Trionic makes durable marine products

Santo Cannistra wanted to turn his love of boating into a business because he understands the needs of boaters.

Trionic Corp.

425 Wheeler Ave., Fredonia

Industry: Rotational molding

Employees: 12

“This is kind of my hobby so it’s not really like work,” he said. “At trade shows, I think there’s this trust that you have that you just don’t see in other businesses because people are having fun while they’re working.”

Cannistra founded Fredonia-based Trionic Corp. in 1996 to create stronger plastic marine products using rotational molding. He felt there was a need for thicker, more durable sump tanks on boats.

“I’m a boater and the last thing I want is my sewage tank or my toilet leaking,” he said.

Dock boxes, garbage cans, water tanks and buoys are among the other products Trionic molds for customers. The 12-employee company has a catalog of about 10 standard items in varying sizes, but it also creates custom plastic parts.

The molding process begins with a colored plastic powder, called polyethylene. Trionic employees pour the powder into a large metal mold, which heats to a high temperature in an oven and rotates on two axes at about 12 to 16 revolutions per minute.

As the mold heats up, the plastic melts into the mold shape. The part is then moved to a cooling rotational mold to assure even plastic distribution in the final product. The whole process takes about an hour, and then holes, hardware and other details are added.

The size of the molded part is determined by the weight of the polyethylene being added, which allows for consistency.

Rotational molding is different from other forms of plastic manufacturing, like vacuum forming, in which a sheet of plastic is heated and then vacuumed to a mold; injection molding, where molten plastic material is injected into a mold; and blow molding, in which a plastic tube is inflated to the shape of a mold using air pressure.

Rotational molding uses gravity and heat transfer to gradually build the thickness of the part’s walls without seams. The advantages of the technique are larger, more heavy-duty parts, Cannistra said.

“In our process, because the material is rotating in the mold, the corners of our parts are thicker and more durable than other processes,” he said.

Trionic distributes its marine products globally, and has also had success locally. About two-thirds of the dock boxes at McKinley Marina in Milwaukee were made by Trionic, Cannistra said, and the company supplies to marinas throughout the Great Lakes.

The company has two 10-hour shifts five days per week, and employees have been working overtime consistently for the last year and a half, Cannistra said. While boat builders took a hit during the Great Recession, Trionic had a surge in aftermarket part sales as boat owners repaired older watercraft instead of selling them.

The company has room to grow, but economic and political uncertainties have stalled those efforts.

“We’ve actually been thriving in a bad economy,” Cannistra said. “We want to expand our business but we want to see what’s happening nationally.”

The company expects about $2 million in revenue for 2011, which would surpass its record 2010 revenue.

Cannistra founded the company using his own capital and has continued to avoid using bank loans to finance Trionic’s costs, which he said is a key to the company’s success.

“Our business philosophy is that if we have money we spend it, and if we don’t have money, we don’t,” he said.

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