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The U.S. compounding business is getting intensely specialized as OEM manufacturers ship commodity work to China and focus more on value-added products here. That's a perfect business environment for newly formed Techmer Lehvoss Compounds LLC (TLC), a U.S./German joint venture focused on high quality, rapid response, and innovative custom solutions.
On the surface, linking a U.S. masterbatch producer (Techmer PM) and a German specialty compounder Lehvoss (also known as Lehmann & Voss & Co.) may seem unusual. But these two custom manufacturers believe it to be an ideal marriage that expands each company's product range and exploits their core competencies. "We've always been a customer-focused provider of technical solutions," says Techmer president John Manuck. He says the venture combines Techmer's know-how in additives and pigments with the experience in engineering polymers and fiber reinforcements of Lehvoss. Manuck is looking for strong growth in the next two to three years in carbon-fiber-reinforced and high-temperature materials for electronic, medical, business machine, and automotive under-hood parts.
Manuck believes TLC can fill a niche in a competitive compounding market that is dominated by large players like LNP (now GE Advanced Materials), mid-size producers like RTP Co., and many smaller rivals. "We're not out there chasing volume. We're about product design, tailored performance, and custom effort," explains Manuck.
TLC gained entry in the U.S. with the recent acquisition of a range of specialty compounds from DSM Engineering Plastics, Evansville, Ind. These include Electrafil conductive and Plaslube lubricated lines, which are aimed at business machines. DSM had sold its European specialty compounds business to Lehvoss in 2000.
German compounder seeks to expand beyond its established position in Europe. Over the last 20 years, the company developed more than 1000 products, first under a license from Wilson-Fiberfil International (now DSM Engineering Plastics). Lehvoss later expanded the product range with its own Luvocom line of carbon-fiber-filled grades and internally lubricated materials. Another strong focus is high-temperature compounds based on resins like polyethersulfone, PEEK, and polyetherimide (GE's Ultem).
Both the DSM and Luvocom materials will be available in the U.S. through a dedicated TLC sales and technical team at Techmer's Clinton, Tenn., site. While DSM will continue to produce materials for about six months, Techmer has already started on an expansion in Clinton to accommodate the joint venture. A 30,000-sq-ft addition will house equipment from DSM and three new lines dedicated to TLC. The expansion, scheduled for completion in April, is expected to handle TLC's supply needs until 2007.
As customers move their manufacturing offshore, there is a constant challenge to be more of a global supplier, says Manuck. As a result, TLC is set to establish a manufacturing presence in Southeast Asia by April through its current partner, Eastern Rainbow Div. of Far East Plastics in Hong Kong. In addition, the company is talking with its Japanese partner, Toyko Printing, to start up manufacturing there.