The article was written for the Financial Post by Jameson Berkow email@example.com.
A Canadian company thinks it has an answer for Haitian relief. Innovative Composites International Inc. (ICI) is combining large industry experience with small start-up ingenuity to position itself as a housing provider for Haiti that desperately needs one million homes.
The Toronto-based company, made up of former executive from companies such as Magna International Inc, and Chrysler Group LLC, is hoping to popularize the concept of a plastic house. Such houses are actually cheaper, stronger, greener and far easier to assemble than those built using more traditional materials.
Terry Ball, the founding chief executive lauds plastic as a great structural material. “We’ve developed a a bunch of products that take high-strength fibres, we combine them with low-cost plastics and provide structural applications to replace steel, concrete and wood with something that last longer, is stronger, lighter and is completely recyclable.” Because wood has challenges in tropical and warm climates in terms of having to be treated for decay and other things that aren’t typically a problem here in Canada, so perhaps a plastic approach can overcome some of those challenges.”
Jerry Olszewski, VP of engineering for ICI boasts ICI components as being nearly impervious to common wood-afflicting ailments such as moisture, insects, rot and mould. The building panel is totally superior to any wood product and we can make the material hurricane proof and if necessary, earthquake proof.”
ICI uses a rubber seal—similar to what Mr. Olszewski used in the automotive industry as manager of applied materials technology for Chrysler—to attach the plastic structure to the concrete slab used as the foundation. The result is the structure “floats” atop the foundation in such a way that it can compensate for movements in the earth directly below, while the production process allows it to hold up against winds in excess of 24 kilometres per hour.
The tests that they use, they fire a two-by-four at 72 mph (115 km/h) at the wall out of a cannon,” Mr. Ball said. “Our wall sections can take multiple strikes; you can hit them numerous times without knocking them down.”
A statement by Brian Eames, manager of large export projects for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., makes the following observation. “The company’s final assembly procedure—whereby an ICI-produced home can be erected by four unskilled labourers in about two days will prove important as ICI vies for a contract. A lot of countries want to employ their populations in the recovery process and a company that comes in with foreign workers may not do as well as something that engages the locals in putting together their own housing and taking ownership of it.”
Barely two years old, ICI has established a manufacturing base in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and is preparing to open another facility at a southern U.S. seaport, where it hopes it can soon start shipping the components for more than 5,00 homes to Haiti.
Nobody believes in the potential of ICI more than its own staff. That is why, in addition to Haiti, the company is involved in the initial stages of low-cost housing projects in Iraq, Libya, Mexico and Colombia.By Jameson Berkow