As if three capacity expansions and an acquisition in less than a year weren't enough, Teknor Apex Co. is giving its headquarters a makeover as well.
At Teknor's base in Pawtucket, work crews have been sprucing up the interior of the 77,000-square-foot brick building, which the firm has occupied since 1938. The site's lab was upgraded last year. Those renovation projects can be seen as a reflection of a recent flurry of activity.
Since July 2010, Teknor has added new compounding lines making PVC-based products in Fountain Inn, S.C., and thermoplastic elastomer-based products in Oldbury, England. It has also added a new line making compounds based on a variety of resins in Jacksonville, Texas.
The firm expanded its product mix late last year by purchasing the Sarlink-brand thermoplastic vulcanizate business from Royal DSM NV for an undisclosed price.
On top of all that, Teknor soon will open its second TPE production line at its Singapore plant. That plant operates several lines making products based on PVC and other materials.
“We've got a lot going on,” Executive Vice President Bert Lederer said in an interview in Pawtucket. “But our sales are very strong and activity in medical and other markets is fairly stable.
“We don't have a bias when it comes to materials,” added Lederer, who's been with the firm since 1970. “If a customer is interested in evaluating alternate materials, we can provide them with whatever they'd like to have.”
In addition to PVC and TPE compounds, Teknor's lineup includes compounds based on nylon and other engineering resins. The firm also is a leading manufacturer of PVC garden hose.
As Teknor incorporates Sarlink, the product will be kept separate from the firm's own line of Uniprene-brand TPVs, Lederer said. The two products are sold into different applications and don't compete much with each other, he added. In North America, Sarlink will continue to be produced in nearby Leominster, Mass., while Uniprene production will stay in Pawtucket.
Sarlink “completes the [TPE] portfolio nicely for us,” said Teknor's Suresh Swaminathan. “We have a better handle on [TPV] now.”
Sarlink also “puts thermoplastic elastomers on the map” in automotive applications such as sealing systems and under-the-hood parts, added Swaminathan, who is vice president and business manager of the TPE unit.
Styrenic block copolymers are Teknor's largest TPE products on a volume basis, with TPVs, thermoplastic polyurethane and thermoplastic olefins having smaller market shares. Teknor has enjoyed recent success in selling TPE-based materials into tubing, consumer products and electronic devices.
Customers also are interested in materials that don't contain phthalates, as many PVC materials do, since phthalates have been connected to alleged health risks in some medical studies. Here, Teknor is in a somewhat-sensitive situation, since it also makes PVC-based products.
“PVC often has been promoted because of its cost benefit,” Swaminathan said. “But if a customer comes to us and says they want a non-PVC, we can work with them.”
In bioplastics, Teknor is working to commercialize its Terraloy-brand material, which combines an impact modifier made by Arkema Inc. with plant-based polylactic acid resin supplied by NatureWorks LLC. Terraloy has been used in injection molding and can provide improved melt strength in extrusion grades, said Teknor's Jon Riley.
“Early on, customers that wanted a sustainable product were looking at compostable and biodegradable products,” said Riley, vice president of the color, bioplastics and specialty compounding businesses. “But North America doesn't have the infrastructure to deal with those materials. So the market then swung to renewable products, which is where we're at now.”
The rebound in the auto market also has done wonders for Teknor's nylon-based materials, according to Scott Fleming, vice president and general manger of the nylon unit.
“Strength has returned to Detroit,” Fleming said. “But, in a way, that's a double-edged sword, because it's creating concerns around cost and availability of materials.
“Companies are learning to be successful, but lean,” he added.
About 75 percent of Teknor's nylon material sales are into automotive uses; other markets include industrial and consumer. The firm makes products based on nylon 6, 6/6 and 6/12. It also does some work with post-consumer and recycled nylon to help customers meet sustainability goals.
Teknor's PVC business is benefiting from the new line in South Carolina, as well as an enhancement that will allow a flexible PVC compound line in Brownsville, Tenn., to make rigid PVC compounds.
The Fountain Inn line “adds capacity and is a state-of-the-art line” for low-heat compounds, and compounds for profile extrusions and wire and cable applications, said PVC wire and cable industry manager Mike Patel.
Teknor is also working to incorporate non-phthalate plasticizers into its products and use post-industrial PVC in footwear applications. In the past year, Teknor has commercialized a pair of PVC-based compounds, including a highly flame-retardant fluoropolymer replacement for indoor-outdoor cable.
The company's PVC compounds also can offer better performance in blends with TPU and nitrile rubber, according to officials.
“We're committed to vinyl and are focused on sustainable products and recycled content,” Patel said. “The issues surrounding PVC aren't about performance — they're more about public relations and image.”
Teknor — which opened its doors as a tire recapper in 1924 — ranks as one of North America's 30 largest compounders and concentrates makers and has annual sales estimated at more than $600 million.