CUYAHOGA FALLS, OHIO — Color and additive concentrates maker Americhem Inc. is heading into 2014 with a new president, new products and plans to double the size of its Chinese production plant.
Americhem's new president is John Deignan, who joined the Cuyahoga Falls-based firm in November after a 21-year career with Diebold Inc., a maker of banking and security systems in nearby North Canton. The 46-year-old Deignan most recently served as Diebold's chief marketing officer.
“I'm learning about the complexity of the plastics industry,” he said during a March 4 interview in Cuyahoga Falls. “I don't think that until I got here I was fully aware of how far and wide it reached and how many other markets and industries it touched.”
After having “a good year in 2013,” Deignan said that Americhem is “cautiously optimistic” about 2014 and has “a huge focus on growth.
“The weather has been a little painful [in 2014], but there's been growth in the verticals [markets] that we serve,” he added. “We've got a huge opportunity for growth in several geographies, including making a major investment in Suzhou [China]. The sky's the limit for us in geographies outside of the U.S.”
In Suzhou, Americhem will add 40,000 square feet of space — double its current size — and install a new high-capacity twin-screw extrusion line by the end of the year. The expansion will give Americhem more room to add additional lines if needed, operations and development vice president Cathy Hanlin said March 4 in Cuyahoga Falls. The project will be completed by the end of 2014 and represents an investment of about $5 million.
Americhem is seeing Chinese market growth in several end sectors including building and construction, fibers and automotive. “We're set up for success in key markets,” Hanlin said.
At its plant in Concord, N.C., Americhem will increase capacity by 10-20 percent by installing new auxiliary equipment and “redesigning [the plant's] process,” she added. Work there should be done by the end of September.
On the new product front, Americhem recently expanded its line of eCap-brand high-performance capstock compounds for fencing, decking and other building product applications. The compounds can be based on PVC, acrylic and other resins and allow customers to select key attributes for aesthetic and physical performance for each application.
The new eCap materials now are commercially available. They're being made at Americhem's plant in Mansfield, Texas, where many of the firm's construction-focused materials are produced.
In late 2013, Americhem unveiled its nFinity-brand field and logo color selector guide. The sample book shows how various shades of turf green and popular sports team logo colors will weather in adverse conditions. Americhem researchers have focused on improving synthetic turf performance for almost a decade.
Company officials also are optimistic about North American automotive and construction markets, which rank as two of Americhem's largest end-use sectors.
Americhem's color products often are used in auto interiors. That market has rebounded nicely since the recession, with North American build numbers at or approaching pre-recession levels.
“Automotive is critical,” global supply chain director Rod Manfull said March 4 in Cuyahoga Falls. “There's a lot of pent-up demand there, with older cars still on the road.”
The construction market has been slower to recover, but is improving as well. Americhem materials are used in cladding, decking, fencing and roofing.
“That market crashed from 2 million [housing] starts, so it's going to take a while to get back,” Manfull said. “One million would be a good [annual] pace for the industry.”
Deignan added that the 2014 construction market has been challenged in terms of weather slowing down work in some parts of the country. “It's not that demand's not rebounding, it's that the timing of construction season has been affected,” he said. “There's really 24-36 months of pent-up demand there.”
“Consumer balance sheets are recovering, so if they're not building new houses, they're remodeling.”
In late 2012, Americhem bought engineering resins compounder Infinity Compounding LLC. That was the firm's first acquisition since 2005 — but Deignan said Americhem is on the lookout for more.
“We're actively looking at domestic or international acquisitions as part of our growth strategy,” he explained. “It comes down to opportunity and timing — and what we're able to do with and understanding of what we want to do internally or geographically.”
“We've been asked by our customers to do more,” Deignan added. “Size matters, reach matters.”
“My desire is in taking a great company from where it is today to growth in the future.”
Americhem was founded in 1941 as a manufacturer's rep of fillers and additives to the rubber industry. The firm has been owned by the Juve family since 1958 and began making color concentrates in 1959.
In addition to Cuyahoga Falls, Mansfield, Concord and Suzhou, Americhem operates production plants in Liberty, N.C.; Dalton, Ga.; Logan Township, N.J.; and Manchester, England.
The privately held firm has estimated annual sales of more than $250 million. Americhem ranks as one of North America's 30 largest compounders and concentrate makers, according to Plastics News estimates.