Sometimes innovation leads companies in unexpected directions. Just ask Eric Ball, vice president of product development at Orenco. Ball and his team didn’t set out to design a tennis table. In fact, they didn’t set out to make a recreation product at all. Orenco is best known for wastewater products. However, one innovation led to another and Orenco will introduce its unique fiberglass tennis tables later this year.
The new FiberGraphic™ tables are built using closed mold vacuum infusion, which allows for robust, embedded graphics. Although there are a few fiberglass tennis tables on the market, Ball says that these are hand built using more traditional chopper gun fiberglass dispensing systems. None feature embedded graphics.
The technology to build the FiberGraphic tables was an offshoot of ongoing research and development into fiberglass products with embedded images, especially the architectural fiberglass panels now offered by Orenco’s Motif Design Tools division. Like the panels, the tables are built using a vacuum infusion process in which the fiberglass and the core material are laid-up as dry goods, sealed under a nylon bagging film, and then infused with a specialized polyester resin from Reichold that includes multiple proprietary formulations.
The resulting table is nearly 100 percent composite. “So there is absolutely nothing to rust or corrode,” explains Ball. This means that, unlike traditional wood tables, FiberGraphic tables can be used outdoors. At 150 to 200 pounds, they also are much easier to move than outdoor concrete tennis tables, which can weigh 2,000 pounds.
Perhaps most importantly, the vacuum infusion process enables the tables to feature custom graphics. The graphics, which can include photos, logos, names and other images, are printed on large sheets of fabric and embedded in the table when it is infused. Ball thinks the collegiate market is ready for this kind of product and envisions tennis tables featuring team or school logos on college campuses across the nation – not to mention in the homes of enthusiastic fans. “Fans in the Southeast Conference are just nuts!” jokes Ball. “I think that if you had pingpong tables with Alabama Crimson Tide in the surface, they would be pretty popular.”
Orenco also has developed FiberGraphic sports benches, the first of which were recently installed at Umpqua Valley Tennis Center in Oregon. Like the tennis tables, Ball sees a solid market for these benches on university and high school campuses across the United States – for use in gyms, workout rooms and other athletic facilities. The University of Oregon has already requested custom benches for its six indoor tennis courts.