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— From raw materials to finished product, the FNA Group factory in Decatur will now be manufacturing high pressure hoses in addition to the pressure washers it has been producing since May.

The FNA Group of Elk Grove, Ill. is in the process of transferring its hose operation to the former Black & Decker plant in Decatur, according to plant manager Chuck Chism.

Hoses are already being made in Decatur, but the company is still moving more than 30 semi-truck loads of material and machinery from Illinois. The machinery should be up and running by the end of October, Chism said.

The new operation will manufacture high pressure hot water hoses for the commercial market and distributors and high pressure cold water hoses for the commercial market, distributors and general consumers, Chism said.

The Decatur plant will make the hoses for the pressure washers manufactured by the FNA Group as well as many of the company's competitors, he said.

The raw ingredients for the hoses come into the factory in the form of pellets and spools of nylon. The pellets are poured into a hopper where they are melted in an extruder and formed into hose. The hoses are run through several tanks of water where they are cooled before being wound on a giant spool.

In the second step of creating the hoses, a braiding machine, with 24 bobbins, weaves a fabric cover over the hose to make a jacket that gives the hose strength, Chism said.

For higher pressure hoses, a layer of wire is braided over the fabric for even more strength. The company manufactures hoses up to 5,000 PSI in Decatur, Chism said.

Then hoses are put through another extruding machine, similar to the first one, for an outer jacket. Chism said the hoses can be coated with several materials, depending on the product specifications.

Hoses are wound on big spools and taken to the other side of the factory where they are cut to length and outfitted with quick connectors, and other fittings.

Some of the hoses will be packages for retail and others will be kept in bulk for FNA's own use or shipped in bulk to other manufacturers, Chism said.

FNA also makes several brands of pressure washers in Decatur. The company purchased the Decatur facility in March and transferred their Siloam Springs operation to Decatur in May.

"We are hoping to grow our business dramatically so we can be one of the larger employers in the area," Chism said.

Commercial and consumer grade gas-powered and electric pressure washers are also made from scratch in Decatur. Sheets of metal and tubes are bent and formed to make the bodies of the machines.

The plant has a tube bender that takes raw pieces of metal and makes precisely angled bends with a computer.

After the bodies and fuel tanks are made, the pressurewashers are taken to the other side of the plant for assembly and distribution.

Employees carefully install engines, burners and wiring in the pumps before the new machines go though an extensive testing process.

"We performance-test every machine we make," Chism said.

There are also many quality-control measures, such as extremely sensitive electronic scales that let employees know if a part is missing from the pressure washers.

The plant also has many safeguards for employees.

Vacuum hoists lift up to 250 pounds with the touch of a finger so employees don't have to pick-up the heavy parts.

The Decatur facility is capable of making 2,000 pressure washers per shift, Chism said.

There is a great deal of engineering and design that goes into the machines and the specifications are very tight, Chism said.

"There's not a lot of gray area, the product has to be exact," he said.

News, Pages 12 on 09/23/2009

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