SEBRING, Ohio—The rubber linings market has a new competitor.
Salem-Republic Rubber Co. has started producing a line of uncured elastomeric linings at the company's plant in Sebring.
“It fits our core competencies—calendering and handling of rubber,” said James Dunchuck, vice president of sales and marketing. “We've always had an uncured calendered products line. It seemed like a market where there may be the opportunity for another player to get involved.
Salem-Republic initially will provide linings made from five different elastomers in thicknesses from 1/8- to 1/2-inch and widths from 37 to 56 inches.
The firm will focus on making elastomeric liners that provide abrasion resistance in material handling and transfer applications along with corrosion resistance for use in such industries as water treatment, chemical transfer and storage, and chemical processing equipment.
Dunchuck said the lining industry used to be more fragmented with a number of suppliers, but industry consolidation has left the sector dominated in recent years by two players: Blair Rubber Co. in Seville, Ohio, and Polycorp Ltd. in Ontario.
Given the small number of players in the market, Salem-Republic's expertise in calendering and its desire to diversify, the Sebring-based firm decided to pursue the new product area.
Time to develop
The company didn't just quickly jump in, however, Dunchuck said, noting that elastomeric lining products require strong compounding expertise, along with stringent process and storage requirements.
“It's a project we've been working on for 12 months,” he said. “We've put financial resources and we've put human resources into the development. Over the course of the past 12 months we've developed a group of formulations that allow us to go into most of the applications that exist.”
The biggest asset the company had going for it was that it already had two, three-roll calenders that had available capacity. It did have to install an additional mill and construct a temperature-controlled storage room. Total investment for the project development wasn't disclosed.
“A calender and the expertise with which to operate that calender are huge barriers of entry to this market,” Dunchuck said. “You have to have a well-functioning calender and you have to have personnel who are skilled at operating the equipment. Neither of those comes cheaply or easily, but we had that already.”
Salem-Republic President Drew Ney said the lining products are a bit more technically advanced than the company's traditional calendered goods line, “but it is fundamentally a calendered product, and that is right in our strength.” He noted that customers in this area require an extensive approval process for compounds because of the critical nature of some of the applications.
The rubber goods maker did get some outside help from a retired chemist turned consultant who helped fill in some of the technical gaps and assist in developing some of the formulations, Dunchuck said. “We have the processing expertise. There are some market and application nuances where we recognized that we would need some resources, so we went out and got some of those resources.”
The company also worked with a core group of customers because entering a new area it knew it would need good references to help it spread the word about its capabilities, Dunchuck said. “Everybody in this industry wants to know, 'what have you done and who have you worked with?' ”
Thus far, the feedback from the initial group of customers has been positive, he said. “They're appreciative of having another option,” the Salem-Republic vice president said. “They've been advocates for us regarding the level of service we provide and how we interact with them.”
This is the fourth distinct product line for Salem-Republic, which employs 60 and plans to add workers as this new area grows. Founded in 1972, the firm's initial products were large-diameter, hand-built hoses and uncured calendered sub-assemblies. It later added a hose-braiding line to make air starter hose for the commercial ground support equipment market.
“The thing that's unique about our four product lines is that all involve a different customer base,” Dunchuck said. “Our hope is to establish this as a significant contributor of revenue. Because it's a new customer base, we feel it strengthens us for the long haul because the more industries we can become involved in, the less susceptible we are to market downturns in one particular industry.”
Ney said the main focus for Salem-Republic will be on the industrial side of the business, particularly small companies like his that are looking for quick turnaround and exceptional service.
Of course the challenge, Dun¼chuck added, is trying to sell new products to new customers, which is the least desirable marketing approach. “But that being said, the payoff can be huge when we can get beyond the initial phases of this product line.”
He said the company is confident it can succeed. “The level of service that we will be able to provide will be second to none,” Dunchuck said. “We know we have to work hard from the sales guys to the production staff to the operators. There's a market established here, and we have to outwork those guys in order to make a mark.”