UNION GROVE, Wis.—American Roller Co. knows how to adapt quickly to quirky economic conditions and extreme market fluctuations.
That's why the roller cover, coatings and roller maker has been able to expand, grow and remain relevant for the last seven and a half decades.
The company, which is owned by CM Acquisitions L.L.C., turns 75 this year and is marking the birthday by finishing one expansion in the U.S. and preparing to complete another in China. It also unveiled a new website at www.americanroller.com to allow for greater ease of navigation.
American Roller will open a plant in Shanghai, China, in May, initially for its Plasma Coatings product line but also to target its traditional industrial converting customer base, including the tire, plastics, film, foil, packaging and steel industries, according to President Dan Cahalane.
The cost of the project wasn't released, nor the size of the plant and work force.
The factory is needed to serve a large group of U.S.-based customers with operations in China that have been requesting for several years the firm set up shop in the country.
American Roller's addition in Shanghai follows an expansion of the firm's Plasma Coatings operation in Houston in 2012. It added a 26,000-sq.-ft. facility and acquired SCS Machine and Fabricating, located a short distance from its operation, in November 2012.
"Not only do we apply plasma coatings on rollers used in the rubber and plastics industry, but these same coatings apply to parts found and used in the oil and gas segment," Cahalane said.
Adding SCS to the fold also strengthens the company's position in the oil and gas industry, and gives it additional machining and fabricating capabilities, he said.
He said the company is less than one year into its expansion but the results are exceeding its expectations "and we are ready to keep the peddle down via our expansion into China."
American Roller isn't finished expanding. "In both our roller and coating product lines, we see opportunity for global expansion and consolidation in the U.S.," the executive said.
The company will continue to pursue those activities but—like its organic growth initiatives—will only go after them when the acquisitions fit and they represent a fair price, he said.
"We are always looking to acquire companies that fit our strategy and culture of engineered solutions, driven by collaboration with the customer," Cahalane said.
American Roller is an elder statesman in the industry and "the 'father' of virtually all the North American roller companies that exist today in one way or another," Cahalane said.
Founded in 1938 by Hillard Ditzler in Chicago, it acquired Wisconsin Rubber Products in 1954, expanded several times and eventually was passed on to a second generation of the Ditzler family. It added a new corporate office building in Union Grove in 1993.
Private equity company CM Acquisitions purchased the firm in 2001, which led to the acquisitions of Champion Roller and Plasma Coatings in 2003. It continued to expand from there.
American Roller has 12 facilities in eight locations in the U.S., giving it more than 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It employs more than 300 at its plants.
The company has become a multifaceted manufacturer and service provider over the last 75 years. It makes a full range of synthetic rubber, polyurethane, ceramic and metal matrix coatings, hard coats, nylon, heated rollers, steel and composite cores and shafts, bowed roll¬ers, and chilled rollers for the converting, metals processing, business machine, graphic arts, pulp and paper, and non-woven markets.
It has mixing capabilities for its proprietary rubber and its in-house chem¬ists can formulate different types of urethane for virtually any application.
American Roller's primary customers are mostly located in North America, Cahalane said, "but 10 percent of our products and services are exported to countries in Europe and Asia."
He describes American Roller today as "a growth-oriented company in markets that are considered both mature and emerging."
Tried and true
Strategies and tactics used by the company have changed with the times during the last seven and a half de¬cades, according to Cahalane. But some things have remained constant, he said, including the firm's investment in engineering and formulation experts to solve customers' problems and employing experienced field technicians in the regions it serves to handle difficulties when they arise.
American Roller separates itself from its competition because of three important things, he said:
c "Our focus on customer driven, engineered solutions." Many of its customers have downsized their engineering staffs over the years and "our ability to provide solutions to problems becomes even more important and valued. Our ability to help a customer run a line faster and with higher quality at a lower price stands out from the competition."
c "Our formulations and tolerance technologies."
In the manufacture of plastic and film, tighter tolerances isn't just a need, it's a requirement. "Within the roller industry, claimed roll finish tolerances and actual delivered tolerances seem to be two separate things. At American Roller we document what we say and take pride in achieving tolerances that cannot be achieved in any other parts of the world."
c Information technology. "We are at the early stages of utilizing our logistic and IT infrastructure to improve our internal processes, but as importantly improve the customers' process as well. We are in a world of information overload and, therefore, the company that can synthesize the data and make it meaningful is the company that can drive improvements people aren't even talking about."
American Roller is coming off a strong 2012. At times, Cahalane said, the company felt like it was bucking the trend because other businesses talked about a stagnant year or even one where they lost sales.
Because last year was solid, he is optimistic that 2013 will be even better. "It is early in the year," he said, "but the backlog is strong and the additional prospects are exciting.