolerances. [This position] is someone whose sole focus is quality, tracking quality, and addressing any issues that we have and seeing those through,” said Welker.
Argonics currently has a global presence in 33 countries, covering all but one continent. Domestically, Argonics exhibits at tradeshows around the United States every year. In 2017 alone, Argonics slated over 20 tradeshows to its calendar in different industries: municipal, concrete, construction, and agriculture.
“The goal is to grow Argonics into different countries, to branch out globally and look for more customers,” said Welker, who presently maintains distribution in the Netherlands and Australia.
Argonics is experiencing record growth, and has predications that 2018 will be a big year.
“We keep ourselves open to just about anything but also realize that urethane may not be the right fit for everyone,” said Welker. “We are going to try and dominate the world.”