Good and “TANKED”

by Suzanne Van Gilder

 

Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM) builds enormous and awe-inspiring tanks and aquariums for top celebrities, luxury hotels and casinos, Fortune 500 businesses, private homes and millionaire homeowners across the country. The tanks range in size from 50- to more than one million gallons, and are filled with the most exotic, colorful and sometimes dangerous fish in the world. Last year, ATM built over 10,000 aquariums.

Described as two of Sin City’s most imaginative businessmen, ATM’s owners, Wayde King and Brett Raymer are quite the team cracking jokes in thick New York accents. In fact, they are so entertaining that they have their own reality show on the Animal Planet network, called “TANKED”. Yet, underlying all the showmanship is true master craftsmanship that comes from 21 years of building a comprehensive business. “We are pretty much one of the only manufacturers that actually does everything – all the cutting, bending and bonding for the acrylic, the welding and powder coating of the stands. Then we do all the life-support, make some of the filters, do the coral inserts, all the signage and plumbing. We build the tank, do the theming and then get the façade work done all around the aquarium,” says King. “When someone wants something custom, it’s one-stop shopping.”

ATM has 58 employees and a 34,000 square-foot facility that includes 25,000 square-feet of manufacturing, and a showroom/retail area to accommodate the 200-300 people per day that come for tours. “It’s really about marketing yourself. I try to let people know what is possible with the materials and the technology, because they are always advancing,” says King. “’TANKED’ is great for that. Before people understand what we are capable of, they still think of aquariums as rectangular cubes.” Pushing the boundaries requires ATM to continually refine its operations, which means expert-level understanding of materials and continual investments in technology. ATM’s fabricator and supplier partners also benefit from learning how to better meet the company’s evolving needs.

 

Becoming “TANKED”

The debut of “TANKED” in 2011 brought all sorts of interesting new requests to ATM. “With some projects it is very difficult to fulfill what the customers want,” says King. “Parts have to match, and nothing is standard.” The size, shape and necessary life-support systems for an aquarium are all factors that ATM uses to engineer the design of a tank, which also influences what type of acrylic and adhesive systems are specified. Completed plans are sophisticated, and literally, must hold water. To translate some of the more complex designs into digital files for production, King turned to a custom millworker, his friend Bryan Thatcher, owner of CT Design (see An Oasis for Innovation page 40). “We teamed up with Thatcher to do some of the projects. He did the programming for the CNC so we could get those special requests just right,” says King. “Thatcher is incredible on the computer and with his machines. He also did the woodworking to create the surrounds for projects like the Mob Experience. It’s fun to work with him and exciting to let the world know what we can do.”

One of the projects that stands out for Thatcher is a gumball tank made for the Serendipity restaurant in Las Vegas. “It’s great working with Wayde because he has so much passion for what he does. I was qualified to program and cut the radiused parts because of our machines and KCD software, but it was really his knowledge of acrylics and how they work that made it possible,” says Thatcher. “It really boils down to education. If you are willing to pay attention to the material you are working with, then it is a lot easier to incorporate the machinery and software to create a superior product. Working with ATM made us a better OEM. ”

 

Being “TANKED” is Better Together

Another of ATM’s mutually-beneficial partnerships is with Stiles Machinery. “We built our business on panel- processing for wood products, “ says James Swanson, Stiles product specialist- Weeke North America. “But there is a lot of crossover into plastics and composites. Regardless of the material, quality end products rely on machines that have a linear motion package that is rigid, reliable and repeatable. As a vendor, we have experts in each area of material that understand the different tuning configurations, tool geometries, feed speeds and common RPMS, optimization and fixturing strategies- so we can help customers put their machines to the best use, regardless of the type of panel.”

As ATM’s fame continues, so do the requests for ever-bigger and more elaborate aquariums. To meet those demands, ATM recently made additional equipment investments. “We’ve been partnering with Stiles for three years. They actively work with us to make our operations better,” says King. “For this recent expansion they spent days with us in our shop figuring out the best ways to streamline our operations. With the new edge-polishing and vertical milling machines, we can prepare acrylic edges for glue-up within a matter of minutes. That process used to take 12 or 15 hours, sometimes days. They saved us hundreds of man-hours, so now we can do more custom designs and theming.”

During this time King and Raymer also made a visit to Stiles Machinery in Grand Rapids, Mich. to try out equipment and learn more about the company’s support and services. Always dynamic and engaging, the team from ATM combined forces with Stiles to do something special for the community of Grand Rapids. The result is a 12-foot acrylic fish tank featuring a unique rapids-like bend in the front panel and a lighted etching of the Grand Rapids skyline in the rear panel. Stiles donated the 700-gallon, 7,000- pound aquarium to the Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center in downtown Grand Rapids, and Animal Planet recorded parts of the fabrication, installation and unveiling for a segment on “TANKED.”

“I’ve been building tanks my entire life. It’s fun,” says King. “Having good partners helps us to do bigger and more amazing things. It keeps us above our game.” 

 

Acrylic Tank Manufacturing uses the following equipment to build the elaborate aquarium projects seen on the show “TANKED”

•    Weeke ABP 310 Edge Polisher

•    Altendorf F45 P Sliding Table Saw

•    Holzma HPP 410 P Panel Saw

•    Weeke Vantech 510 Router

•    Belfab DW-15 Dust Collector