When given a choice of travel cups to put their hot beverages in, many people will choose a stainless steel interior over one with plastic. This is an example of how reflective technology keeps heat in. The same principle is used by the reflective insulations manufactured by Reflectix Inc.
“Our product is like a thermos jug,” President Dale Tokarski explains. “That environment keeps hot things hot and cold things cold. So if a region of the country like the Southwest is a very hot climate, our product is reflecting that radiant heat out. In another part of the country where it’s a cooler climate, it’s used to keep that heat in. It’s pointing inward and outward – we have foil on both sides of many of our products.”
For maximum effectiveness, the reflective foil also needs an air space. “The air does a couple things,” Vice President of Technical Services Monty Millspaugh points out. “It provides some thermal resistance and also separates the two layers of reflective surface, especially in metal buildings and in packaging. When the temperature differential gets large, having that air in between the foils really does a lot to help in preventing condensation.”
On many Reflectix products, the air is contained in a plastic bubble that is laminated to the foil. That bubble is produced by the company’s specialized manufacturing equipment pulling a vacuum on the product. “The primary product for us is the double bubble with reflective properties on both sides,” Tokarski says. “Although we make other products, that is the staple of what we do. The beauty of our product is that it’s used in conjunction with fiberglass, foams and cellulose, and then there are other applications where it’s a standalone insulation. That expands your market. A lot of your heat gain in a home is through radiance, not necessarily through convection or induction.”
Made in School
Reflectix products are manufactured at the company’s 60,000-square-foot headquarters that is in two former school buildings in Markleville, Ind. “Between those was a driveway and a big incinerator,” Millspaugh says. “We took the incinerator out in 1985, enclosed what used to be a driveway with metal trusses and a building, poured concrete and put in the heat-set laminator.”
In that 15,000 square feet between the buildings, polyethylene film and metallized polyester or aluminum foil are laminated together and a vacuum pulled to form the air bubbles in the polyethylene. “That laminator can handle up to eight webs at one time,” Millspaugh notes.
Two of the webs handle the foil and three the polyethylene film. The machine’s two embossing cylinders will laminate the products and pull the vacuum in one pass. “We also have about eight or 12 different machines that do conversion and cut the bulk material down into whatever size we’re selling or the customer needs,” Millspaugh adds. “That is also in an area of the property that was a big parking lot that we enclosed.”
Among the improvements made to the production process is the installation of electronic guides. “When you’re moving a web of polyethylene as far as we do and heating it up, you’ve got to be able to guide the film so that it doesn’t rip, tear or wrap,” Millspaugh explains. “Those infrared heaters can be 1,500 degrees, but the polyester doesn’t get that hot. It has a very short dwell time.”
Computers control the amount of adhesive being applied on the laminator and the web path to preserve alignment. Much of Reflectix’s production equipment has been in use for more than a decade. “These are very industrial pieces of equipment that have a long lifespan,” Tokarski says. “They’re not updated a lot. If you’re doing preventive maintenance, you’re going to have a lot of miles on these machines and can keep them for a decade or two.”
The products and materials used do not change frequently, either. “In the last 16 years, there’s only been one major change in the product, and that had to do with building codes in the United States and the fire testing method that changed,” Millspaugh recalls. “It did cause us to make some changes to our product.”
The change was to use metallized polyester in place of aluminum foil. “It has the same reflectivity, but it has better fire safety characteristics,” Millspaugh says. “It doesn’t burn – it melts and gets completely out of the way, but it doesn’t contribute to the fire or the spread of a flame.”
Reflectix has long-term relationships with its suppliers. “We work very closely with our suppliers so we’re assured that we’re getting the proper specifications of our films and our foils,” Tokarski emphasizes. “We’ve got a preventive maintenance program to ensure that our machines are going to run and process properly.”
The company also has long-term relationships with its employees. “We’re overrun with long-time employees,” Tokarski quips. “I’ve been here 16 years, and Monty has been here 34 years. Our average employee has probably been here eight or nine years. There’s not a lot of turnover. We’ve been fairly fortunate. The surrounding area was heavily automotive. GM had a big presence in the area. It doesn’t anymore, but it left behind a very skilled workforce.”
They are one of the reasons that Tokarski cites for Reflectix’s success. “It’s about people,” he stresses. “We’ve got a great work ethic, and we’ve got a great bunch of people that are committed to delivering a quality product first time, every time.”
Tokarski foresees continuing growth in the reflective insulation market. “It’s been around for many years, and it really hasn’t gained a foothold in many of the industries that we serve,” Tokarski observes. “As the consumer understands the benefits of our product, we’ve seen growth throughout each and every one of the industries we participate in. The product is very easy to use, very flexible, easy to cut and it doesn’t require special handling. For all of those reasons, it’s a product of choice in the marketplace.”