ADS installs area's first field 'tile' making plant

BUXTON, N.D. -- Advanced Drainage Systems Inc. of Hilliard, Ohio, fired up the first new drainage pipe manufacturing plant in the central Red River Valley in mid-March.

Drain tile
James Kraviec, an Advanced Drainage Systems technician, works to properly coil new tile at the company's new Buxton, N.D., manufacturing plant. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

BUXTON, N.D. -- Advanced Drainage Systems Inc. of Hilliard, Ohio, fired up the first new drainage pipe manufacturing plant in the central Red River Valley in mid-March.

Drain tile installation has been increasing significantly in the past five years in the region as land values, wet soils and salt problems have added to demand. The tile-making operation was a logical step, considering transportation costs for the hollow tubing.

The facility involves an undisclosed investment. It includes some new equipment and some moved from elsewhere. The facility's first production level can expand, if demand allows, says Mike Gatt, director of pipe manufacturing operations for the company.

ADS has been installed in a former auction center, just to the west of Interstate-29. The plant takes much of the east half of the building and is a major user of electric power. It will employ 20 to 25 people.

Mike Gatt, director of pipe manufacturing operations for ADS, says the Buxton, N.D., location is perfect for the company to provide "drain tile," or pipe, for agricultural field operations in the Red River Valley area and a radius. It will supply ADS customers in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, as well as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, although there are overlaps with other plants. It will be the major supplier of field drainage pipe to installers and customers in the region.


The Upper Great Plains area, now served by this plant, formerly had been getting most its pipe out of an ADS plant in Fairmont, Minn., in the southwest part of the state. Instead of adding on to that plant, the company decided to create a new one.

"We'd been seeing a rapid escalation of what that plant was shipping west into North Dakota and South Dakota," Gatt says. "It's getting expensive to ship it, so we thought, 'Why not make it where we're using it?' When you ship pipe, you're shipping a lot of air. People put in miles of this stuff, so we looked to put a plant in the middle of where the demand is."

Middle of new demand

Field drainage pipe for this region often is shipped in semi-trailers. A semi-trailer of 4-inch-diameter plastic pipe, a kind often used in this area, typically can take 18,000 feet of pipe, although the material capacity differs with various kinds of vehicles.

Gatt says the company looked at various locations within 50 miles of the middle of the Red River Valley and but settled on Buxton because of the building's proximity and access to I-29. Coincidentally, the building is co-owned by Ross Johnson of Mayville, N.D. Johnson is a principle in Agassiz Drainage Systems Inc., which is housed in the same building. Agassiz Drainage is only one of several customers for pipe from ADS. Other significant installers include Ellingson Drainage and Field Drainage Inc. of Brooks, Minn.

Other pipe installers, however, also are pleased about the development. Cindy Determan, an owner of Field Drainage Inc. of Brooks, says the location means handier access to pipe, although the company has had a good reputation as a timely supplier. She says ADS has discussed the possibility of allowing tile installers to come and get their own tile rather than having it delivered only through the manufacturer.

ADS is an industry leader in drain tile manufacturing. The company was started in 1966 as Advance Drainage Systems Inc introduced corrugated field tile in the United States market in 1966. The agricultural market was 100 percent converted from clay tile to high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, by 1978.

HDPE was lightweight, highly resistant to corrosion and abrasion and could withstand "severe loading conditions." Soon, the ADS pipe was adopted for applications including agriculture, mining, forestry, recreation and civil engineering. Gatt explains that pipe is made with a combination of "virgin" and recycled materials.


Gatt is responsible for all of ADS' plants of this kind, from coast to coast.

'Long green line'

ADS has 22 distribution centers and 51 plants worldwide, including 42 in the United States. The company says it has some 350 salespeople, 35 regional engineers, 100 customer service representatives, 600 semi-tractors, nearly 1,000 semi-trailers.

In the 1980s, ADS started marketing its wares under the "Long Green Line," which is denoted by a chartreuse-like green color molded into the side of much of what it produces. The company describes itself as the "largest, most experienced manufacturer of corrugated polyethylene pipe products in the world," producing the pipe itself, as well as joints and accessories. There are regional competitors, but most of that is other type of pipe material -- reinforced pipe, PVC, or metal.

In 1982, ADS introduced 18- and 24-inch pipes. These helped the company compete in the construction area. In 1987, the company introduced products for storm sewer applications -- a large diameter pipe with a smooth interior. This product became the choice, over concrete corrugated metal and other materials.

Companywide, the company produces pipe in diameters from 3-inch to 60-inch. Initially, only 3-, 4- and 5-inch pipes are planned for will be produced in Buxton. Tori Durliat, director of marketing for ADS, emphasizes that the company can sell all of its pipe products to its customers.

Gatt says the size of drainage pipe is determined by the customers. Some agricultural field tile installers for farmers in the Red River Valley do most of their work with 3-inch pipe, while other particular areas like "4s and 5s." They'll sell a full line of pipe, depending on customer.



Multi-step process

Here are the steps in the process:

- Extruder: This converts the chunks of plastic into molten form, like a putty-like consistency, Gatt says. The melted plastic is in the 380- to 400-degrees Fahrenheit range. This equipment adds "carbon black" color to the colored recycled materials. Other compound protect it from ultraviolet rays from the sun.

- Die: This molds the plastic into a thin wall.

- Corrugator: This provides the corrugated outer wall appearance, and is effected by using electrical heat. The corrugated form is for strength. "The pipe surface is 'arched,' for pipe integrity, so that it has strength," he says. (For agriculture all pipe is corrugated, although some applications have a smooth exterior.)

- Perforator: This is a piece of equipment that can be brought in and taken out, depending on whether the tile is destined for an application in which excess water from the soil is designed to seep into the pipe or simply run through it.

- Cooling tank: A tank with a series of sprayers cools the freshly made pipe. Water is recycled into an outdoor cooling tower, and is reused.

- Coilers: These are simple machines that wind the pipe into coils for transportation to the field.


- Outdoor warehouse: The pipe will be produced year-round. Shipping season is heaviest during the construction season.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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