Earth-Friendly Foam Manufacturing

Benchmark Foam

From take-out containers to construction insulation, packing material and architectural accents, expanded polystyrene (EPS) can be found all around us. The product – made from heat-expanded, molded, polystyrene foam beads – has applications that are seemingly endless.
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Benchmark Foam offers construction-grade insulation used in commercial, residential and industrial projects, as well as protective packaging and other specialty plastics manufacturing. The company also fabricates standard and custom architectural accents and foam-core signs for businesses throughout the United States and Canada.

Businesses in the Midwest that use expanded polystyrene in any quantity are familiar with the frustration of slow delivery and the high cost of truckload quotas. Expanded polystyrene manufacturer Benchmark Foam of Watertown, South Dakota, entirely removes both these common issues by guaranteeing timely delivery – without load premiums – even on last-minute orders, or it provides a discount. Its guarantee of on-time delivery is supported by an entire fleet of in-house vehicles ready to dispatch to customer warehouses and job sites.

“No matter how large or small the order, we will deliver on time. We support our business-to-business clients by also supporting and educating their end users. We want to be the manufacturer of choice for superior customer service. Whenever we can provide additional materials or information to our customers that will help them do their job, we definitely take those steps,” says Marketing Manager Jacquie Devine Redlin.

The company’s concern for its clients’ bottom lines is another aspect that really sets it apart. Its thirty years of expertise means that Benchmark Foam can offer solutions to a large array of projects. Its studies customer issues carefully before collaborating on solutions that can be applied to multiple industry users.

Behind every successful company are hardworking employees. In addition to the standard support staff, this diverse group of professionals includes machine operators, artists, and painters as well as troubleshooters who engineer new processes and equipment. “Our team is our greatest asset. Through self-development and internal promotions, they have proven their commitment to our success. By listening to customers’ needs and thinking outside of the box in providing solutions, we continue to embrace innovation at all levels of our organization,” says Chairman Tom Devine.

For this reason, it recruits and aims at retaining top-notch employees who support its family culture. “Benchmark Foam may be a manufacturer, but our employees operate as a team and work as a family, which is why they stay with us for many years. Nearly thirty percent of our current staff has been with the company for between ten and twenty-five years, and within that time, we added over thirty new positions,” says Devine Redlin.

This close-knit atmosphere ensures the workers care about making quality products, which, in turn, fuels growth and new opportunities that benefit everyone. The company ensures that its ninety-five employees are looked after and promotes a healthy work-life balance. It is flexible and sensitive to the importance of the big days and special celebrations in its employees’ lives and prefers that these are spent with employees’ own families.

Caring is a sentiment that has been part of its company culture from the very beginning. The company started in 1977 as Energy Industries and changed hands in 1988 when a number of visionary employees acquired the outfit and immediately implemented a thoughtful diversification strategy and changed the name to Benchmark Foam. Today, the original families still own the company, and it still drives itself to improve continuously as it did in the early days.

Devine Redlin virtually grew up on the shop floor, helping out as a teenager in whatever department needed a hand. This gave her a well-rounded understanding of its operations. She went on to study communications and marketing but could never have imagined the baptism by fire that awaited her. Jacquie’s father Tom Devine was President at the time and reached out for her help when the company’s facility was burned to the ground in a disastrous turn of events in December 2008, a week before her college graduation.

Devine Redlin was ready to jump in and take care of the overall liaisons. “I helped create the messaging and drove communication with our customers, community, industry, and most importantly with our own team to ensure that everyone knew that we lost a building, not a business, and plans for a new building were underway,” she says.

There is absolutely no doubt that the fire also forged bonds of steel. “How everyone on our team played an active role in the recovery efforts after the fire in 2008 is one of the proudest times in my thirty-five years with Benchmark Foam. Experts in our industry told us we would not be operational for two years after the fire. Our team made it happen in nine months,” says Tom Devine.

Thanks to sheer will and a solid proactive crisis plan, the company maintained its clientele by working from temporary facilities until its new facility was operational and the company could once again work together under a single roof. “We haven’t looked back since,” Devine adds.

It has since developed several patented thermal resistance products like its Thermo-Snap™ in-floor heat insulation made from high-density EPS foam. These 4′ X 4′ insulation panels are designed to hold floor heating tubing in place, making it economical by lessening the need for labor and materials and eliminating the use of old-fashioned fastening methods.

Part of the appeal of EPS is its durability. It does not disintegrate, making it unpopular with conservationists. However, the company has found the perfect solution. Benchmark Foam took its commitment to ecological stewardship a few notches up by implementing a recycling operation. Discarded EPS components have the potential to be completely recycled, preventing the material from ending up in landfills and sensitive ecosystems. This has been a remarkable victory for nature, the company, and the industry at large.

The company has had many great moments over the years. One of those was the introduction of its entirely recycled product: eps360®. This material is popular as insulation in construction where it is used in roofing, foundations, and more. And the company not only recycles its own foam waste, but it also collects used and discarded foam from elsewhere to be remanufactured into the 100 percent recycled product that can be an economical and earth-friendly alternative to virgin material.

The company has been recognized for its green work on more than one occasion. It received the 2005 South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources award for its environmentally conscious operations.

Benchmark Foam was also recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2007 as its South Dakota Habitat for Humanity supporter of the year. The company sponsors the organization every year, insulating homes to ensure comfortable interior temperatures. It also collaborated with a general contractor in 2018 on a South Dakota Make-A-Wish fundraiser, where the duo created a replica of Winnie the Pooh playhouse. The employees were so committed to this project that they even volunteered personal time to craft a foam-core entrance.

In addition to all this good work, Benchmark Foam also supports economic growth in its surrounding area through its sponsorship of Watertown Development Company. The project is aimed at developing of the local workforce in manufacturing skills to stimulate new and existing business expansions.

It has an astute and pragmatic approach to business. Here, success is based on the premise that luck constitutes being able to take advantage of opportunities the moment they arise. And it certainly has. With its ever-increasing popularity and product development, the company’s current growth sits at a rate of eight to twelve percent per year.

“Our diverse product offering plays a critical role in having success and growth year over year. When one market is having a down year, another may be flourishing,” says President Robert Reiter.

Reiter believes that one of the greatest challenges facing the use of the material is education. “EPS is a very diverse and useful product that can be recycled to keep waste out of our landfills. There continues to be new uses discovered that will also fuel the growth of the industry in the coming years. Specifically in the construction industry, EPS proves to be one of the most cost-effective options for insulation,” he adds.

With the help of myth-busting and conservation, the company has its focus set on growth hitting a high of twenty percent per year. Its next strategy will be to remain competitive in terms of recruitment while increasing automation. And considering the innovative products that are about to be launched, it looks like Benchmark Foam could well be meeting those goals this year.

Addressing the Ongoing Labour Shortage

For years, the construction industry across North America has seen fewer skilled tradespeople enter the workforce, creating challenges in getting projects completed on time and within budget. While the labour shortage is not new, it is reaching a breaking point.

March 24, 2019, 12:21 PM EDT