YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — Paul N. Colby, a Plastics Hall of Fame member who founded Spirex Corp. and was a leader in the design and production of screws, barrels and front-end components for plastics, died March 7. He was 86.
Colby and wife Illene founded Spirex in Youngstown in 1978.
Colby lived next to a golf course in Bodega Bay, Calif. He died in Pleasant Hill, Calif., said his son, Paul T. Colby. “He was with his wife and his kids when he passed,” his son said.
“So much of his life revolved around plastics. He had so many friends in the industry,” Paul T. Colby said of his father.
Spirex grew to become an internationally known business when it was purchased by Xaloy Corp. in New Castle, Pa., in 2009. That same year, Colby was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Colby designed and patented some major plasticizing components. Under his direction, Spirex pioneered many methods of screw design and production.
His screw designs included a retrofit vented-barrel conversion. He invented a portable machine to cut a grooved-feed section in a barrel, at a customer's plant. He also designed and patented the Pulsar, the Flex Flight, the Z-Mixer and the V-Mixer.
“Paul forever changed the screw and barrel industry by driving innovation, quality and process improvement,” said David Hotchkiss, Nordson Xaloy global product manager. “Rarely has our industry seen a man so well respected and admired by customers, competitors and employees.”
Screw designer Tim Womer, who worked with Colby briefly at New Castle Industries Inc. and, later, at Spirex, called him a “true entrepreneur.” When he launched Spirex, barrier screws were not commonly being used for injection molding, he said. Colby focused on the market.
Colby opened a laboratory in 1985 dedicated to research and development of new screw designs.
“He understood that you had to be doing things better than your competitor,” Womer said.
Colby graduated from Princeton University in 1950 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Following a stint in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, he joined Winner Manufacturing Co., a maker of reinforced plastic components. There he designed, built and helped test a 60-foot floating pontoon bridge, one of the largest reinforced plastics items ever built.
Later he worked for Union Carbide Corp. as a sales engineer, then he cofounded a blown film company in New Jersey, Polyethylene Corp. The film company failed. But Colby got a taste of controlling his own destiny.
Colby moved over to plastics machinery. He worked at Sterling Extruder Corp. selling Lombard and Farrel injection molding machines at manufacturers' representative firm Metropolitan Machinery Corp. He also worked at David-Standard Corp. and Prodex Corp., where he supervised the national sales force. Prodex's parent company, Koehring Corp., merged Prodex with HPM Corp. in Mount Gilead, Ohio.
He left HPM in 1970 and moved on to Feed Screws Inc., later known as New Castle Industries. He was vice president of sales and engineering, then general manager.
After eight years at New Castle industries, Colby left to start Spirex. The companies were direct competitors.
Paul T. Colby said his father had Alzheimer's disease. His brain was donated to the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. The center offers a brain autopsy service, to provide a better understanding of the disease and help develop future treatments.