If you have children or grandchildren, chances are you’ve used products from Ultra Play Systems – you just didn’t know the name. Ultra Play builds premium fixed outdoor playground and athletic equipment and fixed outdoor seating and tables. School playgrounds, community ball fields and outdoor dining pavilions across the US, Canada and Caribbean use Ultra Play’s popular, durable products.

But manufacturing items for people’s enjoyment isn’t all fun and games. It’s an intensely competitive business. That’s what Mike Moll, who owns Ultra Play with partner Ray Delaney, has learned since they bought the business in 1998. “Top notch quality is just the price of admission in this industry,” explains Moll, an industrial engineer with 24 years experience in all facets of fabrication. “After all, the product lives outdoors, gets climbed on, kicked and generally abused. If it doesn’t hold up and look good for years, our order stream will dry up.”

Ultra Play’s order stream is flowing. Since Moll and Delaney took over, the company has grown from 12 to over 50 employees and added several new product lines. In 2001, it began offering thermoplastic-coated seating and tables – extremely popular, but a challenge to finish. Moll points out, “Steel covered by thermoplastic only gets a single stage pretreatment, so it’s got to have good adhesion and a very smooth, unblemished surface. Not many suppliers can consistently deliver the material quality needed to meet the product’s standards.”

In 2003, a nearby business, The Material Works, asked Moll if he would paint samples of their ‘experimental’ new steel on Ultra Play’s top-of-the-line powder coat system. After painting, the samples were
        The First Stage Fabrication team discusses requirements for a new
        job to run on their Finnpower 33 ton turret punch press. From the left:
        Kraig Kelley - Operator, Scott Dilley - GM and Mike Moll - President.
      to be lab-tested for adhesion and
      corrosion resistance. Moll was happy
      to oblige and intrigued by the
      properties of this steel called SCS.
      “The fact that it was so smooth, clean
and rust-inhibitive made it ideal for our products. The fact that it had no oil made it wonderful for our processes. We do sawing, bending, drilling, punching and welding, so the steel gets handled a lot. The oil on the P&O we used fouls the shop and gets wiped off in handling, which invites rust.”

Still, Moll was skeptical SCS would work for Ultra Play until he saw the results of the salt spray tests he had painted samples for. “We have lean paint prep – a heated iron phosphate wash followed by an ambient water rinse. We maintain the chemistry of that wash very carefully to get the good adhesion and corrosion resistance our products require. So when those SCS samples matched the P&O samples in the salt spray tests, I told my steel suppliers to start stocking SCS.

"We’ve switched all of our sheet steel to SCS. Now, we go twice as long before we change out our pretreatment wash solution, yet we can say with confidence we are getting better adhesion and better durability than we did before SCS. That’s true for both our powder coat and our thermoplastic. With SCS we’ve also reduced noxious welding fumes and no longer have to pre-clean weld areas to remove extra heavy oil film.”

What was the cost of switching to SCS? Mike Moll grins and remarks, “Switching to SCS saved us money. On the material buy it costs less than the P&O we were getting. It raised our shop productivity and lowered our reject rate. And we put out an even better product with SCS. Better product at lower cost. Now, my mission is to get our suppliers using SCS. We buy a lot of tube and a lot of angle and we want it all to be SCS.”