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GRATON -- Empire West, Inc, has revolutionized the ceiling tile industry with a line of plastic tiles with modern and century-old styling.

Ceilume brand tiles are made entirely in Sonoma County, at a plant located at 9270 Graton Rd. There's a showroom at 7755 Bell Rd. in Windsor.

Using thermoforming technology, the company makes 33 standard designs in two sizes -- 2 feet square and 2 feet by 4 feet -- two thicknesses and seven unique finishes. Ceilume brand ceiling tiles and accessories represent more than 80 percent of annual sales for Empire West (empirewest.com, ceilume.com, opticspackaging.com).

"Our Ceilume tiles turn any ceiling into a designer work of art, and at a fraction the cost of mineral-fiber tiles," said Ed Davis, president.

Vinyl material is roll-fed through the forming machines, and each tile is precision die-cut and quality-inspected prior to packaging. Scrap vinyl is collected and reprocessed, and the tiles are totally recyclable. No materials containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or formaldehyde are used.

Ceilume tiles eliminate mold, mildew and dust problems associated with conventional mineral-fiber ceiling tiles, use 80 percent less raw material and are five times more efficient to ship, according to company sources. 

These rigid vinyl tiles will not sag or absorb moisture, and are Greenguard Environmental Institute--approved for indoor air quality as well as for children and schools. The tiles are translucent or opaque, with finishes ranging from bronze, copper and tin to white, sand, latte, merlot and black. Ceilume tiles can be easily trimmed to size using standard household scissors.

While many suspended ceilings have fire sprinklers protruding through the tiles, Ceilume's tiles are Underwriters Laboratories--listed for installation below sprinklers. In a fire, these tiles are designed to deform and fall harmlessly from the grid, allowing the sprinklers to do their job.

"Not only are indoor sprinkler systems required for commercial buildings, many states are also requiring them in new residential developments," Mr. Davis said. "As this trend increases, people want a stylish, decorative and attractive way to hide the sprinkler heads above a drop ceiling."

The tiles also are "Class A" fire-rated and FM-approved and recognized by ICC-ES for use in drop ceilings in compliance with International Building Code versions 2006, 2009 and 2012.

The company makes tile-related products. That includes tiles that can be permanently mounted, a decorative grid tape to convert any drop-ceiling grid to match Ceilume tile colors and finishes, and Soniguard acoustic-thermal insulation to help block sound from going through any ceiling tile.

In addition to ceiling tiles, 5 percent of Empire West's sales are custom-thermoformed products for Bio-Rad, Varian, Owens Corning and other manufacturers.

The remaining 15 percent of company revenue is derived from manufacturing Safe-Guard PET-G plastic packaging for precision laser optics and filters.

"These optical packages come in literally hundreds of standard sizes," Mr. Davis said. "Using our unique Safe-Guard design, the sensitive optical surfaces never come in contact with the packaging, eliminating the need for lens paper and foam liners."

While this is a small but high-value market, Empire West said it is the world leader in this category.

These packaging products are used by Lawrence Livermore National Labortory for its National Ignition Facility nuclear fusion as well as other leading technology and scientific instrument firms such as JDSU.

"Since 2008, Ceilume revenues have grown by an average of 22 percent per year as we have implemented an expanded marketing program," Mr. Davis said.

Empire West's products are sold worldwide. About 80 percent of company sales are within the U.S., and Canada is the company's biggest export market. The firm recently closed an $80,000 sale in Ghana, where Ceilume tiles are popular due to their beauty and ability to resist humidity.

Ceilume tiles are carried by 150 L&W Supply contractor centers across the county and are available via Home Depot Online. The company also sells factory-direct and uses three e-commerce sites, online ads and YouTube educational videos and demos to promote its products. 

Custom thermoforming has been a specialty of Empire West since 1968. It has provided parts for photofinishing, telecom and computer industry customers such as Qualex, Optical Coating Laboratory, now part of JDSU, and Cisco Systems.

In 2002 the firm purchased the ceiling tile product line from United Plastics in Oakland, acquiring a collection of wooden molds and patterns that had been used to make plastic ceiling tiles since the 1950s.

In those days, it took a full minute to manufacture a ceiling tile. Now, modern equipment and tooling has reduced that cycle time to just eight seconds.

"When people call Empire West, they hear a real person on our end of the line," Mr. Davis said with pride. "Our 25 employees are dedicated to providing exceptional customer service, and our quality is second to none. Meeting our customer's needs is our primary objective, and that is what keeps us ahead of the competition."