Engineering Smarter Lumber
With an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and manufacturing plants in nearby Worthington and in the State of Virginia, Bedford Technology is celebrating twenty years of expertise and innovation as a manufacturer of recycled plastic lumber.
“We do the right things by the environment, by our customers, by our employees, and if you do all those things right, then the shareholders are taken care of,” said Bedford Technology Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Services Mike Nesdahl. “When you combine a forward-thinking, well-educated workforce and a Midwest work ethic, you get some pretty neat stuff.”
He explains, “We are one of the longest-standing, continuous manufacturers of reinforced plastic lumber products. There have been many that have come and gone, and others rose out of the ashes of bankruptcy, but we have never had any of that. We started as a plastic lumber manufacturer, and we’ve grown consistently over twenty years, acquiring brands and expanding our staff and product offerings. We’ve continuously invested into the business successfully, and I would argue we are the most innovative company as it relates to structural plastic. Our strengths are unmatched, our performance as it relates to structural are unmatched and our ability to provide solutions for our customers has been really good for us.”
Bedford Technology, he explained, began as a spinoff from Bedford Industries, which manufactures food packaging closures such as plastic twist ties and bag clips as well as machines that put the ties and clips on the packages. Twenty years ago, company engineers began working on projects to deal with plastic waste from trimming the ties instead of disposing it at landfills. “One of the earliest projects was manufacturing lumber profiles out of recycled plastic material, (HDPE or high-density polypropylene.) That was the start; from there it has evolved into additional product lines that are fiberglass reinforced and are truly structural in nature.”
The 2016 report ‘Plastics Market Watch: Building and Construction,’ issued by SPI: The Plastics Industry Association at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, indicates that the building and construction sector is one of the plastic industry’s key end markets, second only to packaging. According to the report, “that sector will increasingly use plastics and plastics derivatives given its wide functionality and distinct advantage of other traditional building materials in terms of flexibility, lower costs, energy, weathering efficiency, and durability.”
“The innovation within the plastics industry to improve and diversify products is matched by the building and construction sector’s pace to find and use new solutions to address fundamental issues like structural integrity, energy savings, recycling, and cost savings,” said SPI President and Chief Executive Officer William R. Carteaux in a 2016 Plastics Industry Association article: ‘The Growing Role of Plastics in Construction and Building.’
It can also be said that Bedford Technology has a distinct advantage over other manufacturers of plastic, as the company has had twenty years to perfect its distinct products, all manufactured in the United States and in-house. While the products all begin with recycled, single-use items such as milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles, the results, depending on the process used, fill diverse construction needs.
As Nesdahl explains, the company’s plastic lumber has applications for furniture, building, and marine use and when compared with wood or composites, is clearly a winner in every respect. When left untreated, wood is subject to rot and decay, which plastic lumber is not. And when it comes to load-bearing, two of Bedford Technology’s products, FiberForce® and BarForce® have industry-leading characteristics.
SelectForce®, the company’s first product, is the foundation for its other product lines. It has a wide range of uses as both furniture grade and standard lumber. It is especially ideal for outdoor furniture and playground equipment because it is durable and available in a variety of colors.
How many? “Over sixty,” says Andrea Huffman, Business Development and Marketing Manager, and goes on to describe bright red, deep orange, yellow, blue and green and more subtle shades of cedar and weathered wood, some with wood grain textures, and its benefits. It is low maintenance and color-fast, graffiti comes right off with a pressure washer, and it is easy for anyone with basic carpentry skills to work with it. It can also have added strength and rigidity depending on project requirements and can be used for decks and fencing.
FiberForce® is engineered with fiberglass strands that increase stiffness and strength, making it an excellent choice for retaining walls, boardwalks, marinas, and docks. Even stronger is BarForce®, reinforced with fiberglass polymer rebar, and engineered to be one of the toughest products on the market.
“FiberForce® and BarForce® are the differentiators for Bedford,” Nesdahl said, “because they are truly engineered products that have superior performance characteristics. Because they are manufactured, the consistency can be specified and designed to. Other manufacturers of this material aren’t able to get to the strength performance characteristics that we have (with these two products) specifically. They’ve tried to emulate it over the years, and no one has been able to duplicate it.”
SeaPile® and SeaTimber® are engineered at Bedford Technology’s plant in Virginia, through a complex, multiple-stage extrusion process, “specifically for large timber replacement for the marine industry to replace wood piles and cross fenders for bridge and port protection systems,” said Nesdahl. “These are really large timbers, all the way up to sixteen inches in diameter.”
These products do not pollute, do not leak compounds that can damage sea life, and they are durable. As Nesdahl explains, after acquiring the Virginia plant where SeaPile® and SeaTimber® had been produced, Bedford Technology representatives checked on the piles that had been installed at the Port of New Orleans twenty-five years earlier and found only two needing replacement.
SmarterFence™ is Bedford’s newest product having just been released on the market in September 2018, to coincide with the company’s twentieth anniversary. “The reinforced FiberForce® that we use to create a post and board fence (with the addition of a technologically-advanced fastening method) will give all the performance characteristics of wood fencing while taking out the need for replacement and maintenance. There have been other fences in the past (produced by other companies), with vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or whatever, and they looked good for a while, but they were hollow and didn’t have the strength of a traditional board fence to hold back animals. So what we’ve been able to do with our reinforced FiberForce® product is create a post and board fence that behaves like wood but is maintenance-free,” says Nesdahl.
Plastics it seems have an undeservedly bad reputation in terms of the environment, but Bedford Technology is determined to prove otherwise. Through recycling single-use plastic containers, such as milk jugs, Bedford is keeping tens of millions of plastic products out of landfills.
But that is not the whole story, as Nesdahl explained. “Plastic is one hundred percent recyclable, so if someone gets to the end of a project and has material left over or they want to change something, we’ll buy it back, grind it up, and put it into the next project. Plastic is getting a pretty hard rep today but, managed in the appropriate manner, it’s a renewable energy source that can be used over and over.”
The most important caveat is that it can be put into long-term projects, such as FiberForce® that Bedford manufactures, which comes with a fifty-year warranty, “but could last one hundred years or more. So, our ability to repurpose plastic into long-term sustainable products and not use wood that needs to be chemically treated is doubly good.”
Chemical compounds such as chromated copper arsenate (CCA) are used to treat wood, and this arsenical compound gives treated lumber both its distinctive greenish tint and its toxicity. “You don’t want that leaching into the groundwater. The government doesn’t like it to be used, although it can be used in certain circumstances, and there’s another problem. Treated wood is not lasting anyway, because the wood that’s being used today is a farmed product, which means it’s grown in a shorter timeframe, so it has fewer rings per space. So, once a two-by-four might have been made from a ten or fifteen-year-old tree, and now it’s being made from one that’s only seven years old. Because of that, the rings are further apart, and there’s sponginess between them. The wood can be treated, but still won’t last as long. The problem is a combination of poor quality wood with an ineffective treatment process, and you’re seeing treated lumber failing all over the place.”
Employees can feel proud of the products that bear the name Bedford Technology because everything is produced in-house. “With an in-house engineering team we have the ability to test our products, so the consumer receives a high-quality product suited for a specific application,” as Nesdahl says.
“I feel I have a real purpose working here because not only am I helping with our organization’s goals and helping the company grow and make an impact, I’m helping to keep plastics out of landfill and making a product that benefits consumers and the environment at the same time,” added Huffman. “We have a phenomenal team here. They are really knowledgeable and are empowered to make decisions and develop company culture, and that is important to me.”
“One of the best things here is you get to make a difference,” Nesdahl agreed. “We are not some massive corporate conglomerate. Everyone here can put value into the products and the process, and everyone is listened to. Our management is very responsive to us and to our customers and to the environment.”