The resurgence of U.S. manufacturing is driving compounding extruder business at NFM/Welding Engineers Inc. — much of it from its home state of Ohio.
Last year, Akron, Ohio-based Network Polymers Inc. bought its first-ever NFM line. At its plant in Massillon, NFM built the TEM 58 SS, a 58-millimeter, twin-screw compounding extruder, and put the entire package together.
“We supplied the complete system — the mezzanine, feeders, pelletizers and the installation and startup of the equipment,” said Paul Roberson, vice president of business development.
James Surma, account manager for TEM compounding extruders, said NFM delivered the line last spring.
Network Polymers, a resin distributor that makes compounds under its Diamond Polymers brand, is using the line to increase its capacity. Network officials said they liked working with a nearby Ohio equipment supplier.
NFM will display another TEM 58 SS at its NPE2012 exhibit (Booth 5844). That one was sold to another Ohio company: Vision Color LLC in West Unity, Ohio. Another show machine, a TEM 75 SS, is going to the Ravago Americas plant in Manchester, Tenn.
Both of the Ohio compounders, Network Polymers and Vision Color, are first-time buyers of an NFM compounding line. But NFM has had contact with Network Polymers before.
Roberson said NFM was talking to Network several years ago about a new project, but it got held up.
“During the delay period after that initial effort, we've developed a relationship where we started working with them on replacing components from their other equipment and upgrading some things for them,” he said. “It worked out well, because it reinforced what we told them our abilities were, and then they went ahead and happily went into the new project [with NFM].”
Originally, Network Polymers officials ordered a larger, 75mm twin-screw extruder. Engineers from NFM and Diamond did some work in the Massillon plant's lab, and decided a smaller, 58mm TEM was the best size for the application.
“It's exceeded their expectation, and it saved them a significant amount of money,” Roberson said.
Surma said NFM's ability to rebuild gearboxes, screws and barrels, and service any make of extruder, helps develop relations with customers. “We don't just sell a piece of equipment. We sell the whole service, and us as a team,” he said. “It's experience and relationships.”
Roberson and Surma outlined NFM's business in an interview at the Massillon headquarters. “Overall, we're doing very well,” Roberson said.
NFM/Welding Engineers manufactures the TEM series of high-torque, high-speed compounding extruders under its longtime license with Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. The machines handle all major engineering-resin compounds and also can be targeted, through process development, to bioresins and nanomaterials.
The company also makes large resin and petrochemical manufacturing systems for devolatizing, dewatering and emulsion coagulation. NFM is a major supplier of single-screw extruders for rubber.
The recession took hold in 2009, but NFM enjoyed a very large backlog and long-term projects from a record 2008, Roberson said.
The fiscal year ends April 30. NFM does not give out sales numbers.
Business “held fairly flat, maybe picked up a little in 2010,” Roberson said. But fiscal 2011 broke the 2008 record. “Our shipments were record level, and our new orders from April forward have been really outstanding,” he said.
“Right now, our business in color equipment and compounded engineering materials and fillers, and recycling, those are probably the four strongest areas,” he said.
What about right now, as NPE approaches?
Roberson gave his analysis: “I think that, in general, the people that had a heavy debt structure, in the economic crash, their business goes down and they can't afford to pay their bills. The companies go down. So I think you saw a lot of companies that were at risk that didn't make it through. And the survivors picked up some of the business that they had and as soon as the economy starts expanding a little bit, now you see people saying they've got to add capacity.”
Surma said automotive and biomaterials — often together — are helping the machinery industry bounce back. “There's a big push right now for green products in automotive. They're putting everything from coconut husks to rice hulls, to wood flour back into automotive products to reduce the carbon footprint of the polymer,” he said. “They're even putting shredded money in there!”
Roberson said NFM makes its equipment in the United States. He noted that some competitors have decided to make some lower-priced offerings in China or India, but it's harder to control quality and provide support, he said.
“I think that's a slippery slope,” he said.