Steer Engineering Pvt. Ltd., an Indian maker of twin-screw compounding extruders, screws and barrels, is setting up shop in Ohio.
A wholly owned subsidiary, SteerAmerica Inc., is putting the finishing touches on a 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Uniontown, Ohio. Northeast Ohio is a hotbed of compounding, said Wayne Stagner, president and chief executive officer.
Most of the building — 7,000 square feet — will house a technical center for customer trials with two Steer extruders, auxiliary equipment such as blenders and feeders, and both strand and underwater pelletizers.
SteerAmerica also will be able to work on screw shafts in Uniontown using a large oven.
``It's a burn-off oven, so that we can burn off all the excess polymer, and service those shafts, put new elements on them and send them back to customers,'' Stagner said.
Steer extruders are far from a household name in the U.S. market, but Stagner said the Bangalore, India-based firm, owned by entrepreneur Babu Padmanabhan, has a strong position in Asia.
Stagner and other officials of SteerAmerica explained their strategy at Plastics Encounter in Milwaukee, where the company had a booth.
Steer Engineering has developed patented screw geometries for its co-rotating twin-screw extruders — and the experience in screws is a core strength of the company, said Joe Mattingly, vice president of operations of the Ohio location.
Right now, SteerAmerica has just four employees: Mattingly, Mike Millsaps, and Stagner and his wife, Elaine. Mattingly worked for 20 years at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-based concentrates maker Americhem Inc. His last position was international project and engineering manager.
Millsaps has 25 years of experience in compounding extruders at Japan Steel Works Ltd., Conforma clad Inc. and Farrel Corp. He is sales director at SteerAmerica.
Stagner, a plastics veteran, holds an engineering degree and a master's in business administration — but a chance meeting with Padmanabhan is what led to SteerAmerica. He started at DuPont Co., and moved to a few other materials companies before ending up at Windward Products, a maker of screws and barrels for twin-screw extruders in Wytheville, Va.
Windward sponsored a research project at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. That's where Stagner met Padmanabhan, who was getting a doctorate in mechanical engineering.
``He went back to India after he finished his Ph.D., and after doing some consulting work for a few years, he started Steer Engineering'' in 1993, Stagner said.
Meanwhile, Stagner had left the plastics industry for awhile, setting up a sales representative firm in California. But he kept in touch with his Indian friend.
Steer Engineering became a major supplier of screws, screw elements, shafts and barrels, especially in India and Japan, according to Stagner. Padmanabhan decided the company needed to have an extruder for research runs. But one of Steer's screw and barrel customers wanted to buy the machine, and an extruder maker was born.
That was four years ago. Today, Steer Engineering employs about 300 people. The company made 50 twin-screw extruders in 2007, and officials said they expect to build 80 this year. Steer also sells screw elements and barrels for any other brand of compounding extruder.
Stagner said Steer Engineering has its own foundry to ensure quality alloy steels for the company's lines of Alpha, Omega and Mega extruders. The top-line Omega extruders have a lot of free space, boosting output and providing for more process flexibility. Another standard feature: plug-and-play, so the prewired extruders can turn out compounds just a few hours after delivery.
Millsaps and Stagner rejected the notion of ``cheap'' extruders from India. Stagner said India is an inexpensive place to make labor-intensive things like shoes and textiles. But Steer is capital-intensive, filled with automated machine tools to make screws, barrels and extruders.