CLINTON, TENN., October 27, 2021 –– The leaders at Techmer PM, LLC, are justifiably proud of the company’s 40 successful years in business, but they remain clearly focused on the road ahead.
Founded in October 1981 by John Manuck, formerly the firm’s long-time chairman/CEO and currently its executive chairman, Techmer PM (for “polymer modifiers”) has never desired to be your off-the-shelf plastics compounder. Rather, the Clinton, Tenn.-based company positions itself as a “materials design firm,” developing and fine-tuning engineering polymers to address very specific needs.
Now one of North America’s 30 largest compounders, along with a robust fibers business, Techmer PM has a strong, new financial partner, a new CEO, a pedigree for collaboration and partnership, and a desire to broaden its playing field to Europe and Asia.
In July 2020, New York private investment firm SK Capital acquired a majority stake in Techmer PM, giving the operation a solid boost in funding and further impetus to expand and grow. As of May 1, 2021, the firm named chemical industry veteran Michael McHenry as its new CEO, giving Manuck –– himself a chemical engineer –– time to focus primarily on the geographical expansion of the business through merger and acquisition activities as well as on major strategic elements of the business.
As it happens, the two leaders are leveraging the similarities in their backgrounds to forge a chemistry of their own, to help propel the company forward.
Upon assuming his new role, McHenry noted, “Over the past 40 years, John Manuck built an exceptional organization that is a recognized leader in polymer modification and material design through masterbatch and engineering compounds.”
Techmer PM boasts a long track record of innovative materials developments and applications, some of which are recounted briefly here.
Shaping the future
Not only did McHenry take the CEO reins from an industry legend, but he did so in the midst of the worst pandemic of our lifetime, which only added to the logistical, workforce, and supply-chain woes faced by most companies. While presenting a new set of challenges, the pandemic also provided a sort of silver lining.
“During the disruptions of the past 18 months, our management team was able to take the time to examine what we do well and assess where we should focus future efforts. As a result, we’re strengthening our team with a group of additions to operations –– supply chain, planning, and health and safety, which has led to an overall strengthening of our core capabilities.”
“Now,” says McHenry, “we are all about approaching the future with a creative mindset and focus on innovation.” This is clearly evidenced by several recent technology collaborations –– including one with Cupron Inc. and another with NanoXplore Inc. –– which he says are indicative of the approach Techmer PM plans to take when developing products or attacking new markets.
“We intend to continue focusing on our key markets through expansion of our new technology platforms that provide value to our customers, which in turn creates new opportunities for them in the marketplace.”
Partnering to fight COVID-19
Its partnership with Cupron Inc. began more than a decade ago, but this summer, in the shadow of the ongoing pandemic, it took a new turn. Cupron, based in Richmond, Va., formulates an active, oxidized copper ingredient in powder form, and Techmer encapsulates the patented product during its polymer compounding process. The ingredient helps to kill bacteria and imparts durable antimicrobial, anti-odor, and skin-enhancing properties to various finished products.
Techmer has long designed and formulated materials with Cupron’s additive to achieve optimum dispersion, color control, and processing stability for the desired end-use for moldings, fibers, or films in a wide range of different polymers. Then earlier this year, with interest in this product spiking due to COVID-19, the two firms struck a deal to strengthen and expand their long-standing partnership.
Techmer PM now acts as Cupron’s primary technology partner, manufacturer, and sales and marketing representative for a wide range of market applications. As a result, Techmer is helping Cupron to expand its sales and marketing reach, while Techmer customers can gain preferred access to Cupron’s proprietary technology.
“The marrying of Techmer’s polymer design and production expertise with Cupron’s antimicrobial and regulatory expertise will help to bring a new range of differentiated products to the marketplace,” said McHenry at the time.
Exploring graphene’s promise
Techmer PM has always been keen to expand its portfolio of solutions by developing and commercializing new material technologies. Such is the case with its agreement this past June to enter into an exclusive, multiyear, strategic partnership with graphene specialist NanoXplore. McHenry was familiar with the company from earlier in his career and helped bring the two parties together.
Techmer now formulates and engineers the Montreal-based firm’s GrapheneBlack™ materials into graphene-enhanced plastic compounds that it markets to a variety of industries in a number of diverse end uses and applications.
This is significant since graphene can deliver a host of benefits to various plastic formulations, to include boosting the strength of recycled resins, improving electrical conductivity properties, enabling lightweighting, and enhancing both barrier effectiveness and chemical resistance.
McHenry –– who has a chemistry degree from Rutgers University and held executive roles with BASF –– noted that this long-term agreement with NanoXplore “complements our approach, which is to customize solutions to maximize performance through collaborations and the leveraging of leading-edge technology.”
Techmer PM is surely not alone in focusing on partnering with customers, while aiming to provide the best possible service and technical support. But McHenry insists that the company merits blue-chip status in this regard. “Techmer offers a particularly strong customer relationship model — and that’s not just my opinion,” he states. “In all customer surveys we have seen, we earn extremely high marks for customer engagement.”
In praise of collaboration
This emphasis on collaboration and partnership is in Techmer PM’s DNA. It was one of the foundations upon which John Manuck founded the company. A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Manuck began his plastics career by selling resin for other firms before launching Techmer PM in Los Angeles in 1981.
Manuck had no interest in being a toll compounder. He wanted to add more value to the materials. “In the early days,” he said, “I didn’t use the word ‘design’ too much, but I kept stressing that we didn’t just make color – we design polymers. We do material design in polymers.”
Manuck always strongly believed in the value of collaborating with others to co-develop custom products. His mantra was to tell a customer, “To help you make a good product, we have to work together.”
Others have recognized Manuck’s visionary approach. During its 100th anniversary in 2016, the business publisher Crain Communications Inc. named its “Crain 100,” which it described as “100 Innovators, Disrupters & Change Makers in Business.” Relying on input from more than a dozen of its editors across several industries, Crain selected Manuck as one of only three plastics industry representatives on the list.
Tapping into design and color
While constantly striving to discover non-traditional paths to growth, Manuck stepped up his company’s focus on design and particularly into how it could help customers to discover and accurately match colors for its products.
This became the genesis of the software program that Techmer first referred to as Techmer Color and now calls TechmerVision. This involves grids of colors on the screen. One can choose any color as their “inspiration” color, and then, using the touch screen, can move colors around by hand and create a digital palette of different but compatible shades. Techmer has continued to refine and further develop the concept.
As part of its proactive approach to engaging with designers and brand-owner customers, Techmer PM is an “ambassador” to the Industrial Designers Society of America, a supporter of student design awards in the United Sates, and the founding sponsor of an award honoring Bill Moggridge, the late, legendary British designer, author, and educator who co-founded the global design firm IDEO in Silicon Valley.
Leveraging 3D printing
Its forward-looking focus on innovative technologies has also prompted Techmer PM to get deeply involved with 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM).
This has led to involvement in some cool projects, including with partners such as Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL), the National Aeronautical & Space Administration (NASA), and cutting-edge 3D printing firms such as Branch Technology Inc. in Chattanooga, Tenn.
One such project involved Techmer PM taking a bamboo fiber-reinforced biopolymer developed and engineered by ORNL and finding a way to compound it to make it usable for a variety of challenging applications, including 3D printing. Based on the biopolymer called polylactic acid (PLA), these composite materials are now available for sale from Techmer PM.
The two organizations then collaborated with Branch Technology, which used the resulting bamboo-enhanced compound to 3D print and fabricate a large-scale installation that provided seating and counter space in a public plaza at the entrance to the 2016 Design Miami Exposition (see video: https://vimeo.com/214207883).
Techmer and Branch also partnered a few years ago on the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge sponsored by NASA and took top honors in the competition. The goal of the challenge was to foster the development of technologies to manufacture a habitat using local indigenous materials and recyclables. Techmer developed and supplied the materials used in the contest.
Thinking big (really big)
When it comes to additive manufacturing, Techmer PM also likes to think big. In 2019, it partnered with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center
on a project to produce the world’s largest 3D‐printed boat. Called the 3Dirigo, the boat measures 25 feet long, weighs 5,000 pounds, and was made entirely using a carbon fiber‐reinforced ABS resin that Techmer formulated specifically for 3D printing. The effort ended up setting three Guinness World Records.
More recently, Techmer worked with a diverse team of architects, designers, engineers, and material suppliers, all of whom pooled their expertise to create a striking, nine-story-high “memorial torch” that forms a stunning architectural centerpiece in the new Las Vegas Raiders’ new football stadium. Created to commemorate the legacy of late, long-time Raiders owner Al Davis, the torch consists of 225 3D-printed blocks made of carbon fiber-reinforced polycarbonate, each weighing about 350 pounds. Techmer designed and supplied some 120,000 pounds of the specially formulated compound for use in a Thermwood Corp. Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) machine.
Others have noticed Techmer PM’s propensity for developing innovative new materials. As just one example, R&D Magazine four years ago honored Techmer PM by naming it a winner in the Mechanical Devices/Materials category for its 2017 R&D 100 Awards program. Techmer PM earned the honor for its work with ORNL and BASF to design two new, 3D-printable, engineering thermoplastic compounds.
A catalyst for innovation
In its ongoing spirit of collaboration, Techmer PM also has created a tradition of launching and hosting events meant to bring together diverse creative types to stimulate ideas and share ways in which to work better together.
Back in 2001, Techmer hosted its first Fibertech conference, bringing together various members of the fibers supply chain to discuss emerging technologies, cool products, and managerial approaches. It has now held 21 iterations of the day-and-a-half event, with the most recent in Chattanooga in March 2020, just before the world mostly shut down because of the pandemic.
The company has also organized three conferences called SHYFT, which it describes as a carefully crafted mash-up of design, engineering, technology, innovation, and leadership. The last such event, in Knoxville, Tenn., in 2018, featured a dozen diverse speakers, all of whom focused on the principles of cross-disciplinary collaboration, partnership, and co-design. These included presenters from NASA, ORNL, eBay, and Nike, among others.
Techmer PM also continues to push the envelope in the area of color. In addition to its TechmerVision software, the company partners with the Color Marketing Group (CMG), which in 2020 again collocated one of its all-day ChromaZone color-forecasting sessions with Fibertech.
This year, Techmer PM is again collaborating with CMG, this time to help companies meet their circular design goals. Techmer is providing samples of CMG’s 2023+ World Color Forecast™ Key Colors using innovative, sustainable materials –– from recycled plastics to bio-based, compostable polymers.
This focus on sustainability is nothing new to Techmer PM. It has always been a central plank in the company’s platform and is only gaining in momentum. For starters, it sets demanding goals for itself internally as it relates to such matters as water consumption and the amount of waste it sends to landfill –– both of which it has slashed by more than half since 2012.
It also has made great strides in developing sustainable solutions for customers, including:
- Boosting the use of recycled resin and creating formulations that help to enable recycling.
- Developing products made from biodegradable resins as well as compostable alternatives to single-use plastics and creating bamboo- and wood-filled compostable products for molding.
- Contributing to the lightweighting of automotive parts, helping to extend shelf life for produce packaging, and coming up with formulations to enable multilayer film recycling.
- Working with a packaging brand owner to develop the first bottle with a metallized-looking finish made from OceanBound Plastics and forming a partnership in Denmark to allow products to be made from obsolete and discarded fishing nets, trawls, and ropes.
- Helping to protect the water supply in the 3.3-billion-gallon Los Angeles Reservoir by improving the formulation for tens of thousands of 4-inch HDPE “shade balls” that float on top of the reservoir and help to prevent some 300 million gallons a water a year from evaporating.
A ‘Best Place to Work’
Techmer PM leadership puts as much emphasis on the internal corporate environment it fosters as in the external global environment it seeks to protect. And again, others have taken notice. The company, with six North American production plants and more than 600 employees, has been named to Plastics News’ Best Places to Work list in six of the past eight years.
Several company benefits focus on employee health and safety. This attention to employees has paid off for Techmer, with 30 percent of its employees having been with the company for more than 20 years. Nearly half have been with the company for more than a decade.
Spreading its wings
The company currently operates five plants in the United States and one in Mexico. But it understands that the polymers and fibers industries are global businesses. With that in mind, and with its new parent’s financial muscle behind it, Techmer PM now is actively looking for strategic acquisitions to expand its footprint beyond its borders.
With an increasingly energetic focus on serving the dynamic healthcare and medical sector, the firm sees Europe and other parts of the world as key markets for Techmer 2.0. Its four decades of technical expertise and its proven ability to collaborate and co-design with leading brand owners and converters mean the company is well placed to execute this vision.
McHenry, who initially joined Techmer PM in July 2020 as chief operating officer, is now charged with defining and carrying out the organization’s strategic plan.
“Techmer PM is fully committed to supporting the growing demand for technologies that support health and wellness as well as safe environments, safe surfaces, and safe products,” McHenry says, noting that there is much that can be accomplished via plastic, polymer, fiber, additive, and colorant technologies to advance these causes. “As we enter our fifth decade, Techmer PM intends to remain at the forefront of those efforts.”