Diving board and waterslide innovator
creates backyards of fun
By Margie Church, Editor
Mike Hagerty, President and CEO of Inter-Fab Inc., chuckles when he recalls his original objective was to develop Inter-Fab’s product line quickly and move on. That was nearly 20 years ago, and he is still at the helm of this innovative residential diving board and waterslide manufacturing company. It has grown from selling a single 8-foot diving board to offering a diverse line of products that can transform a backyard swimming pool into a mini backyard waterpark.
A Single Splash
In the early 1990s the swimming pool slide business was going down the drain. Sales had declined to roughly 10 percent of what they had been in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of us recall the tall blue slides at some outdoor pools. There was little running water on them to help us slither down faster, and if we were really unlucky, they could be quite hot. The other alternative was a tile or concrete version that was very uncomfortable, snagged swimwear and skin, and was a great safe harbor for all kinds of bacteria and mold. To be fair, designers knew there “had to be a better way,” they just had not addressed the issue successfully.
When Hagerty opened Inter-Fab in 1990, he entered a market that was monopolized by a manufacturer with its own large distribution network. Hagerty chose to focus on developing relationships with existing distribution channels and ensuring high-quality products. Furthermore, he knew that the time had come to develop innovations in residential waterslides.
“We wanted to breathe life into the waterslide business and saw obvious design opportunities to make them more attractive to consumers,” Hagerty says. “We focused on three things: safety, water distribution, and aesthetic appeal.”
One cannot go down the slide without first going up, and stair safety had long been a concern for parents. Aluminum ladder-style stair designs were scrapped for a fully molded stair design with a tread type of surface that included sand tread strips for grip. A second safety step design later emerged that included a molded rib design for grip and toe stops to prevent “slip through.” Both of these treads reduce the chances of slipping, stay cooler than aluminum versions, and do not rust.
The Inter-Fab designers also looked more thoroughly at the dynamics of a human body traveling down a waterslide. They made improvements to the slide flume depths and made the slide’s walls higher to help ensure a safe sliding path down the slide.
They also switched from a laminate to an acrylic surface that is thermoformed or rotomolded. The smooth acrylic surfaces are durable, healthier, easier to maintain, and friendlier to skin and swimwear than concrete and tile. They can be manufactured more quickly than traditional laminate, too.
While exploring human ergonomics, Inter-Fab’s designers also uncovered great opportunities for different slide shapes and lengths. More twists and turns mean more sliding fun and greater sales potential. The majority of Inter-Fab’s slides are designed to accommodate a 250-pound slider. All of its slides are rigorously tested to determine impact resistance and strength, and to ensure that the slider’s path is primarily in the center of the slide runway. Today Inter-Fab uses computer-aided design (CAD) software to simulate a body’s motion down a slide. Hagerty says it also employs good old-fashioned human testing, too. While he will not divulge the exact details, “casual Fridays” are probably a whole lot more fun at Inter-Fab than at many of the places we work.
The Zoom Flume™
The old style waterslides employed a spray nozzle that used a ¼-inch hose to deliver water to the slide. The spray nozzle easily clogged or broke. Dry waterslides are no fun at all, so pool owners had to keep replacing the spray nozzles or hook up their garden hoses to keep the slide wet. Unfortunately, using the garden hose often led to overfilling the pool.
The Zoom Flume is Inter-Fab’s answer to the water distribution problem. The proprietary system delivers a large volume of water to the slide and distributes it evenly over the entire surface of the slide runway. The pool’s pump delivers water to the slide via connection to the pool’s water return and a 1-inch flex hose that is connected underneath the slide. Near the top of the slide, the tube is connected to the Zoom runway fixture that fans the water over the slide runway. There is no additional pump to maintain or be concerned about, and the system is easily winterized.
An in-ground swimming pool is a significant investment for a homeowner, and aesthetics are important. Inter-Fab widened its use of colors, shapes, and physical designs to help lure people to the pool and to complement landscaping. “If a person is investing in an in-ground pool, they don’t want the pool’s accessories looking cheap or performing poorly,” Hagerty says. “We make sure everything we sell is durable, attractive, and enhances the pool experience.”
As waterslide sales began to rebound, Hagerty says, Inter-Fab started to view itself as a manufacturer for the whole backyard. Its core business, residential diving boards, grew steadily; Inter-Fab expanded its offerings from that single 8-foot diving board to approximately 250 different combinations of color, length, tread, and spring.
The majority of Inter-Fab’s diving boards are manufactured using hand lay-up. First, an acrylic sheet is thermoformed to create the outer shell of the board. Color and ultraviolet (UV) light protection is already embedded in the acrylic sheet. Once the sheet is thermoformed, the acrylic shell is taken into fabricating, placed in a mold, and hand lay-up is used to complete these boards. A unidirectional fiberglass matt is placed in the shell and wet-out with Interplastic Corporation’s CoREZYN® low HAP polyester resin. This is rolled out and followed by a Douglas fir wood core that is clamped in place. A minimum of 2 inches of overlapping joints provides additional strength. Another layer of chopped-strand fiberglass and resin covers the core; it’s rolled out again and left to fully cure. Then the tread surface is coated with a layer of CoREZYN general purpose resin. When the resin is tacky, specially-treated sand is spread across it and left to cure. A brushable CoREZYN gel coat covers the entire board for the final color and seal.
Inter-Fab typically manufactures 150 hand lay-up boards a day, five days a week, eight hours a day. The most popular hand lay-up board is the white Duro-Beam 8-foot with white sand tread.
Modern Fabricating Techniques
Light resin transfer molding (LRTM) is being used to manufacture the company’s T-7 diving boards. The T-7 is a 100 percent composite system, including the springs the board bounces on. Hagerty says Inter-Fab worked with a company that manufactures aftermarket springs for Corvette® cars. “We didn’t pioneer any technology; Corvettes have been using composite springs since the 1980s,” he says. “We partnered with the company to develop a modified leaf spring that met our weight and performance criteria.”
Hagerty liked the idea of using LRTM to build a 100 percent composite board, to address emissions reductions, and to maintain a very predictable quality standard. The board is lighter than those made with hand lay-up too.
Just to make it cool, this premium board system has a lighted waterfall at its end, either a fiber optic or LED system, at the customer’s choice. “Its just one of the ways,” Hagerty continues, “that we demonstrate our ability to create an appealing swimming environment.”
The Build Your Own Slide™ (BYOS) system also is made using LRTM. The BYOS™ is a marketing innovation that allows pool designers to flex their creativity by incorporating custom slides that glide around custom designs using artificial or natural rock. “There are some fine craftsmen building pools,” Hagerty explains. “These products are great for homeowners who want a cove, rock formation, waterfall, fountain, or bench with one of our slides, or to dress up the pool area.” Custom pool builders who fabricate designs from the simple to the very complex appreciate the versatility of the BYOS system.
Inter-Fab also manufactures poolside waterfalls, fountains, and boulders in its Echoes of Nature™ product line. The rocks and rock formations are made of durable, lightweight polyurea. Many molds were made from actual boulders and rock formations to give foolproof results. Two rock style designs are offered in a variety of colors to match any backyard décor. The rock products yield a natural-looking appearance, and the colors are chemically bonded to the undercoat for UV protection and durability.
The polyurea products are tested to endure the weight and antics of curious climbers, and extensive freeze/thaw tests ensure their durability in cold weather climates. Incorporating lights and sound into the rocks is possible in future design concepts.
Rounding Out the Fun
If you still have to have more, Inter-Fab sells pool volleyball and basketball sets that swimmers of all ages can enjoy.
Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, Inter-Fab sells most of its products in North America. The company opened a second manufacturing and distribution warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee, last year to expand its manufacturing capabilities to more than 180,000 square feet.
Learn more: www.interfab.com