Materials maker Alterra Holdings LLC is growing though its use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
"We are at the center of AI in plastics compounding technology," CEO Arash Kiani said in an email. He added that Alterra looked to AI to diversify product lines at its headquarters site in Seymour, Ind. Doing so required a better system to monitor incoming raw material, product processing and to resolve process issues.
Under Kiani's direction, Alterra developed Smartchronos AI manufacturing software and started to digitize the 110,000-square-foot Seymour plant. By the end of 2019, four compounding lines were computer-controlled and had sensor arrays to collect temperature, pressure, torque, amps and RPM data. Kiani said that Smartchronos gave Alterra's engineering team the ability to see live production data with capability analysis.
The software "enabled the most efficient method of processing," he added. At the plant, operators use tablet computers to track process parameters and are notified by AI if any production is off-spec. AI then makes the correction.
Kiani said that AI allowed Alterra to continue operating and to introduce new products during the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology "enabled Alterra to run operations with customer and engineers sitting behind their computers and fully interacting with the production staff virtually," he added.
Alterra now operates six twin-screw extrusion lines in Seymour, in addition to a kneader for bio-based and specialty products. Many of the firm's compounds are based on thermoplastic elastomers, including thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs).
Alterra also makes filled polyolefin compounds. The firm's testing lab in Seymour includes two injection molding machines, three extruders and multiple pieces of testing equipment.
Investment firm Beaconhouse Capital Management LLC formed Alterra in 2016 when it merged Compounding Engineering Solutions — a Clifton, N.J.-based compounder that Kiani had founded in 1999 — with bioplastics supplier Trellis Earth Products, which had operated the Seymour plant.
Alterra then acquired compounder Polymerixx of Houston in 2019 and moved that firm's production to Seymour. In late 2021, Chatham, N.J.-based Beaconhouse invested in Buckeye Polymers, a compounder and recycler based in Lodi, Ohio, and changed that firm's name to Carbon Polymers.
Carbon continues to operate plants in Lodi and in Sebring, Ohio. Alterra and Carbon will merge into a single firm later this year. The two firms combined employ almost 100.
Alterra has almost 150 million pounds of annual production capacity. Carbon has almost 50 million pounds of capacity on five compounding lines and also operates wash lines. Carbon has multiple automotive approvals and is focused on post-consumer polypropylene for consumer markets and TPO/TPE for automotive.
Alterra posted sales growth in 2022, Kiani said, in spite of price fluctuations for raw materials and material shortages due to the Ukraine conflict. The firm's sales growth in home improvement, appliance and sports and leisure "have been solid and are expected to grow well in the coming years," he added.
Alterra's growth "is the direct result of R&D investment year after year to ensure future products are developed and are ready to be marketed," Kiani said. AI integration also has helped Alterra deal with supply chain issues, he added.
Sustainability "is at the center of all activities" at Alterra, according to Kiani. The firm chooses sustainable raw materials when developing new products and works with vendors to ensure raw materials are converted into sustainable products.
Although Alterra doesn't disclose exact sales totals, Kiani said its annual sales are "in the tens of millions." He added that Alterra plans to grow through new product development, as well as through new production lines, hiring more employees and through acquisition.