No matter the industry or manufacturing process, every business needs to ensure its systems are reliable. Proco Products, Inc. is going above and beyond for its customers, doing what no other company has dared to do yet, work in tandem with engineers, contractors, outside sales personnel, OEMs, and distributors, to solve problems at the end user level. Hose + Coupling World enjoyed the privilege of speaking with Eric Blazej, National Industrial Distribution Sales Manager, and Rob Coffee, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, to discuss Proco’s dedication to service, asset integrity and reliability, and the future of this influential company.
By Sarah Do Couto and Angelica Pajkovic
Proco Products, Inc. is already a massive player in the industrial space. As a key manufacturer and supplier of expansion joints, the company has been helping its customers meet necessary machinery and technology specifications for almost 40 years. However, in 2022 – while still maintaining its dedication to the efficient creation and sale of expansion joints – Proco is looking to connect with its customer base in new ways. Namely, by solving problems at the end user level.
“We want to be a partner to all,” said Coffee. “It is important to us that we make sure that what we are supplying is right for the project or for the installation.”
“Proco is putting in significant effort towards getting end users to understand that we are their partner, and we are looking to help them create reliability,” added Blazej.
So, how does Proco deliver on this promise? According to Blazej and Coffee, this can best be seen through the company’s free-of-cost, on-site plant survey. This is where Proco’s knowledgeable product experts go on site to aid engineers, technicians, contractors, and end users in the inspection of their existing expansion joints.
What is an Expansion Joint?
Expansion joints are vital components of most industrial processes, including, but not limited to: power plants, wastewater treatment facilities, chemical plants, pulp & paper, food processing plants, steel mills, and oil and gas operations. Normally, expansion joints are flexible rubber connectors that have been fabricated from natural or synthetic-based elastomers like fluoroplastics, fabrics, and if necessary, metallic reinforcements. Expansion joints serve several key purposes, namely: providing flexibility, reducing stress, allowing movement in all directions, dampening sound, and assisting with vibration.
Rubber expansion joints are also needed to protect mechanical equipment against start-up surge forces and overall system operation. This is often done through the absorption of thermal pipe movements while providing stress relief and compensating for misalignment or offset.
Proco Products, Inc. At a Glance
Established in 1984 by Gene Johnson and Merv Vater, Proco’s product line can be traced back to the 1930s when Uniroyal Company invented the original rubber expansion joint. Uniroyal spun off their expansion joint division to Protective Coatings in the early 70’s and after several years of production, Protective Coatings (the private label expansion joint manufacturer for Uniroyal) chose to divest its expansion joint product line. This decision provided Johnson and Vater with the opportunity to join together and purchase the necessary assets from Protective Coatings to found Proco.
With a grand concept in mind, Johnson and Vater worked together to establish a large inventory of expansion joints that ranged in size from 1 to 72 inches in diameter. Their goal was to ensure that if any distributor should call looking for an end user part, one would be readily available to be sent to the field. It was this goal and the commitment to manufacturing quality products that has driven Proco’s success.Expansion joint inventory awaiting shipment.
Proco’s Survey Process Benefits End Users
“Expansion joints are the weak link in a pipe system. They are purposely designed this way so major pieces of equipment do not take the hit. Our products take the systems upsets and are more easily replaced upon an event,” said Blazej. “An expansion joint is maybe USD $50-500 to replace; a pump might be USD $15,000 – $20,000 to replace. By going to the plants and surveying, we can instruct plant maintenance personnel on the correct ways of using the expansion joint and mitigate the risk of unnecessary, expensive maintenance or failures, to both the equipment and the expansion joints.” Proco Products, Inc. offers customers plant survey as a service, free of charge. In order to do this, the company has what they call the STAMPED method. This method functions as a checklist for inspection, as it is an acronym meaning:
Pressure and fittings
At a customer’s request, Proco will send a representative on-site to verify that all elements of STAMPED are functional, according to necessary process specifications. Blazej outlined what a typical plant inspection looks like: “Individuals involved in conducting surveys normally consist of myself, a Proco Products local agent, a distributor salesman in some cases, and finally a maintenance contact from the plant. The first thing we do is create a Store’s Maintenance List. This is essentially a list of all the expansion joints that are at the facility.” Each expansion joint is then given a corresponding asset number, which is recorded along with the joint’s location in a system for future reference.
Then, Proco creates a detailed report with pictures. “We take a photo of all the joints that appear to be in bad condition,” said Blazej. “We then link the report to the store’s Maintenance List.” This is an added service that Proco can provide its clients in order to help them maintain inventory, identify problem areas, and prepare for future failures. “It provides a great deal of visibility, and it helps end users be proactive instead of reactive,” he said. Finally, with this survey service, Proco offers distributor customers discounted contract pricing. They also offer contract pricing with no survey required should they receive a store’s list of all the joints currently at the facility.
“Customers replace expansion joints all the time thinking, ‘Well, this is just the way it is,’ but it does not have to be that way. When we come in, do a survey, and ask questions, there is an opportunity for us to not only potentially discover that there are better suited expansion joints for the facilities applications, but also make suggestions on how to monitor those application and increase reliability at the location in question,” added Coffee.
Contract pricing is especially beneficial to those in the hose market. “A customer knows that they are getting a benefit on costs, plus they are getting the opportunity to have their plants surveyed for maximizing output and other opportunities,” said Coffee. This is of special importance for customers who may be using incorrect hose equipment and expansion joints in their systems.
Proco Expansion Joint Approvals, Certifications, & Specials
- NSF 61
- NSF 372
- FDA accepted
- ASTM F 1123 87
- ABS certified
- ANSI 150/300, DIN, PN10/16, JIS
- CS, 304SS, and 316SS flanges and retaining rings
- Filled arches for applications where solids are present
Hose suppliers often use the same criteria to assess hoses and expansion joints. “As expansion joints are often considered an add-on for hoses, whether it be metal or rubber, distributors that market to hose end user often sell expansion joints as well,” said Coffee.
“The way that you would quote a rubber hose and stainless-steel hose is the same way that you would quote a rubber expansion joint,” continued Blazej. “Stainless-steel hoses and braiding are good for lateral offset, very, very minimal vibration, and typically have a longer overall length than a rubber expansion joint. But rubber expansion joints can do compression, extension, lateral vibration, and sound dampening, making rubber expansion joints more versatile than a stainless-steel hose.”
When debating between a hose or expansion joint, one should always trust the Rule of 250. “Anything under 250 psi and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, you would use rubber. Anything over that, which is usually your steam and your condensate, that is when you should consider going to a stainless-steel hose or even a stainless-steel expansion joint.”
The Future of Proco Products, Inc.
Going forward, Proco aims to create even stronger relationships with its client base. The company is looking to do more than just sell expansion joints; it wants to be the driving force behind the advancement of a diverse set of industries.
“Being able to offer expertise in our specific product helps younger professionals understand processes a little bit better, and then they can apply what they have learned from us and get a better handle on their system and how the expansion joints work,” said Coffee. “That is why we are there, to lend assistance and be a guide, if you will.”
“Proco is going to be the Kleenex of expansion joints in North America,” said Blazej. “Reliability is a must especially in today’s world. Downtime costs money, and we are in a position to help keep plants running. That is what Proco wants to be known for. We really want to be out there working with the people who want to work with us.”