When the Fairbanks Rescue Mission needed to upgrade bunk beds for the people it serves, it turned to a local engineering firm for help. Lifewater Engineering Company of Fairbanks fabricated a hard plastic bunk bed that is likely the first of its kind nationwide and maybe even worldwide.
The prototype of the hard plastic bed sets a new standard for safety and durability and is a stellar model for local collaboration.
“We started researching bunk beds for our shelter because we needed to upgrade the ones here,” said Krystel Marino, development director at the Fairbanks Rescue Mission. “We had metal ones, and they started to sag.”
The Fairbanks Rescue Mission provides emergency shelter and life-changing programs to those experiencing hardship or homelessness in Interior Alaska.
New metal beds were available for purchase, but would have to be shipped from Outside, always a time consuming and expensive option, she said.
Enter Lifewater Engineering, a local firm that specializes in onsite wastewater treatment and plastic fabrication. The company also excels at innovation and Arctic engineering. According to the business website: “The best way to get our attention is to say ‘That can’t be done.’”
“We are the largest plastic fabricator in the state,” said Jerry Fleishman, operations manager.
The company already builds durable plastic boats through Class 5 Boat Works. Bunk beds were next.
Fleishman designed the bunk bed, mechanical engineer Kyle Wynne completed the design, including structural analysis, and they built the prototype.
“It’s a hard plastic bed, but it has some spring to it,” Fleishman said. “A little bit of give and it has the features of something that is easily cleanable and durable.”
There are also no sharp edges.
The prototype was created in time for a special Fairbanks Rescue Mission fundraiser a few weeks ago that raised about $44,000 for the project.
After feedback from people at the Rescue Mission, the design is still being adjusted for improvement.
“We had the opportunity to solve a problem and have collaborative feedback from staff at the Rescue Mission,” Fleishman said. “We’re going to go into the next phase, with some feedback to produce more.”
The bunk beds are unique throughout the industry.
“It’s safe to say this is probably the first fabricated plastic bunk bed in the United States, maybe in the world,” Fleishman said. “I pay a lot of attention to what is being done by plastic fabrication around the country and the world. But I haven’t seen anything like this yet.”
Lifewater Engineering was able to create the bunk bed with equipment and material it already had on site. The hard plastic is durable, he said.
“Instead of having a steel product that, as it gets beat up and pushed around, will start failing and welds will crack and fail,” he said. “We’re not going to have that issue because we don’t have a fatigue life on this product. It moves and flexes.”
The Fairbanks Rescue Mission expects to begin with an order for 50 bunk beds. That will then increase to 100 to 150 beds, Marino said.
“The best part is we are supporting another business here,” she said. “We don’t have that shipping cost from out of state.”
She is delighted to not have to worry about shipping and possible delays, which can sometimes be months and even years.
“I think we are the first rescue mission to work with local business to build something to fit our shelter in the unique way that we need it,” she said. “Who knew that we could do this in Fairbanks, Alaska?”
The Fairbanks Rescue Mission helps an estimated 50 people during summer months and closer to 100 during the cold winter months.
“I think last year we did 26,000 shelter nights and about 43,000 meals in the middle of Covid-19,” she said.
Other agencies may likely be looking to utilize these bunk beds as well. Lifewater Engineering is considering names for a branch of the company that will focus on this new product, as demand grows — much like the branch that focuses on building plastic boats. See more about Lifewater Engineering at www.lifewaterengineering.com.
Fairbanks Rescue Mission is at www.fairbanksrescuemission.org.
Follow Kris Capps at twitter.com/FDNMKris.