Made In Minnesota: Water Gremlin

July 6, 2017 No Comments
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Sinkers And Battery Terminals

by John Johnston

toc_columns50pxAlmost all Minnesotans have a Water Gremlin product in their home, whether they know it or not. It could be a pack of fishing sinkers or a battery terminal in their car or motorcycle.

Water Gremlin was founded in 1949 in White Bear Lake by Robert Ratte, to supply products to the recreational fishing industry. The company started in a 16-foot by 20-foot building that was an old chicken coop converted into a die-cast shop. That section of building is still visible in the current factory and is used as a red tag area.

Power was an issue when the business was started in the remote area of White Bear Lake. Northern States Power wanted $5,000 and five months to get power to the factory, so they started with a generator to power the business. Lead was purchased from Gopher Smelting and brought to the factory in a 1938 Packard.

The first year, Water Gremlin produced eight sizes of Rubbercor® sinkers. Being innovators, the company developed machines to make split shot sinkers in 1960. These sinkers were sold to a fairly-new department store called Walmart, which had 323 stores at that time. Today, Walmart is the largest sinker customer for Water Gremlin.

In the 1950s, Water Gremlin expanded three times to accommodate the growth in the Rubbercor® line. In the 1960s, the company had six building expansions to accommodate the rapid growth of the new removable split shot line.

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BATTERY TERMINALS
The next chapter for Water Gremlin was getting into the battery terminal market in 1965, by selling a coined terminal to Gates Battery. In the 1970s, the company approached Gould Battery Company (formerly GNB, a division of Exide Battery today) about supplying die casted terminals for lead acid batteries.

By 1970, Water Gremlin had grown to 38 employees. The process of making terminals required a die cast machine and a mold. During that process, molten lead is pushed into the mold and follows various runners to supply lead to all the part cavities. The mold stays closed until the lead solidifies, then the mold opens and parts are removed. Scrap lead is returned to the molten lead supply, so there is no wasted material. The larger machines have multiple cavities and are loaded and unloaded using a robotic arm.

Water Gremlin has grown from the original 320 square feet in 1949, by way of 16 separate additions. In 2014, the company added a new 84,000-square-foot South Campus, bringing the White Bear Lake location to 176,000 square feet. An expansion of another 78,000 square feet is planned for winter 2018, bringing the company to approximately 254,000 square feet. Water Gremlin now employs 240 full-time employees between both campuses.

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Minnesota ingenuity and hard work has led Water Gremlin to be a premier manufacturer for industry segments in automotive, agricultural, commercial truck, marine, and sporting goods, just to name a few.  Water Gremlin offers lead products made by die casting, extrusion, coining, cold forming, and gravity casting.

Through acquisition, Water Gremlin also has a plant in Brescia, Italy, and has started from the ground up in Changxing, China. Over the next several years, the White Bear Lake plant will be modernized to make a push to new markets, including salt water sinkers.

See you at the lake!pm_endmarkred-e1320337243152


 

JOHN JOHNSTON is Plant Manager at Water Gremlin and is a member of the MPMA’s Publications Committee. He can be reached at john.johnston@watergrem.com.

Copyright © 2017 Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. For permission to use or reprint this article please contact Nancy Huddleston, publications manager for Precision Manufacturing Journal.

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