Case Studies

Electro Plastics dba STEP Warmfloor

Missouri tech company proves that innovative technology is still produced in the United States

In 1981, after working on several projects for the University of Sweden, Stephan Irgens invented a technology that would become a world leader of positive temperature coefficient (PTC) heating elements and systems.  Irgens would use this technology to launch his company Electro Plastics Inc. dba STEP Warmfloor to manufacture STEP (Self-regulating Technology of Electro Plastics) heating elements and systems. Headquartered in Maryland Heights, Missouri, STEP Warmfloor is committed to providing sustainable, safe, energy efficient radiant heating solutions through continuous innovation.

Multiple applications

STEP Warmfloor’s advanced research & development and manufacturing center continues to drive innovation forward by developing sustainable heating solutions in multiple business verticals, including construction, marine, process and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) heating products. When Irgens invented the technology, it was primarily for use in car seat heaters. “Originally there were car seat heaters that were an overlay on the seats,” says Monica Irgens, Stephan’s wife and president of STEP Warmfloor. “There were a lot of problems with that design because when wires overlap there was the potential of a fire hazard. The STEP technology was a result of fixing those issues.”

STEP Warmfloor is a flexible and durable, flat and thin (1.2 mm), homogenous heating element made of a PTC semi-conductive unique polymer blend. The plastic is electrically conductive and because of resistance in the material, heat develops. “Most importantly, the element is self-regulating, which means that when the ambient temperature increases, the electrical resistance increases and the consumption of electricity decreases,” Irgens explains. “For these reasons the heating element is safe, it cannot overheat and is very energy efficient.” STEP Warmfloor uses environmentally friendly, non-hazardous and recyclable materials.

As Stephan improves the technology, other markets are continuously researched and approached.  After the company began incorporating the product into recreation vehicles and hospital beds, the Irgens discovered that the construction industry was where the company would generate the most demand for its product. When the couple came to the United States, they found that due to HVAC, they would need to establish a niche market. “That was when we realized that the technology could provide many services in construction such as floor heating, snow melting and roof de-icing,” says Irgens. “We were also able to create other specialty products that can be used for winterizing ships.”

At STEP Warmfloor, the company’s engineers and designers calculate each system to satisfy each specific application. Heating elements come in different sizes and conductivities and come in a roll so they can be cut to the desired length on site. In floor heating applications the elements can be installed under most floor coverings, including wood, laminate, tile stone and carpet. “When applying this technology in homes you have to know everything about the construction, the insulation values, the heating efficiency and the type of flooring that is used,” says Irgens. “The reason for this is to give the customer the best product for the application.”

Continued innovation

STEP Warmfloor has extended its product line to include a STEP DC Controller for easy connection to any low voltage, 20-35V AC or DC, power source system allowing the use of STEP Warmfloor in on- or off-grid situations. “The new DC Controller is perfectly suited and designed from the ground up to work seamlessly with all STEP Systems,” Irgens explains. “The controller comes with one main PC board and can have up to eight channels of 450W each. It has a clean, compact, high-power density design with extensive self-diagnostic capabilities including over-current and arc-fault protection. It is also designed to provide power to the attached load in a gentle and controlled manner and has a resettable intelligent breaking system on each channel.”

STEP Warmfloor was used as the exclusive heat source in the construction company’s headquarters in Missouri. The 34,725-square-foot facility’s design incorporated materials chosen solely on sustainability and environmentally friendly properties. A total of 15,890 feet of the heating element was installed in the building with 2,680 feet in the offices, 6,699 feet in the warehouse on the upper level, and 6,511 feet in the factory on the lower level.

To ensure sufficient heat output during cold peaks, a variety of installation methods were used. In the lower level factory, the heating elements were over the thermal insulation and under a six-inch slab. In the upper level warehouse, elements were installed between two layers of concrete. In the facility’s office space, STEP Warmfloor was installed in various techniques including, over thermal insulation in poured concrete, under rubber mats, under floating boards, bamboo and wood and under cushion and carpet.

Belief in the product

Irgens are proud of the fact that their company has been able to consistently push STEP Warmfloor into industrial applications. The company has maintained a focused goal in which to spread the word of this technology while maintaining control over the technology for more than 34 years. “When you have a technology like this and you just thrust it into the market it can be misused for many reasons,” says Irgens. “We have proven the effectiveness of this product because we believe in it. We have had many opportunities to sell the rights to it and we have not done that because we feel we can create the awareness and the proper use of the many applications this technology can offer.”

With all manufacturing as well as research and development performed in the United States, Irgens says the company is proud to produce an American-made product. “We work locally and recruit local people that share our vision,” she adds. “We are proud to be proving that everything can be done right here in the United States.”

Electro PlasticsWith an innovative and environmentally friendly product such as STEP Warmfloor, Irgens says that having great business partners is the key to incorporating new technology into any industry. “When you put the amount of dedication and commitment into something like we have, you need to be surrounded by people that believe in it as much as you do,” says Irgens. “We have done just that. Everybody involved in this technology believes in it and has contributed to the success of STEP Warmfloor.”

While STEP Warmfloor has created a niche market in the construction industry, the company will look to expand into other markets. With huge potential and numerous applications for its product, Electro Plastics, Inc. will begin incorporating itself into the oil, natural gas and pipeline technologies. While it continues to expand its market share, Electro Plastics Inc. dba STEP Warmfloor will remain an American company producing an American-made product.

Watch the US Builders Review interview with Electro Plastics Inc. at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo 2015 here: https://youtu.be/ATReoSwT8q0

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