CINCINNATI—Anyone who volunteers for the ACS Rubber Division knows it can be quite time consuming. And if you go through the officer progression—a five-year commitment—it's even worse.
"It's like taking on a second job," said Joseph Walker of Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Solutions, who is this year's Rubber Division chairman. "You've got your day job, then you've got your evening job."
Not that the long-time rubber industry veteran has any regrets. "It really gives you an opportunity as an individual to try to make a difference in a division that a lot of us are extremely passionate about,"Walkersaid during an interview at the recent Rubber Division Fall Technical Meeting and International Rubber Expo inCincinnati.
The group has seen its membership ebb and flow in recent years, but he said after making some aggressive cost-cutting measures—both in staff and services—things are looking up.
"We're able to say not that this is a record expo for us for the even-year expos (previously called mini-expos)," he said. "We're filling up symposium rooms again. In one of our symposiums on compounding, we had over 40 people who signed up for that class. We had to actually turn people away."
One thing that Rubber Division officials had to realize was that that its "customer base" has changed. Historically,Walkersaid the group was aimed at compounders. That's who came to technical sessions, so the programs were geared toward them.
But with the manufacturing jobs that have gone toChinain recent years—including in the rubber industry—the complexion of theU.S.rubber sector changed. He said there were fewer compounders in the industry and there were more people coming to meetings from other areas of the business, be it quality personnel, engineers, technical sales people or purchasing agents.
"The supply chain community is really beginning to realize," Walker said, "that coming to a Rubber Division event like fall meetings and expos represents the single most effective use of their budget because they can see all of their major suppliers, whether it's polymers, raw materials or equipment, with one airplane ticket."
And with the bulk of the rubber industry in the Midwest—he said Ohio alone has more than 70 rubber shops—having meetings in places like Cincinnati or Cleveland makes it convenient for members and those thinking about signing up.
"Our membership is right around 2,000, maybe a little higher," he said. "While that's not a record high, it is an upswing from where we were a couple years ago. We're glad to see that."
The current chairman knows that one of the challenges for the division as a professional organization is to continue to reinvent itself and never stop answering the question of what value it offers to its members.
"That's a big deal because we have to compete with other very good organizations,"Walkersaid. "We've got to make sure that we've got something where when a company does both rubber and plastics, that we can make a strong enough argument to the people who decide where that small budget goes to fund membership dues that they will look at us. We're still an extremely good value."