Materials firm Birch Plastics Inc. has expanded its compounding efforts with an R&D pilot line and two lines for toll compounding work.
"Our business grew in 2017, leading us to make some capital investments in equipment and employees as well as to start offering new services," Vice President Brandon Cleary said in a recent email to Plastics News. "The market is evolving with all the new polyethylene plants starting up [in North America] and China changing the recycling business for a lot of companies.
"We try to be proactive instead of reactive with the evolution of this business," he added.
The R&D line was needed because of increased interest in adding recycled plastic into consumer goods, according to Cleary.
"There are limits to how much [recycled content] is too much, and finding the balance between suitability and part failure can only be achieved through rigorous research and trials," he said.
To meet this need, Birch now offers an open-door approach to the research and development process. Cleary said the new line "has been a hit."
"Now, companies have a place where their R&D team can come and develop new products or send them to us and we do the work," he explained.
Birch offers clients equipment to use by the day or week to run small R&D trials. The firm also supplies clients with staff to do mixing and loading so they can concentrate on the formulation side of the developmental work.
Cleary said that most of Birch's clients have been focusing on adding recycled content to their products or trying out new additives to allow comingling of plastics into their materials. The firm also has partnered with major additive suppliers that need small amounts of their product compounded into their customers' resin to prove the concept before going commercial, he added.
In addition to the dedicated 43-millimeter twin-screw compounding line for R&D, Birch offers blenders, grinders, an injection molding machine and a variety of lab testing equipment all to be used by the day or week for a flat rate.
The two new lines for toll compounding have increased the firm's processing capacity by 18 million pounds per year.
"Birch has been pelletizing recycled plastic we generate from our grinding facility for a long time, offering both regrind and reprocessed pellets as a postindustrial recycler," Cleary said. "These new extruders allow us to expand and start a new division of Birch Plastics."
With the new investment, Cleary added, Birch is offering toll services that provide strand cut or underwater cut pellets. The new capacity will be for contract customers to toll their proprietary formulas for private labeling or for their internal use.
The compounding expansions are the latest chapters for Birch, a firm that never seems to have a dull moment. In August, the firm gave neighbors a place to stay after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area. It assisted its own employees after the storm as well.
Most of the firm's 27 employees were stranded in their homes for at least a day after Harvey hit in late August. On Aug. 29, Birch opened its 70,000-square-foot warehouse to about 25 people — and their pets — who live in townhomes adjacent to the Birch site.
Birch's site briefly lost power twice, but the firm's building and equipment made it through with only a few minor roof leaks.
Birch also had an unlikely experience in mid-2016 when it worked through the night and had an employee drive a truck all the way to New York City to get a shipment of plastic sprinkles to the Museum of Ice Cream.
Birch made the oversized sprinkles for the museum out of eight different multicolored strand-cut pellets. The sprinkles were needed for a "sprinkle pool" that visitors could dive in.
"When I found out they had been turned down by over 30 companies and this sprinkle pool was the heart of the exhibit, we tried our best to help them out," Cleary said at the time. "This was a real customer service challenge that all Birch Plastic employees got behind."
Birch is a recycling and compounding firm that offers numerous grades of polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon and ABS to a wide variety of end markets. The firm was founded in 2001 by Rob Lang, who serves as its president.