MAMARONECK, N.Y. — There's a lot of history at Marval Industries Inc., but the 59-year-old compounding firm also is looking toward the future.
In 2015, Marval will replace several of its single-screw extruders with new twin-screw machines. Company President Tom Zimmerman said in a recent interview in Mamaroneck that the new machines are needed because “a lot of the new resins we've developed are in need of twin-screw machines.”
“We want to make different products, and we need the new twin-screw machines to use the new resins,” he explained. The firm currently operates three twin-screw and eight single-screw extrusion lines.
Marval makes compounds based on polycarbonate, thermoplastic polyurethane, acetal, acrylic and similar resins. The firm's materials are used across a wide range of processes used to make products for consumer goods, personal care and electronics. Marval also does some work in the medical and automotive markets.
About 15-20 percent of Marval's sales come from Marvaloy, a proprietary acrylic-modified styrenic compound. The firm employs 45 in several buildings that cover a total of 80,000 square feet. Sales for 2014 are expected to top $30 million. Zimmerman said the firm has seen double digit growth in 2014, thanks to increased sales in displays, containers and other products.
Marval's history runs parallel to that of the American plastics industry. Zimmerman's grandfather Alexander is a member of the Plastics Hall of Fame, and his father Alan is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association.
Alan Zimmerman founded Marval along with partners Marvin Drabkin and Bert Cohn in Mount Vernon, N.Y. in 1956. He had been with Monsanto Corp. in Indian Orchard, Mass., since 1951, selling polystyrene, PVC, ABS and other resins.
Marval began as a plastic film re-processor before moving into specialty raw material production. The firm moved to Mamaroneck in 1970.
But the Zimmerman family's plastics odyssey goes back much further than Marval and Monsanto. In the early 1920s, Alexander Zimmerman — Alan's dad and Tom's grandfather — traveled to Germany and returned with a process for making casein, an early thermoset plastic that was derived from milk solids found in cow's milk.
Zimmerman then founded Karolith Corp. in Long Island City, N.Y., to produce casein. After selling the firm in the late 1920s, he was approached by plastics legend Leo Baekeland, who was looking for someone to help him sell a huge inventory of phenolic rod, sheet and tubes that had been piling up at a warehouse in Perth Amboy, N.J. The plant was shut down with no business.
Alexander Zimmerman proved to be the man for the job. Baekeland's Bakelite Co. had been phasing out cast phenolic because of low sales, but Zimmerman did so well with the product that Bakelite kept the division operating.
Along the way, Zimmerman became an expert in cast phenolics, helping Bakelite develop the resins that were used on the atomic bomb and on shatter proof lenses used in gauges on U.S. Navy battleships.
Alexander Zimmerman also developed technology with Polaroid Corp. founder Edwin Land, another plastics Hall of Famer. For his efforts and accomplishments, Zimmerman was inducted posthumously into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 2002. “My father was an innovator of the first order,” Alan Zimmerman said. “He brought cast phenolic into products which had been made of steel, bone, wood and glass.”
Even though Alan and Thomas Zimmerman each grew up around plastics, neither of them originally thought they'd end up working in the industry.
“Even though I had a strong desire to go into dairy farming, my father suggested I should get an engineering degree first, and then I could always go into dairy farming later,” Alan Zimmerman said. “So I went into the Army Air Corps in World War II, and after that I got the engineering degree — and that was it for dairy farming.”
Thomas Zimmerman had his own agriculture business while still in high school and studied agricultural engineering and horticulture at Cornell University. He also received a masters degree from North Carolina State University. But after graduating he “looked around for a little bit” and ended up at Marval in 1977.
Having been in the plastics industry for more than 60 years himself — and with his family in for 30 more — Alan Zimmerman said that his own approach to business has been pretty simple.
“We wanted to do the things the major companies wouldn't do,” he said. “We wanted to put our efforts where they were needed.”