Strong research efforts and partnering with other companies no longer are options for plastics firms - they're essential.
That was the message from Thomas Waltermire, chief executive officer of PolyOne Corp. of Avon Lake, Ohio. Waltermire spoke at TPE Topcon 2003, held Sept. 23-24 in Akron.
``Moving technology constantly upstream is the only future for our industry,'' said Waltermire, whose firm is North America's largest compounder. ``We have to have it clearly in our minds that we can no longer win business on the strength of our backs and arms - we have to do it with our minds.''
Waltermire cited material-development partnerships PolyOne has struck recently with Bayer Corp. of Pittsburgh and Noveon Inc. of Brecksville, Ohio, as examples of needed collaborations. The work of the newly formed National Polymer Processing Center also will be important in keeping plastics jobs in Ohio and in the United States, he said.
NPPC ``is still in its early stages, but is getting strong regional support,'' Waltermire said. The center is seeking funding as part of the Wright Centers for Innovation program. The Wright Centers are part of Ohio's Third Frontier Project, which is set to receive $100 million in state funding in 2004-05 in an effort to grow the state's science and technology base.
``Smaller [plastics] processors ought to see [NPPC] as a place they can get real-world answers to technical problems,'' Waltermire said. ``It should be an affordable resource for plastics firms to access new technology.''
Waltermire has deep Ohio roots. He's a native of Cuyahoga Falls who earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio State University before moving through the ranks with BFGoodrich Co. in Brecksville and BFG spinoff Geon Co. in Avon Lake. He assumed the top spot at PolyOne in late 2000.
PolyOne itself was created in 2000 by merging major compounders Geon and M.A. Hanna Co. In spite of PolyOne's recent challenges - the firm has lost $130 million in the last 21/2 years - Waltermire said that when he looks back, ``it's more clear today that [the merger] was the best thing to do.''
``Our businesses are stronger together than they would have been separately, because of our economies of scale and global replication of core products,'' he said.
Waltermire then mentioned one of PolyOne's recent successes - the use of its red- and green-colored compounds in high density polyethylene cans for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Folgers coffee.
``Customers like Procter & Gamble recognize our ability to reach many markets,'' Waltermire said. ``Please buy lots of these. Even if you don't want the coffee, keep the can.''