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March 15, 2010

Local Company Reinvents Wheel

GREEN HILL — What do U.S. Army tanks, Boeing jets and Autumn Lanes bowling alley have in common? They all use custom wheels made by Sunray, Inc.

The  just off U.S. 64, and are just three examples of the thousands of parts made by this multi-million dollar corporation founded in 1978 by Dale Burgett.
 
“The company got its start in Charlotte, but Mr. Burgett wanted to move it back closer to his wife’s family who live near Lake Lure,” General Manager Troy Bright said. “They moved it in 1988 and the company has been here ever since.”

Sunray makes polyurethane wheels in sizes ranging from just a few inches to 48-inch in diameter.
 
“The largest wheels we make are for the tanks and then those for the Boeing jets and the Airbus jets,” said Bright. “We’ve just recently received a group of wheels from Airbus that we are repairing for them after some battery acid leaked on them.”

Although it looks similar, polyurethane is different than plastic. Bright said it is lighter and tougher, and the company’s process bonds the polyurethane coating with the core of the wheel at a chemical level.

“We melt the polyurethane and pour it onto the wheels, whatever size and shape they need to be,” Bright explained. “We score the metal wheels first so the coating bonds with it. You’d have to break the metal before the coating comes off.”

The liquid nature of the coating is what makes Sunray’s wheels so adaptable, Bright said.

“We can form them to almost any shape a customer wants,” he added. “And they can have the surface custom made for a variety of applications.”

Case in point is a specific wheel made for an assembly line at an explosives manufacturer. The machine sorts dynamite, so it is important the wheel be smooth as possible to avoid jostling the nitroglycerin.

“Customers often ask us to help with making a working model or concept part,” Bright said. “So we do have a lot of repeat customers — like the tank wheels — but we see plenty of one time jobs.”

The Sunray factory floor has dozens of custom machining devices to help cut wheels and finish them just so. And there are several ovens to bake on the finished polyurethane. After coating, the wheels are baked at 250 degrees for about 16 hours, depending on the particular formula.

The company’s 40 employees work in two shifts to get the orders out. Bright said the location on U.S. 64 might seem remote, but wasn’t an issue with vendors and customers.

“Generally if we call them in the morning they can have trucks out to us that afternoon,” Bright said. “Which is great when you have precision customers like BMW and Samsung.”

By Scott Mooneyham, "The Daily Courier"