Architectural Plastics beats recession with diversity

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Fabricator and designer serves multiple industries with high-end plastics

PETALUMA – Plastics in the North Bay is synonymous with injection molding, but few realize the region is home to one of the most innovative plastics fabricators and designers in the U.S.

[caption id="attachment_25744" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Display cases in the Palo Alto Museum"][/caption]

Twenty-employee Architectural Plastics serves so many industries with its custom high-end applications that it has remained stable during a continuing slump in the fabrication industry, according to owner Pierre Miremont.

“Our diversity lessened the effect, although we did have to let some staff go. If we were focused on one industry we would have gone under,” he said.

The list of Architectural Plastics’ target markets runs from banks to wineries and includes computers, construction, hotels, medical equipment makers and retailers.

“Whatever you can make out of wood or metal you can make from high-end plastic, and it’ll be lighter-weight, less expensive and more durable,” said Mr. Miremont.

The company does a lot of display cases, some as striking as the items they show off. You can see them at the De Young and Asian Art Museums in San Francisco and the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

[caption id="attachment_25743" align="alignleft" width="288" caption="An 8-foot high acrylic diamond displays Liz Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume."][/caption]

To display Liz Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume Architectural Plastics created an 8-foot high acrylic diamond. And its floor-to-ceiling wine cabinet makes the bottles look like they’re floating in air.

“Plastic has been around for 100 years, but it’s always been designed with one, or at the most, a couple of uses in mind. DuPont, for example, developed Corian for countertops, period.

“We take plastics that have been developed for a single use to new places and forms,” said Mr. Miremont.

The company also distributes plastic materials to manufacturers in both the North and South Bay Area and fabricates products for other companies, working to their design and with their engineers.

One is Academy Studios in Novato, a developer of displays for natural history and science museums.

The company supplied the new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park with coral for the aquarium tanks, a facelift for the giant blue whale skeleton that hangs from the roof, and a painstaking reproduction of the animal dioramas in the Natural History section.

“We’ve subcontracted work to Architectural Plastics for 12 years,” said Academy Studios Production Manager Jim Slater.

“Pierre understands what we do. We give him the design and dimensions, and he adds his feedback and produces the piece for us.”

Together the two companies designed and built a 6,000-square-foot ant farm, now on display at Bug’s World in Liverpool, England.

Display cases for museums are often made of acrylic these days.

“Glass is temperamental and difficult to transport, although there will always be a niche for its special properties,” said Mr. Slater.

Although Academy Studios doesn’t supply art museums with cases, Architectural Plastics does. But display cases are also used by high-tech manufacturers and makers of medical devices.

“Stent makers like to enclose their product in acrylic for up-close viewing. We’ve worked with Medtronic, TriVascular, MedLogics and most of the device makers in the Bay Area,” said Mr. Miremont.

His company is currently working on a case for a remote medical station designed by a very large electronics manufacturing company.

“Telemedicine is a big area of focus for manufacturers. There are so many areas on the globe where doctors are not available.”

The station, a desk-shaped unit housing medical diagnostic tools and access to the Internet, can be operated by a trained, non-medical attendant, who interviews and runs basic tests on the seated patient. If a doctor’s presence is required, it’s supplied remotely via a large screen facing the testee.

”Architectural Plastics isn’t the only company designing these units, but we have the only plastic one,” said Mr. Miremont. “The others are wood or steel.”

His company’s solution is a simple, elegant piece of furniture made of bleachable, non-porous corian housing the multiple cables and wires necessary for the testing and telecommunication operations.

“It’s built to satisfy FDA requirements; it’s low cost, durable, easily transportable; and we believe we have the edge,” he said. A prototype has been built and ten units are now undergoing testing in different remote locations.

[caption id="attachment_25742" align="alignright" width="360" caption="The acrylic people at a board meeting"][/caption]

Architectural Plastics doesn’t always engage in such serious pursuits. Its designers also produced a group of acrylic people, who sit at a board table or lounge around in an upscale cafe.

“Their jobs are not very demanding, but we’re trying to get some of them to run for political office. Running on a slate of ‘transparency in government’ they could easily win,” he said.

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