Thirty years and more than 21 million sq ft of products applied. That’s the history of Raven Lining Systems — a stalwart in the water and wastewater trenchless industry — in a nutshell. Even more succinctly, the stuff simply works.
2018 is a milestone year for corrosion protection manufacturer Raven Lining Systems. The company is marking its 30th anniversary and while it looks back at its beginnings and how it has evolved, its future has never been brighter.
Raven has been a leader in the trenchless industry — most notably for its protective epoxy coatings for rehabilitating manholes — but as the company has matured, it has expanded in to new markets, diversifying its corrosion protection offerings.
We recently spoke with the folks at Raven to gain perspective on what this anniversary means to the company, especially on the heels of its recent acquisition earlier this year by VersaFlex. The tightly-knit company has been marking its anniversary milestone at the various tradeshows throughout the year and is beaming with pride with what it has accomplished, as well as the people it employs who accomplished it.
“Water and wastewater is the lifeblood of our company but we see opportunities in the oil and gas market, industrial market and OEM,” says Raven Lining Systems and VersaFlex chief operating officer Rob Pawlak, who has been with Raven since 1995. “But the water and wastewater markets make up 80 percent of what we do.
“Manholes continue to be a growing market and we set the standards,” Pawlak says. “We set the standards for what is a quality coating that goes into those structures. We have coated more than 21 million sq ft of Raven product. Case studies have been written on manholes and wastewater structures lined with Raven products 30 years ago that continue to be protected. We are proud of the longevity of our products and how well they have been perceived in the marketplace.”
Raven started out modestly in 1988 in Tulsa, Oklahoma with just three employees and what was to become its signature product: Raven 405, a blue epoxy coating created to protect manholes. Fast-forward to today. Raven now employees 27 employees and is located in a suburb of Tulsa, called Broken Arrow.
But company officials knew there was a way to reach more customers and municipalities and that thought led to the creation of Raven’s Certified Applicator Program in 1992. This program consists of factory-trained contractors, working with Raven to specify and apply its products. Today, the applicator network exceeds 70 locations across North America.
In 1996, Raven acquired the AquataPoxy product line, ANSI61-certified products used for potable water applications. In 2009, a line of cement lined products was developed — also the same year that Pawlak was named company president — and polyurethane and polyurea products followed in 2013 with the introduction of the AquataFlex line.
“Over the last 30 years, we have evolved into more than just a wastewater company that sells Raven 405,” says Pawlak. “We have since expanded into other markets, such as oil and gas, industrial and OEMs in an effort to diversify. We saw opportunities with the current products and technology that we had that could be used in other markets.”
2018 started with the news that Raven Lining Systems had been acquired by VersaFlex Inc., a move that which immediately gave Raven more resources and expertise to broaden its range of products and solutions to the market.
“This is truly a strategic merger of brands, leadership, products and service, which will result in a stronger combined company to meet the specialty protective lining and rehabilitation challenges that are ahead,” VersaFlex president Joe Haydu said at the time.
The VersaFlex’s plan is to combine its POLYUREA University with Raven’s Certified Applicator Program to develop an industry leading training and technical support program. Both VersaFlex and Raven are ISO 9001:2008 certified for operations. VersaFlex brings the additional quality strength of being ISO 9001:2008 certified for design.
Pawlak is excited about the impact the acquisition has on Raven going forward. “At Raven, we bring the epoxy chemistry expertise and VersaFlex has been an industry leader in the polyurea urethane chemistry,” he says. We are quite excited that we have two complementary products here and we will be able to leverage each for our different chemistries, sales forces and marketing efforts.”
One change that has already occurred is Pawlak’s role. He has become chief operating officer of the combined companies of Raven and VersaFlex. Raven will also move its manufacturing facility into the VersaFlex headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas, this fall. Down the road, the two companies will have a shared name but what that name will be has yet to be determined.
Keys to Success
What has given Raven’s its sustaining power all these years? Pawlak points to three specific areas:
1) Development of its Certified Applicator Program
2) Creation of high-quality and industry-leading products
3) Its committed workforce, which ranges from engineers to chemists to sales to lab technicians to manufacturing personnel.
Regional technical sales manager Matt Wierzchowski is one of Raven’s longtime employees, clocking in with 26 years. Wierzchowski has worked in nearly every aspect of the company, starting part-time in the warehouse in 1992. He has also served time in customer service, manufacturing, field technical service to his current position. Wierzchowski has seen how the company has evolved over the years and sees its success in simple terms.
“I feel that the reason that Raven has been so successful is the epoxy coating that we make is the best product for the protection of not only manholes but the entire wastewater system,” he says “This is due to its excellent chemical resistance along with its high physical properties and the very high film build coating it is. Also, that we only sell our coatings to applicators that are trained annually to install them. We support the applicators on every project as needed and when problems have risen, we react quickly to correctly resolve them so that the customer is satisfied.”
Pawlak speaks glowingly of Raven’s Certified Applicator Program, noting that the company takes great pride in who it allows to become a certified applicator, as well as the extensive training that goes into becoming one once you are selected. “We became the standard of what a certified applicator network is,” he says. “If you came to me today and said, ‘I want to be a Raven applicator.’ We just don’t sign you up. First, we look at who else is in that marketplace and then look at your ability and are you used to applying product underground, as well as used to spraying and using this kind of equipment. We do a thorough assessment of the contractor and if they meet our standards, then we will bring them aboard.”
Proud of Milestone
Thirty years in business is nothing to sniff at — its impressive. Raven is proud of its longevity and sees its future even brighter as it continues to grow into more markets and develop new products as underground infrastructure continues age and need care.
“It’s been a great 30 years and we are proud to have taken the lead in setting the industry standards,” Pawlak says. “We are excited and look forward to continuing to be a leader in the industries we serve. We will continue to raise the bar on quality and performance of products and application.”
“I am very proud of where Raven is today and for the part that I have played in helping make it happen,” Wierzchowski says. “The people who work here today and who have worked at Raven Lining Systems over the last three decades are the best and have always been extremely dedicated to the cause of taking care of our great country’s infrastructure.”