Global corporations grow through a series of building blocks; much like an erector set, the breadth of product complexity builds based upon everything that came before. Such a high level of achievement, you could say, begins with taking baby steps.
Take Gala Industries, a company whose name is synonymous with centrifugal drying and underwater pelletizing (UWP) in polymer production. With the largest number of global lab applications, making its technology the most available to its customer base worldwide, the company produces the simplest machine in the world – having the least number of parts – for the underwater pelletizing market. Gala also boasts the highest level of experienced staff utilizing absolute state-of-the-art cutting technology while simultaneously reducing the required number of actual mechanical parts to a minimum.
Given this notable level of sophistication, it is with respect bordering on wonderment that such a market leader would have its origins in the production of stainless steel baby diaper clips; necessary, of course, but not space-age technology.
But as company President David E. Bryan puts it, these simple little products “helped to pay the light bill” while company founder Buck Dudley, in the 1950s, worked on a product of greater technical innovation, perfecting what eventually would become his bread and butter.
The fruits of his labor were realized within a decade: Gala shipped its first centrifugal dryer in 1969 and the first small underwater pelletizer in 1978. It currently has more than 4,000 UWP system applications and approximately 6,000 centrifugal dryer applications, including those on systems (its nearest UWP competitor has under 400 applications).
“Our goal is to target specifically active areas of industry growth and develop special teams and lab equipment to serve these markets,” says Bryan. “Gala is currently developing relationships with key contacts in these markets, and we are quoting equipment into markets in which underwater pelletizing is new technology. The increased scope of supply provides Gala the opportunity to create increased profits and market share for both the company and its customers.”
It is through application diversity – not product diversity – that Gala garners its strength. Here are a few key points:
• Gala has the only complete UWP lab in the world focused on hot-melt adhesive (HMA) production, representing one of the company’s largest target markets, especially poignant in view of the current economic meltdown.
• Gala is building the only reaction extrusion, state of the art, UWP line in the world for lab purposes.
• TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) is another of its efforts to diversify through applications while specializing in UWP systems and centrifugal dryers.
• Gala’s LPU system is the smallest UWP pelletizing system in the world, with well over 100 sold and running successfully. The system can pelletize the largest size range of thermoplastics: 0.5mm through 6.00mm diameters are typical. The system shows Gala’s ability to create applications for the equipment that it specializes in building. Gala holds the dryer patents on this machine, as well as a larger model, the MB 500 system, which is designed for the compounding market.
Gala pelletizers are primarily used for compounding, masterbatches, hot melt adhesives, and reactor applications. More than 4,000 installed systems for throughputs ranging from 2 kg/h to 15,000 kg/h are a testimony to the company’s commitment, service, and success. Additionally, since the early 1960s, Gala has seen more 6,000 of its centrifugal dryers installed worldwide. These dryers are suitable for throughputs from 2 to 70,000 kg/h. Gala currently offers two dryer series: the standard “EASY ACCESS” and the “EASY CLEAN LOW NOISE” series.
A world-class operation, Gala also offers world-class service. The company’s key personnel (service, sales, and officers) supply customers with their direct phone numbers in order to ensure service is available 24 hours, and each of these individuals also carry a cell phone to ensure service. Gala has the most effective spares and service program of all other competitors worldwide; proof of this comes through comments from ongoing customer service follow up efforts. Gala also has a strong domestic and European presence. Its management is structured in such a way that quick and effective customer decisions are made daily, enabling customers to feel and, more importantly, know that they are talking to decision-makers at all levels of service and sales.
The birth phenomenon known as the “baby boom” may have been the ticket to Dudley’s initial success. Encouraged by his wife and sister – both nurses – he developed the Di-D-Klip for baby diapers. At that time, he was an engineer at Union Carbide Corporation in South Charleston, W.Va. Initially, his clips were produced in the basement of sister and brother-in-law, Mary and John Pauley in rural Botetourt County, Va., where the company now is located. Other family members also supported and invested in the operation in the early days.
When Gala Industries moved to a small storage building in Eagle Rock, and then to the present location, the Di-D-Klip operation moved as well, providing employment for several workers for many years. The clips were exported in bulk until the patent ran out and foreign competition ran in.
Meanwhile, as babies kept on demanding diaper clips, Dudley paid the bills and focused on his dryer design. After working with a few dryer customers, he saw the need for an underwater pelletizer designed for lower production rates. At the time, there were plenty of high-production pelletizers on the market but none that operated at rates under 5,000 pounds an hour. Dudley recognized his niche and made the first underwater pelletizer designed for these lower production rates. It was a natural transition from dryer to pelletizer because most of the dryer customers were using a pelletizer of some type to make their polymer.
Growth in leaps and bounds has prompted Gala to direct its marketing efforts toward three main facets of the plastics industry: virgin resin production, compounding, and recycling (both post-industrial and post-consumer). “There are countless applications that are involved within these industry facets,” Bryan says.
To establish a worldwide presence and better service customers in Europe, in 1987 Gala started its daughter company. Gala Kunststoff -und Kautschukmaschinen GmbH is located near Xanten, Germany, a 40-minute drive from Düsseldorf. This facility’s staff has become a major force in some of Gala’s newer equipment designs and improvements. Gala GmbH provides top quality sales, service, laboratory testing facilities, and engineering support for underwater pelletizing customers worldwide.
“Gala’s effectiveness in Europe has been built on our ability to present Gala GmbH as a strong decision making team,” Bryan explains. “It has been very important for customers to see this independence, whether it is through the Web site or in their decision making. To control Gala GmbH to the extent that customers see Gala GmbH only as an ineffective customer interface would be to lessen drastically the overall global effectiveness of Gala.”
Gala operates in a modern manufacturing facility with capabilities that include customized sheet metal fabrication, welding, painting, machining, final assembly and integral testing and quality control of all equipment before shipping. Says Carl M. (Mike) Dudding, vice president of manufacturing, Gala utilizes the latest technology of FEA analysis and 3D CAD/CAM software to ensure the highest quality possible for customers. Laser cutting, CNC machining centers, electrical discharge machining, MIG and TIG welding are among the array of cutting edge technologies utilized by the operation.
“The engineering group at Gala Industries can integrate our knowledge of pelletization, drying and processing into a system customized to serve every customer’s specific needs,” notes Dudding. “The electrical design and programming group have the capability of designing the controls of a system using components preferred by the customer to shorten the learning curve for the customer’s maintenance and operating personnel. The mechanical design group can customize the size and layout of a system to best fit the customer’s application and facility space available. Every project is a team effort between the customer, the salesperson and the engineering team on the project to ensure the customer requirements are fulfilled.”
Once equipment assembly is complete, the process of checking the physical appearance, mechanical stability, and the electrical wiring of the particular piece of equipment begins. The different system checks are recorded utilizing electrical and mechanical check-sheets. Once these system checks are made, the equipment is connected to the electrical or mechanical power source and various “operational” checks are made. Any equipment or documentation mistakes found during the checking process are recorded in a log and corrected before the equipment is released for shipment.
Basically a pelletizer takes a polymer – an essential ingredient in many consumer products – from molten form to pellet form. After various base materials and additives are mixed either in batch or by metering, the molten polymer emerges and is pumped through a die plate, after which it is cut into pellet form by rotating blades and merged into process water which helps cool and solidify the new-formed pellets. These are carried into the dewatering part of the system (centrifugal dryer), whereupon pellets and water are separated. In most cases, the pellets emerge from the dryer ready to be packaged.
Says Bryan, there are several advantages to Gala’s underwater pelletizing: among these:
• Low noise: The thermoplastic is cut underwater in a semi-molten condition.
• Simple startups: Gala Systems can be started with the push of a single button.
• Custom design: The engineering staff at Gala provides custom designs to meet specific needs.
• Diverse pellet sizes: Micropellets can be produced in sizes including .020″ (.50 mm) and smaller in many thermoplastics. Larger pellets can be produced in sizes from .020″ (.50 mm) to .125″ (3.2 mm) or larger.
In addition, Gala’s UWP systems combine many economic and ecological benefits to keep customers competitive. A safe pelletizing process and low energy requirements combine with flexible floor arrangements, automated start up, shutdown and remote operation for an operator -independent process. This process produces uniform pellets with smooth surfaces and in variable sizes to suit each customer’s specification. The process is suitable for various polymers, offering greater flexibility of a single machine. Being performed underwater, the process produces no oxidization of product, while offering clean operation and low noise levels.
Currently, Gala ships 56.9 percent of its product domestically, while 43.1 percent leaves U.S. shores for overseas markets (including Latin America and Canada). Two sources of business exist for the company: new pelletizing applications and upgrades of existing and older pelletizing technology.
“There are literally thousands of existing machines running globally that can potentially be upgraded to underwater pelletizing,” Bryan says. “We see our current market for machines being technology upgrades as opposed to added capacity. The plastics market is currently not running at full capacity, and customers are seeking added profits through increased efficiencies. This means underwater pelletizing upgrades will outpace needs for added capacity by a large margin. Plastics continue to unseat metals in many areas, especially automotive applications, another growth area. We know that our market will continually grow as more and more material applications for our technology are developed.”
In addition to manufacturing a top-level product, Gala’s key to success has been in promoting experienced and qualified people from within, Bryan adds. “We have 185 associates – 94 have over 10 years service with Gala; 30 have over 20 years service.”
Overall, the company’s policy for growth, he maintains, is to “concentrate on the processes and products we specialize in, prove our ability to process materials that are not conventionally pelletized underwater, and adapt our equipment and processes to fit the needs of the customer.”