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MEDP Spark – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Oct 12, 2016

MEDP Spark, Volume 1, Issue 10 -- October 2016

Manufacturing Project Engineer, Dan Dunham, holds crumb rubber at the Ultimate RB facility.

Manufacturing is a huge part of McMinnville’s past, present, and future economy. Each year and through various platforms, we take joy at MEDP in highlighting leaders, innovators, and job creators. To commemorate these manufacturers and all they do for the city, MEDP gives Annual Awards to those manufacturers who have contributed to the growth of the economy and exemplify a positive company outlook. For this year’s Manufacturer of the Year, we considered businesses in McMinnville who demonstrate the tenets of a great company. Through a strong local history, continual growth, and a deep caring for employees, 2016’s Manufacturer of the Year was awarded to Ultimate RB. Learn about the multitude of changes their company has seen through the years, where they are today, and where they hope to explore in the future.

Ultimate RB is truly a homegrown business. Though ownership has changed hands several times over the years, they have consistently been a staple of the McMinnville manufacturing industry. Starting in 1985, a McMinnville High School graduate named Ron Bogh started a rubber recycling company called RB Rubber. Combining recycled rubber and urethane, Bogh was able to make safe and durable horse stall mats. For a long time, this was the basis of his company and business boomed, growing from 1 employee to 30 in 5 years. In 1990, RB Rubber became a publicly traded and owned entity.

In 13 years, Bogh had created 72 jobs, took the company public, and sold it to Accella Performance Materials (formerly Dash Multicorp) who wanted to further what Bogh had built. When Accella purchased RB Rubber, their main product was still horse stall mats. The new ownership expanded the possibilities. Sue Mathews, Director of Office Operations and 14-year employee of Ultimate RB says it best, “From being able to just make horse stall mats to adding a whole new division–that today makes twenty different molded products and thirty different rolled goods–was the biggest impact that this company has experienced.”

Ultimate RB’s facility is expansive. Walking through the crumb rubber (ground up tires) drop off area, there’s a huge sign that emphasizes safety. Mathews attests that a large part of their success is due to the people they hire and the workplace they’ve created. “We try to provide a really safe environment for our employees. That’s #1 in our book.” Inside the large, unassuming buildings, is an impressive feat of machinery and process. Mountains of crumbled rubber line the inside of the first warehouse. Each towering pile is filled with rubber crumbs crushed to a certain size, some the size of rock salt, others as fine as sand. From their sister company (whose largest client is Les Schwab) Ultimate RB processes over 15,000 tires each day. That’s 15,000 tires that would be in a landfill, at the bottom of the ocean, or used as fire for a cement kiln. Since they run 24/6, that means they process over four and a half million tires each year. Their incredible environmental impact hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2002 they received the Oregon Governor’s Sustainability Award.

Most of those 15,000 tires are pressed into rubber matting. The custom built press is fed crumb rubber, then shakes to get an even load, then presses once without urethane, then combines the urethane and rubber and heats it to over 700 degrees. The mats are then conveyed to a cooling slide pock marked with holes that push compressed air and water to the surface. The finished mats slide around like an air hockey puck. The slide functions as a cooling and transportation system to where the mats can then be cut to specific designations. The whole process takes no longer than seven minutes. It’s extraordinarily efficient.

Always looking to improve their processes, Manufacturing Project Engineer Dan Dunham explains the evolution of their industry and process improvement as such, “If you look at the history of the automobile, pre-Henry Ford, every part was built by a craftsman. No two were the same, every body panel custom-fitted. That’s how things were done. The folks doing that were artists. That workforce is retiring out. We don’t have the craftsman and skills that we had 20 years ago. You have to change your processes from something that requires tribal knowledge to systems that people can pick up easily. The new automated systems make it tougher to make mistakes and easier to get more consistent quality.” While Dunham is a big believer in automation, he doesn’t see the human element fading, “There’s still things here that I’ve looked at here where I said, ‘Could I automate it? Yeah. Should I? No.’ Humans are so much better at adapting to change. There’s still some art in the molding of rubber. I don’t see that piece going away.”

Director of Office Operations, Sue Mathews, and Dunham stand by product ready to be shipped.

Like the press, the entirety of the facility is focused on creation. There’s a water jet cutting up different speckled mats in one corner, pillars that create thousand pound rubber rolls towering in the opposite corner, and in the back of the covered area the molding department fills orders for interlocking playground tiles so kids bounce when they fall off the slide. They test and guarantee every one of their products so that when they go out, they know their customers are getting the best possible product.

Surrounding the facility are orders waiting to be picked up, each elegantly stacked according to product type and client.  Ultimate RB is constantly in motion, creating and distributing. Counting the number of semi-trucks that come through their facility each day is a fool’s errand. “We try to be good neighbors,” says Mathews.

It’s the meld between old and new that makes Ultimate RB a great company. They’re not afraid to change but are cognizant of what’s come before. Their employee base reflects that as well. “We have a diverse workforce. Everything from a gentleman who is going to retire on Friday to a young 20-year-old. We’ll take them because we have a job for them and a place for them. We’ll try to do the best we can to put them in a good spot.” Mathews says. Ultimate RB has created an environment where people don’t feel pigeonholed. “We’re huge on promoting from within,” says Mathews. In every facet of their business they apply this philosophy. “Our supervisors come up through the ranks. Our supervisor’s supervisor is a local guy who has been here 10 years. Started out there pushing mats around and now he has four supervisors that work for him,” says Dunham. Today, Ultimate RB employs 102 people and continues to grow.

The entirety of this company is based on the sustainable idea that instead of dumping tires into the ocean or on top of a landfill, they can be used for anything from horse stall mats, to helping quiet the wood flooring in your home, to providing a safer playground surface for kids. In addition to that, they’ve been a leading employer in McMinnville for over 31 years. Their impact in the community is extraordinary. This is the core of what Ultimate RB creates, provides and accomplishes. They’re only getting bigger and better and we’re proud to honor them as our Manufacturing Leader of the Year.

An image from the inside of Ultimate RB's manufacturing facility.

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