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Artillery Shells to Bathtubs

<![CDATA[With the porcelain coating applied, tub "shells" make their way to the injection-molding area.]]>

A lot of history has passed through the Lixil’s American Standard Americast plant in Salem, OH. Established in 1872 by Kitterage, Clark & Co., to produce metal ornaments, the facility has been operated by several versions of companies. Most notably was in 1937 when the Mullins Manufacturing Corp. was formed and began manufacturing porcelain enamel steel cabinets.

WW II artillery shells manufactured by Mullins Mfg. Co.

World War II interrupted manufacturing and, in the early 1940s, the plant was used to produce artillery shells and other materials for the war effort. Massive presses, that were manufactured in the 1920s, were the primary metal-forming tools at that time. They are still in operation today as part of the American Standard bathtub-manufacturing process.

The plant is a fascinating spectrum of manufacturing technology. At one end are those massive presses that require manual loading and unloading but, after almost 100 years of operation, are still effectively producing the company’s Cambridge line of tubs. At the other end of the spectrum is a fully automated manufacturing/assembly line you would expect to see in any modern-day plant. It’s this system that “assembles” the Americast bathtub components. American Standard began manufacturing their Americast bathtub in 1988 at the Salem facility which, today, produces the Princeton, Cambridge, and Stratford lines.

The tub has proven to be a difference-making alternative to the conventional cast-iron tub. Americast tubs use a three layer design that involves an enameling-grade metal base, coated with a porcelain-enamel finish that is 60% borosilicate glass. The bottom of the tub is sprayed with the company’s StanSure slip-resistant coating to provide an element of safety.

With the porcelain coating applied, tub “shells” make their way to the injection-molding area.

The third component to the “sandwich” is a reaction-injection-molded material that is applied to the underside of the porcelain-coated tub. This material provides a level of insulation not attainable with cast-iron tubs, eliminates the hollow sound you would experience with a conventional coated-metal tub, and does not crack or separate if the tub is flexed. The molded shape also provides a solid base so that the tub doesn’t sag when you step in it. As a result, the Americast tub performs as well or better than conventional cast-iron tubs, while weighing roughly 100 lb.

Workers clean off molding remnants after the resin material is applied to the tub.

The light weight and various design configurations allow flexibility, particularly in retrofit applications, and speed of installation. An integrated tile flange on all designs keeps water away from drywall and structural supports and an integral overflow reduces parts and installation time.

Cross section of an Americast tub shows metal shell sandwiched between the porcelain coating and the molded resin material. Note the support for the floor of the tub.

The presses in the automated line form left- and right-handed designs with different shelf widths and configurations to accommodate a variety of needs, particularly for the hospitality market. Robots spray the porcelain-enamel coating in any of three colors—white, linen, bone, and arctic white. Once the finished/cured, the composite material is molded onto the tub shell. The process takes about 5 min./tub. When a tub comes out of a mold, all that is required is some minor cleanup of mold remnants and the unit is ready for shipping.

In a time when relatively few products are completely manufactured in the U.S., it was a pleasure to witness the processes, particularly in historic Salem, OH, which was once the western hub of the underground railroad. It was also uplifting to see a facility that originated in 1872 still in use today.—Gary L. Parr

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