A compounding firm born in Los Angeles and another hailing from Hamburg, Germany, have come together in the hills of Tennessee to form Techmer Lehvoss Compounds LLC.
On June 28, the new firm opened a 40,000-square-foot expansion in Clinton. The project represents an investment of more than $5 million and is connected to partner Techmer PM LLC's plant there. Techmer PM, launched in Los Angeles in 1981 by John Manuck and several partners, now calls Clinton home.
The other partner in Techmer Lehvoss is Lehmann & Voss & Co. KG, a Hamburg compounder known as Lehvoss. The two firms had been distributing each other's products for several years before linking up late last year to buy the Electrafil and Plaslube engineering resin compound businesses from DSM Engineering Plastics Americas.
At the opening ceremony, Manuck said he first became aware of the Electralube and Plaslube lines when touring a Lehvoss plant in 2003. He quickly realized the materials could fill a void for Techmer.
``This really adds other polymer systems and types of additives that we didn't handle before,'' Manuck said. ``It comple- ments our core competency of color and additives.''
Lehvoss had licensed the products from DSM and Wilson Fiberfil - which sold them to DSM - since the mid-1980s. Lehvoss then acquired the European Electrafil/Plaslube business in 2000. When Manuck, Techmer PM president and chief executive officer, expressed interest in the business, a partnership was easy to form.
``Both [Lehvoss and Techmer] are customer-driven and family-owned,'' Lehvoss managing partner Erk Thomsen said. ``We aren't forced by analysts to take the fast track.''
Both Electrafil and Plaslube can be based on nylon, polycarbonate and other engineering resins. Electrafil is a conductive compound sold into parts for electronics and business machines. Plaslube is an internally lubricated compound that fills engineering resins with DuPont's Teflon fluoropolymer and similar materials. It's sold primarily into industrial gears.
Techmer Lehvoss plans to add a third line producing the compounds in early 2006. The expansion has room for three lines beyond that, and a concrete pad has been laid adjacent to the site that can house another three-machine expansion if needed.
Tom Pontiff, who's been with Techmer since 1999, will serve as general manager for Techmer Lehvoss. The expansion eventually will add 20-25 jobs, bringing the total Clinton workforce to more than 250 employees in a building covering about 200,000 square feet.
Techmer has operated in Clinton - a town of about 10,000 just outside of Knoxville - since 1988. Manuck originally was looking to locate a plant in Atlanta until a magazine article made him curious about Tennessee. He visited the area and was impressed not only by its highway access and nearby Nissan and Saturn auto plants, but also by the region's physical beauty and the friendliness of its people.
Techmer Lehvoss now is faced with finding ways to increase the $10 million in sales that Electrafil and Plaslube posted in North America last year. Manuck said the compounds made by Techmer Lehvoss are a good fit for a business world that's becoming more global every day.
``To survive in the U.S., you have to be high-tech and you have to be able to do things faster and better than the competition,'' he said.
One area where Techmer Lehvoss may find future growth is in nanocomposites. Techmer PM has had commercial products available in this area since 2003, according to the firm's technology Vice President Ebrahim Mor.
The technology - which allows for molecular control of the properties of plastic materials - is allowing for lower oxygen permeability in nylon films used in packaging for sausage, salami and other meat products, Mor said. The film extends the products' shelf life through a proprietary exfoliation method developed by Techmer.
Mor said the technology also has potential applications in personal-care items like sunscreen, where ultraviolet absorption is needed, and in medical products where control of shrinkage and permeability is important.
Techmer Lehvoss also has commercialized several new products under the Luvotech brand name. ``Luvo'' is the prefix that Lehvoss has used to market its compounds in Europe for many years. These new materials include:
* Ultrahigh molecular-weight polyethylene compounds that can be used in standard extrusion and molding systems.
* Fiber-reinforced compounds based on a variety of resins where added heat resistance is needed.
* A nylon 6-based compound with a nonhalogen, nonred phosphorus flame retardant, and a similar product with higher electrical conductivity.
Techmer posted sales of about $150 million in 2004. In addition to Clinton, the firm operates plants in Dalton and Gainesville, Ga.; Wichita, Kan.; and Rancho Dominguez, Calif. Techmer also has a marketing and production partnership with Guangzhou Eastern Rainbow of Guangzhou, China.
About 30 percent of Techmer's sales come from color and additive concentrates sold into the fibers market. The firm has more than 500 employees in total.