Waterville TG : The Seal of Approval

Jack Salter David Knott
By Jack Salter  - Editor David Knott  - Head of Projects

Celebrating its 70th anniversary, we uncover how Waterville TG has rubber stamped itself as a leader in automotive weatherstripping with President, Benoit Tetreault.

INTRODUCTION

Vehicles are incredibly complex and technologically advanced machines.

A number of important parts immediately spring to mind, from fundamentals such as brakes, engines and wheels, to modern-day luxury accessories including satellite navigation and parking sensors.

But one component that often gets forgotten about, yet serves a vital purpose in protecting a vehicle, is weatherstripping.

The rubber material that seals the edges of doors, windows, windshields and more, weatherstripping is responsible for retaining warmth and keeping rain, dirt, and bugs out.

The world’s biggest automotive manufacturers, including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Stellantis and Toyota, continue to choose customized weatherstrips designed and manufactured by Waterville TG (Waterville), whether for their mass-market or more luxurious models.

“We are a supplier of dynamic and static weatherstrip systems for the automotive industry,” says Benoit Tetreault, President of Waterville.

“We offer a turnkey service to our customers, from the custom design, through to material development and the manufacturing process, up to the mass production of these parts.”

It was Tetreault’s interest in understanding these multi-disciplinary aspects of the business, and the challenges of design and manufacturing, that allowed him to be promoted to President in 2017, having worked in the automotive sealing industry since 1994.

“Throughout my whole career, my technical expertise combined with my market knowledge and appetite for the future of sealing systems brought me to where I am today,” he reflects.

SEALING SPECIALIST

The history of Waterville, a well-established company celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is one defined by the search for the best solutions.

From its founding in 1952, Waterville stood out by becoming the first producer of sponge rubber in North America.

Since then, the company has become a key player in the design and manufacture of weatherstrip seals and systems, today employing more than 1,100 members of staff and operating three production plants, as well as one distribution center, across Quebec and Ontario.

For Tetreault, longevity is one of Waterville’s biggest competitive advantages.

“We have continuously improved our materials, manufacturing methods, and processes to provide the best products,” he tells us.

“That know-how keeps us one step ahead of our competitors, and we can build on these foundations. We have several employees with more than 30 years of seniority!”

Many trends have come and gone over the last seven decades, in which time Waterville has also developed a strong understanding of the market by working with multiple customers, even the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, across various product types. 

Indeed, the company has been recognized internationally as a convertible vehicle sealing specialist, with the quality and reliability of Waterville’s products setting it apart from the competition.

“We have the capability to develop the full product, from design to day-to-day support and delivery, and a very strong program development team that supports our customers through the complete lifecycle of their vehicles,” Tetreault says.

“Furthermore, we have an experienced material development team that can quickly develop new formulations, ensure compatibility between various materials, and our chemists ensure the support of our sister companies as well.”

Waterville’s engineering team is just as integral to the organization, specializing in various fields of expertise from artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to manufacturing and engineering.

“This team is leading the way towards global competitiveness and developing new technologies,” adds Tetreault.

POSITIVE IMPACT

As an active member of the community, being a good corporate citizen is a priority for Waterville.

“For us, social responsibility is about the positive impact our company can have on preserving the environment, creating pleasant workspaces, and helping to build communities that people want to live in,” Tetreault emphasizes.

“Our company contributes to the local economy by providing quality and stable jobs for hundreds of families locally. We also partner with local engineering firms, develop new suppliers, and purchase tools and components from local vendors.”

Waterville’s commitments to the community include support for organizations such as Centraide Estrie (United Way), taking part in the non-profit’s awareness campaign every year.

Many employees also make donations to Centraide Estrie through automatic payroll deductions, with special prizes given out to donors by Waterville to encourage employee participation.

Elsewhere, the company makes financial and material donations to the likes of Blue Massawippi and FSWC Québec, and supports a variety of projects in the city of Waterville.

“We also like to encourage university students by supporting their engineering projects and competitions, as well as sports organizations.”

Equally, Waterville’s Better Health program is centered on wellness and allows staff members to enjoy a fulfilling lifestyle.

Better Health focuses on physical and mental wellbeing in five specific areas: Eat Better, Breathe Better, Be Safer, Live Better, and Move Better.

“We try to implement different types of activities so that the program appeals to everyone,” Tetreault shares.

“For example, we have a massage therapist that comes to the Waterville plant every week, we have several gym and spa discounts, and we hand out fresh apples in the fall.”

REDUCING WASTE

To minimize its environmental footprint, and eliminate the landfilling of production waste, Waterville has recycled waste weatherstrip rubber processed outside the factory for almost 20 years.

“We have surrounded ourselves with processors, and brought our technical expertise with rubber into the equation to allow a significant reduction of material going to waste,” outlines Tetreault.

More recently, the company was awarded the Eastern Townships environmental excellence prize and is now recycling 70 percent of its residual materials. 

Waterville is also constantly optimizing its coating systems to reduce landfilled waste, lowering the amount of silicone used and alleviating volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

Numerous recycling projects, meanwhile, have been implemented to prevent other materials from going to landfill, including paper, cardboard, glass, metal, wood, and plastic.

“We also promote composting, and in our recycling business relationships, we prefer local businesses in order to reduce our carbon footprint to the maximum,” Tetreault notes.

Another of Waterville’s environmental goals is to increase the reuse of reclaimed EPDM rubber in compound mixing, based on a new ‘cradle-to-cradle’ mantra.

This year, the company will be pursuing an R&D project with the intent of increasing the ratio of reclaimed material inside new batches of rubber.

“The end goal is to revalorize products by reintroducing them into the production process. One of the challenges is the reclaiming process itself, to design the product with reuse in mind and the collection of material following its usage.”

Waterville has a track record of environmental leadership, having been a member of the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC) since 2004.

CIPEC recommends best practices in energy management, and encourages reductions in the consumption of energy per unit of production whilst improving economic return. Waterville has subsequently had an electricity management system (EMS) in place since 2014, enabling the implementation of systematic energy management. 

The company has also been involved on the Board of Directors of the Fondation Estrienne en Environnement (FEE) since 2007, promoting environmental protection and sustainable development in the Eastern Townships region.

As a FEE member, Waterville has now participated in expert networks and drafted guidelines dealing with the adoption of best practices in the industry for several years.

“Waterville participates in the sharing of knowledge, with the goal of having a positive impact on the industry,” Tetreault states.

“We are also involved on the CSMO Caoutchouc Board of Directors, participants in Elastomer Valley, members of the Association des Élastomères du Québec (AEQ), and have participated in the Maison régionale de l’industrie (MRI) for more than 30 years.”

“We are a supplier of dynamic and static weatherstrip systems for the automotive industry”

Benoit Tetreault, President, Waterville TG

NEW ERA OF MOBILITY

For the year ahead, Waterville’s big focus will be on supporting its customers in the disruptive Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) environment.

The company is collaborating with manufacturers, who are facing fresh challenges associated with BEVs, to reduce mass, improve acoustics, and comply with new regulations.

“As car manufacturers start to master BEV powertrain technologies and competition increases, we think their focus will change to improve noise, vibration, and harshness (NHV) and weight saving,” Tetreault says.

“We would like manufacturers to recognize the technical complexity of quality weatherstrip sealing systems, the benefits of which will show in this new era of mobility.

“Our parts need to withstand not only doors and windows opening and closing, but also exposure to external elements. The body sealing system has an impact on a vehicle’s perceived quality from an NHV perspective; the importance of weather seals to block airborne external noise and manage squeaks and rattles is considerable,” he continues.

It comes as Waterville continues its efforts towards automation, having invested heavily in manufacturing robotics over the last few years to ergonomically improve its processes and increase global competitiveness.

“This vision makes even more sense now in the context of labor shortages. 

“However, the challenge here for automated operations is the fact that weather seal parts are soft,” Tetreault acknowledges.

On the cutting edge since 1952, the next 70 years of automotive rubber weatherstripping at Waterville is set to be as exciting as the first.

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