Breaking New Ground in Water Management

If you’ve ever driven across a parking lot, attended an indoor sporting event or planted a crop, chances are good you’ve reaped the benefits of a good drainage system, whether you realized it or not. Chances are also good that Advanced Drainage Systems in Fairmont had a hand in constructing the durable, high-performance pipe used in that system.

As a leading manufacturer of stormwater and on-site septic wastewater solutions, ADS helps manage one of the world’s most precious resources: water.

“We provide superior drainage solutions for a wide variety of makes and applications, including commercial, residential, infrastructure and agriculture,” ADS plant manager Josh Stangler said.

From safely pretreating and managing stormwater runoff to helping developers and property owners harvest rainwater, ADS focuses on developing water solutions that make land more arable and cities more livable. The installation of ADS drainage systems allows water to move without pooling and reduces flooding, especially in areas susceptible to heavy water damage. The drainage system lies beneath the targeted area, funneling excess water away to someplace where it won’t do any harm.

“These types of drainage products are everywhere,” Stangler said. “They’re under stadiums, parking lots, agriculture fields, municipalities. What we’re doing is helping mitigate flooding and creating better experiences through the management of water.”

Founded in 1966, ADS now operates a global network of 70 manufacturing plants and 38 distribution centers. The 5,000-person company has grown mainly through acquisitions and ships its products across the United States, Canada and occasionally, abroad.

“Each of our 70 plants is unique in what part of the process they work in, but they all have production lines and share tooling,” Stangler said.

The ADS Fairmont location has 75 employees. It is currently a 39,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, but it will soon double its footprint. A quick look at the expansion project plans provides a perfect example of how a drainage system works, and why it’s needed.

“We’re adding 40,000 square feet and two more production lines at our Fairmont facility,” Stangler explained. “We have it on a grid system where we have water basins in place because without them, you would have standing water when it rains. If you drive into any parking lot, you’re going to find a storm basin. If you don’t, that parking lot is going to flood. What we do here at ADS is mitigate that flooding with our drainage systems.”

Each ADS plant concentrates on different products and applications. For example, most work at the ADS Fairmont location is designed for agricultural applications. The plant supports seven states in the upper Midwest.

“Within that region, there are six plants, and most are in the ag industry, but they also help support the commercial side, too,” Stangler said. “We produce different systems that don’t just move water, but they might be managing the water source instead. We are working with an incredibly talented team at the Fairmont plant, and we couldn’t do it without them.”

ADS began working with farmers 56 years ago to solve their drainage needs. It is the leader in agricultural water management, selling 440 million feet of drainage pipe in the United States and Canada each year.

ADS manufacturing plants produce products with multiple applications, including water treatment systems, infiltrator systems, drainage systems and everything in between.

“The options are endless for what we can produce,” Stangler said. “You can kind of think of the drainage systems as adult LEGO sets.”

Stangler said ADS has a diverse client base, selling its services to both individuals and large corporations. Its products are used in a wide range of industries, including agriculture, aviation and military, commercial and mixed-use, landfills, mining, parking and structure, residential, sports turf and golf, transportation, health care, education and timber.

“We have a commitment to all of our customers as far as support goes,” Stangler said. “We serve a wide variety of markets, and we actually have one of the largest company-owned fleets in the country. So, when something is sent out to an Advanced Drainage Systems customer, it’s delivered by an ADS truck. We have a full-service commitment to providing our product and delivering great customer service and support.”

ADS is also the largest plastic recycling company in North America, converting thousands of tons of discarded plastic into new products.

“From a sustainability standpoint, we recycle and produce over (half a billion) pounds of plastic per year,” Stangler said. “It’s part of our commitment to sustainability as a company. We want to be good stewards of the environment and land. Doing what we can to keep plastic out of landfills, oceans and water streams is our goal.”

The company purchases anything that has been recycled post-industrial or post-consumer. So when you put out your household recycling, it’s likely some of your discarded plastic items will eventually make their way to ADS and someday become part of a new ADS part or product.

“Basically, we’re buying what’s in your recycling bins at the end of your driveway,” he said. “We’re reusing your Tide bottles and water bottles … anything that is made with HDPE #2 plastic. We turn all of that into pipe products. We own recycling centers that can break it down into flake material, and turn around and use that material to create optimized blends to make our products.”

ADS has been promoting sustainability through recycling and utilizing recycled products for a number of years now. It plans to continue the operation as it looks to expand for future growth.

“Our business continues to grow,” Stangler said. “One of our goals as a company is to produce 1 billion pounds of pipe this year. Part of that is supporting growth with passion and automation.”

By bringing in additional engineering and automation services, the company has found better ways to produce pipes and diversify its customer offerings in a competitive market.

“Our market does slow down, so this is a way we can protect the business, so we don’t have significant shortfalls,” Stangler said. “Our company’s vision statement is ‘Our reason is water.’ That’s why we continue and expand. Right now, our markets are expanding with us, so we’re just trying to support the level of demand.”

Like most companies, ADS has been working hard to fill employment gaps. To fill the void, it has incorporated automation into its processes to help fill positions until new employees are hired and trained. Adding automation serves several purposes for the company.

“It’s partly due to the lack of people, to not being able to expand with people in these economic conditions,” Stangler said. “But more than anything, it’s been about improving as a company and finding better and safer ways to process our pipe.”

Looking to the future, the ADS Fairmont facility is slated to finish its expansion by summer 2023. The 40,000-square-foot expansion will include 13 acres of additional yard space for pipe storage. In addition, the company has set its sights on bringing in 15 to 20 employees to meet demand.

“Our business is growing fast, so we’re going to continue to grow with our markets,” Stangler said. “We’ll keep working to support our demand.”

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