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The benefits of a composite manhole cover, over the traditional cast iron metal, tend to outweigh the costs of manufacturing.
According to W. Chad Nunnery, the majority owner, president and chief executive officer of Composite Access Products in McAllen, CAP aims to provide that effective alternative right here in the United States. Nunnery, who started in the manufacturing of covers and frames decades ago, brought his company to the RGV in 2015.
“This is the only manhole cover company in the United States and probably all the Americas that is compression-molding fiberglass composite manhole covers that are also traffic-rated,” Nunnery said. “It’s manufacturing and innovation – we’ve got technology, we’ve got good-paying jobs and we’re made in the U.S.A.”
Nunnery graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in engineering and chemistry. After working for another company, he joined his father’s composite company in Chicago.
“Our entire goal was to see where this composite technology, with the properties of the material, would help applications for customers for converting whatever material they currently use, which was usually a metal of some type,” Nunnery said. “We learned from an early age all the different benefits this material gives versus a metal.”
Nunnery travelled to China, Europe and Africa, where composite manhole covers are more commonplace, to learn more about how they are utilized before bringing the information to the U.S.
Manholes are necessary means of access to public works systems, things we see when traversing any municipality. Usually they have been made with cast iron, and while metal is cheaper, composite offers a viable alternative that is more environmentally sustainable, watertight and lighter.
“We take fiberglass and resins and other additives and put them in big mixtures, and it comes out squishy,” Nunnery said, explaining that his former employer makes the composite so CAP can mold them. “I’ve been using only their material for the last four years.”
Nunnery spoke about the benefits of installing CAP products:
- Improved Inflow & Infiltration (I&I): I&I is defined as when groundwater and stormwater enter a drainage or sewer system. When rainwater enters a sewage system rather than drainage, it can exceed the capacity of a wastewater treatment plant or collections system, and go back into the streets, rivers and even potentially drinking water. Since composite covers are watertight, the rainwater is prevented from going into the sewage system.
- Composite covers do not corrode as metal covers tend to do over time
- CAP covers are significantly lighter in weight than cast iron metal covers, making them safer and easier to install and move.
- There have been cases of people stealing metal manhole covers to melt down and resell for the recycled value – there is no resale value of composite covers and no scrap market, eliminating that potential.
- Iron metal covers have the tendency to fuse shut, and dangerous methods are used to open them for inspection. Composite covers do not fuse shut.
“We have to sell people on the long-term costs based on these benefits,” Nunnery said. “You’ve got corrosion costs, codings, replacements, labor, injury, the infiltration inflow, and all these things they buy to prevent that like rain guards – so those are the other costs we have to talk about, because our price is higher.”
CAP products can be made with several features, including high-tech covers with magnets and censors for easy detection, aesthetic covers with customized logos for each municipality, colors and also a stone appearance option.
For new detection technology for the wastewater levels, CAP covers can easily pass signals through without costly additions, unlike metal, which signals cannot easily pass through.
“It actually consumes a lot less energy, so when you’re talking about the carbon footprint, we mold these things at around 300 degrees Fahrenheit,” Nunnery said. “Iron melts at 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, so there’s almost ten times the amount of temperature, which actually is not linear – it’s a lot more energy than ten times.”
Since its inception, CAP has grown tremendously, doubling in revenue every year. They have a presence in 250 municipalities in the nation, including McAllen, Pharr, San Juan and Harlingen.
“We have a big range right now,” Nunnery said, noting the states of Texas and Florida are some of CAP’s biggest proprietors. “We also have TxDOT [Texas Department of Transportation] approval, and we are traffic-rated.”
They recently approved a contract with San Antonio Water Systems, the seventh largest city in the country. For CAP, having more manufacturers in the area is beneficial so the economy is not just recycling funds, but bringing more in through widely-distributed products made here.
Nunnery first came to the Valley when his former employer sent him to a plant in Brownsville. There, he met his wife Gabriela, who is from Reynosa, Mexico, and fell in love with her along with the culture and people of the RGV.
The Nunnerys are active in the community through their work with local food banks and charities. Gabriela, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Mexico before her master’s degree at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, acts as a chair of the Empty Bowls Committee.
The Nunnerys live in Mission, and their son will be graduating from the Sharyland Independent School District next year.
CAP has just been granted a loan of about $1 million, and plans on using the funds for the purchase of an additional press – which will likely double their usual production of 60 to 70 covers per day. They also plan on hiring more employees.
More information about CAP can be found at their website, www.justcapthat.com.