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CHICAGO — NPE is providing M.A. Hanna Inc. with an opportunity for a gathering of the tribes. The show also is giving the Cleveland-based compounding, colorant and resin distribution firm a chance to direct attention to new products and services. Included in that lineup are new liquid colors, masterbatch polyolefins, adhesive thermoplastic elastomer compounds and computer software offering comparative resin data to processors.

The firm has purchased 22 businesses since 1986. This steady diet of acquisitions has left the company well-fed, but still ordering from several different menus. In a Sunday afternoon interview at NPE in Chicago, Hanna executives said they are looking to change that situation.

``We were at the stage a couple of years ago where our customers were saying `Why don't you put this together?''' said Doug Schrank, senior vice president of M.A. Hanna Plastics Americas. ``We're working to integrate separate businesses and work on how to unite them as one company that works together.''

Hanna's NPE booth is symbolic of this attempt at synchronicity. The firm has a single booth this year, as opposed to the individual booths each segment had in some years past. But company officials have not lost sight of the bottom line, setting a goal of doubling its sales to $4 billion by 2001. Sales grew 9 percent and profit rose 19 percent last year.

Globally, the company — which in the past three months has acquired two businesses in Europe — now is setting its sights primarily on Asia (particularly China, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia) and South America (particularly Brazil), Schrank said. As previously reported, the company's Asian holdings include a recently opened color plant and a soon-to-open compounding joint venture, both located in China.

Growth is being accompanied by new technology. The firm at NPE is showcasing advances in TPEs, color matching, liquid color products and highly filled polyolefin masterbatch materials.

M.A. Hanna Color, which employs 1,150 at 18 North American manufacturing sites, is coping with an industry in which the focus is shifting from geographically based color companies to larger firms, according to Joe Bauer, president of M.A. Hanna Color in Suwanee, Ga.

Hanna is stepping into this void, as Bauer estimates 70 percent of the company's business comes from local processors. These processors, in turn are getting more specialized and demanding in their color requests. Bauer's account of a molder's request for a plastic cup that had both color and a ``frosted'' look shows how the industry's demands are changing.

The liquid color products provide improved dispersion, better color development and reduced inventory costs, according to a Hanna news release. Bauer added those products are the fastest-growing in his division.

A new line of uncolored polypropylene compounds is aimed at automakers' exact color match standards, while Hanna's Maxbatch masterbatch products use a polyolefin resin to carry fillers and additives in highly loaded pellet form. These concentrated pellets then can be blended with neat resins to provide precise amounts of fillers and additives, especially for auto and consumer durables applications.

The color division also is promoting a laser marking system, called FastMark, that it says eliminates the need for separate applied labeling processes.

M.A. Hanna Engineered Materials, recently renamed and relocated to Norcross, Ga., is centered on tailoring products supplied by major resin manufacturers into products for its own customers.

``We're not married to any resin system in particular,'' said division President James Chapman.

Chapman said TPEs, made by the recently acquired North Coast Compounders of North Ridgeville, Ohio, have particularly shown ``a multiplicity of uses in concert with other materials.'' The line has proprietary technology that addresses an array of substrate adhesion issues that long have confronted those making overmolded products.

M.A. Hanna Resin Distribution also continues to grow as resin manufacturers focus more on ``growth that's meant to serve bigger and bigger pieces of their business,'' according to division President David Knowles.

The Lemont, Ill.-based division, which employs about 300 at 15 locations in North America, sees potential for growth in South America, especially in connection with M.A. Hanna de Mexico, the firm's Mexican distribution arm.Knowles said the division is focused on serving injection molding.It also is providing Hanna Select software to help processors quickly identify the optimal material for a wide range of applications. The program — developed with IDES of Laramie, Wyo. — has the ability to instantly compare performance characteristics for more than 3,000 thermoplastics.