Performance, Durability, and Reliability Meet in the New Reactor 2 Hydraulic
By RYAN SPENCER
In mid-2014, Graco launched the most advanced electric proportioner on the spray foam market, the Reactor 2. In June 2015, Graco expanded the Reactor 2 platform with the Hydraulic Series, which sets the standard for innovative technology and considerable capability as the Reactor product line’s flagship proportioner.
“The beauty of this project is that it marries two of our best technologies,” said Tryg Waterhouse, Worldwide Product Manager. “The hydraulic is the best-performing overall Reactor that we have: it’s designed for the most rugged, high-duty cycle, high-performance, high-output conditions.”
When comparing the Reactor 2 Hydraulic to its electric forerunner, some of the main carryovers are readily apparent: the presence of the Advanced Display Module (ADM); the inclusion of Graco InSite remote reporting technology (on Elite models); and the taller stature due to the head-height placement of the electrical cabinet. The Reactor 2 Hydraulic simply adopted many of the advances and innovations that debuted with the electric version of the platform. For the hydraulic components of the new machine, though, there was a fair amount of deliberation over what exactly needed improvement.
“For the rest of the pump line, the actual mechanics–the hydraulic power pack, the drive, the pumps–we looked at some improvements there, but only did a couple of subtle things,” said Waterhouse.
Perhaps the most apparent difference in the new line of Hydraulic Reactors is the H-30, which replaces the older H-25. Graco upgraded the H-25’s 120cc pump to a 140cc pump to increase the H-30’s output. Notable changes to the entire hydraulic lineup include the redesigned hydraulic control module and the reversing switch, which was replaced with a non-contact proximity sensor to essentially eliminate the likelihood of failure. Beyond the mentioned examples, the main components of the Reactor 2 Hydraulic are essentially the same components that contractors have come to know and rely on.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve, but at the same time we know we have a very robust product, in terms of the hydraulics,” said Waterhouse. “We had very low customer dissatisfaction with that, so we ultimately decided that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
The balancing act between established success and the need to innovate is something that defines Graco’s approach to improvement: an impetus to push technology as far as it can go, but at the same time avoid hitting the reset button on past successes. Chuck Harriman, Director of Quality, outlined the approach as a perpetual process:
“It’s like one of our tag lines we don’t write: proven quality, leading technology, and it’s never good enough,” said Harriman. “We know that we have to be better all the time…that’s what sets us apart from our competition.”
In terms of standing out from other proportioners on the market, the innovations and capabilities of the Reactor 2 platform certainly drew attention when the Electric Series hit the market. With the Hydraulic Series, Reactor 2 maintains those benefits, and takes performance and durability to another level.
“It was big for us in developing the overall Reactor 2 platform to first of all develop those components to be more robust and durable, and second of all to back the control modules by a three-year warranty, which is a good indicator of how confident we are in their design,” said Waterhouse.
Confidence in design is something that only truly exists if you’re building a quality product. With that in mind, Harriman laid out Graco’s threefold approach to quality: engage with customers to identify issues that impact quality, ensure issues are visible throughout the company, and empower everyone with responsibility for the quality of their work. The first aspect, customer engagement, is achieved through responsiveness to feedback.
“We make sure our internal metrics are tied to our external expectations, so it’s really an outside-inside approach that we have for quality,” said Harriman. “We look for input where we can get it and we connect it to the people who make, build, and design the product.”
Linking end user feedback to the manufacturing operation establishes visibility for any quality issues, while creating a structure for internally appraising quality fosters individual ownership.
“It’s a significant investment we made in the last few years to get employees to look for issues, to find problems, to not wait for it to be brought up by the customer, and to be a part of that whole early detection and preventative action process,” said Harriman.
Holding everyone responsible for quality has a particularly influential effect on the manufacturing operation, from weekly quality meetings to individual validations during assembly. Actually, there are only a few situations that necessitate specific inspections, including when raw materials are delivered and during subassembly.
“Everyone in the factory is responsible for the quality of their work, whether they’re machining or assembling a Reactor 2,” said Wade Heilig, Factory Manager. “There are a few people that go around and randomly check things, but everyone who produces a part or a finished product has to validate that they produced it correctly, so their name’s on it.”
It’s one thing to entrust everyone with responsibility for what they do, but the quality of the overall work, a fully assembled Reactor 2, must be verified. So, after assembly, every machine is put through an exhaustive testing regimen that ensures each Reactor 2 meets both established performance standards and the expectations of customers.
“Every unit that Graco puts in a box is fully tested: pressure, flow, temperature, current draw,” said Heilig. “We run them full-out, at 100% operating parameters, repeatedly.”
Certainly, Graco wants perfection for every Reactor 2 it produces, although perfection isn’t necessarily a goal, but a process–a process that doesn’t end when the machines leave the factory. Often, it isn’t until a new product has hit the market that a valuable perspective becomes apparent, or an intuition is confirmed.
“One thing that was interesting to us in the first year of selling Reactor 2 Electric is that a much higher percentage of customers have been buying the Elite models than we originally anticipated,” said Waterhouse. “It’s showing that people recognize the value of those extra features and benefits, so it gives us a little more leverage when it comes to developing new products to know that people are willing to spend a little bit more money on their equipment of the know it really truly does help their application process.”
The success of the Elite model, which features InSite, shows the other side of the customer engagement coin–the side that drives innovation. In the case of InSite, the technology’s better-than-expected adoption is not only an indication of what contractors want now, but also the direction in which innovations in the Reactor 2 product line are headed in the future.
“The more information at users’ fingertips, the better, and there’s no reason we won’t keep pushing to develop products that do that,” Waterhouse said.
Clearly, innovative technology will continue to be incorporated into the Reactor 2 platform in the foreseeable future. That kind of continual improvement can be viewed as a constant pursuit for both the Reactor 2 and, in a wider scope, the global spray foam industry.
“What Graco is really trying to do is make sure that our equipment helps with the conversion from the traditional methods of insulation to using spray foam,” said Mark Sheahan, Divisional Vice President and General Manager. “The way that we’re doing that is putting as much technology in our product as possible, and making it as easy for the contractor to use as possible, so that when the job is done, the result is really good for the customer and we’re able to help them document that they did the job correctly.”
Pushing spray foam to the forefront of the global insulation market may require an emphasis on technology when it comes to equipment, but in order to effectively move forward, the fundamentals can’t be overlooked. By every measure, the foundation of the Reactor 2 platform begins with manufacturing, which is at the heart of what Graco does.
“Our core competency is machining parts and components,” said Heilig, who added that Graco’s machining heritage goes back nearly 90 years. Over time, the company’s manufacturing operation evolved into what they call cellular manufacturing, in which fully integrated manufacturing units–from engineering to assembly to marketing to accounting–are solely focused on and differentiated by a specific market segment, such as spray foam.
“Foam and polyurea equipment in particular is one example of a market segment that we’ve created an entire cell in manufacturing dedicated for it,” said Heilig. “The common term in the industry is ‘factories within a factory.’”
With self-contained manufacturing cells fixated on a particular market, each cell will necessarily develop a thorough understanding of the segment itself, and particularly the customers within it.
“As big as we are, we’ve been able to be sensitive to our customers by being small in terms of the way we divisionalize by market,” said Harriman. “With a lot of the spray foam equipment, we are very intimate with the contractors, probably more so than our other divisions.”
Having a relationship with end users is a priority for Graco–after all, the equipment is in their hands every day–because contractors are the heart of the market, which is why customer engagement is so important.
“Our engagement with our customers drives everything we do,” said Harriman. “As we survey users from around the world, they care about two things: it’s the consistent quality out of the box and the service we provide.”
Of those two factors, quality and service, the former is tied directly to Graco, while the latter is tied directly to the company’s distribution partners. Although most of Graco’s products are produced in the U.S., the company’s distribution centers are located across the globe and rely on a large network of distributors, including roughly 100 U.S. SPF equipment distributors, to not only et products in customers’ hands, but also make sure those products are properly supported.
“We are selling technical products that require a level of local support for the customers,” said Sheahan. “Our channel is really our partner–they’re within minutes of any given contractor. That’s a differentiation that Graco has over a lot of the competition.”
Distributors are an equally important source of feedback for Graco, given the fact they’re in direct contact with numerous contractors in their area. That position gives them a broader perspective, relative to any given contractor, on what’s happening in the field, which may generate unique input for the feedback loops that impact quality and innovation.
“It’s important for us to engage with our distributors and understand what’s happening with their businesses,” said Sheahan. “They’re critical to our success, they’re highly skilled, they’re the voice of Graco when they get in front of the customer, they represent our products really well, and these are individuals that are committed to making sure the job gets done right and the contractor has a good experience with our equipment.”
In terms of customer experience with the Reactor 2 Hydraulic, contractors who field-tested the machines before they hit the market had just one major question for Graco: when was the new hydraulic going to be available, because they wanted it as soon as possible.
For more about Graco Reactor 2 Hydraulic, visit www.graco.com.