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Staff changes help Portage enter silicone market

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Kylie Trumpower, Portage Precision Polymer
Kylie Trumpower (right), process engineer at Portage Precision Polymer Inc., analyzes data at the rubber and silicone research and development center in Mogadore, Ohio.

MOGADORE, Ohio—Doug Hartley always has been willing to take chances when it comes to building his custom compounding business.

Most recently, the co-founder, president and CEO of Portage Precision Polymers Inc. took a giant step into the silicone mixing arena when the company opened a new compounding plant in September 2013, giving the firm's customers "a one-stop shop for their elastomer compounding needs," said Erick Sharp. He became the company's director of operations Nov. 1 after previously managing the firm's Ravenna, Ohio, rubber compounding facility.

In his new role, Sharp oversees all of the company's operations.

Portage Precision's march into the silicone arena led to the promotion of Sharp and the addition of key personnel, including Plant Engineer Byron Lewis to oversee engineering and maintenance at both of the firm's locations; Daniel Cutlip as silicone quality lab supervisor; John Canty as purchasing director to oversee the acquisition of raw materials, managing inventory and developing relationships; Gary Leiendecker as an off-the-road and molded chemist; and Kylie Trumpower as a process engineer.

Hartley said he elected to make those moves, along with others, to bolster the firm's overall business and allow it to expand further into its present markets and move into new sectors.

Expanding capabilities

A Portage Precision employee monitors a twin-screw silicone extruder at the firm’s facility in Mogadore, Ohio.
A Portage Precision employee monitors a twin-screw silicone extruder at the firm’s facility in Mogadore, Ohio.

The company has made improvements to its plants, including the addition of a new full service laboratory for silicone testing and development center at the 17,680-sq.-ft. Mogadore plant and moving its headquarters from Ravenna to Mogadore, which is better suited to house it.

"We're at a stage where we can grow on both the rubber and silicone ends of our business," Hartley said. "In 2013, our rubber operation was better than in 2012, and we expect 2014 to progress the same way."

The firm has had a strong market share in the U.S. custom compounding extrusion market for more than a decade.

With a work force of about 75 at its two plants, the company is running two shifts with a lot of overtime at the 179,000-sq.-ft. Ravenna mixing facility and is aiming to add a third shift at the site, he said. It added a third compounding line in 2012 at the factory, which has the capacity to produce more than 60 million pounds of rubber a year.

Doug and Rick Hartley founded the company in 2002 with just six employees, and it has grown steadily since.

Sharp noted that the rubber and silicone compounder has completed numerous trials and tests at the silicone mixing facility for customers and has begun ramping up production of its compounds. It already has plans in the works to add to its capabilities.

"We definitely see silicone as a growth area," Hartley said, "because there are a lot of opportunities in the market for silicone, and there are a lot of opportunities for compounding."

Portage Precision's newest state-of-the-art plant gives the company 20 million pounds of custom silicone mixing capacity. The plant has a 200-gallon Sigma Blade Tilt mixer and 2TE Twin Screw Dump extruder for small and large batch compounding, and features a full service laboratory for silicone testing and development.

Its move into silicone compounding was something the company had planned over a long period, Hartley said. "A lot of our current customers use silicone. And they knew (Technical Director) George Stamper's and Erick Sharp's capabilities in the silicone end of our business. We now have more to offer our customers. This was a natural fit."

Both the rubber and silicone sides of the company's operation have gained ground of late in the construction industry, according to John Truitt, director of sales and marketing. And that will continue to be an industry it will target, he said. "Commercial construction was down, but it's coming back ... and that will benefit us."

Other industries Truitt said Portage Precision serves on a regular basis include automotive, rubber roller, agriculture, oil and gas, electrical and energy.

The new technical center at the Mogadore facility is proving to be a big plus and strong draw for the firm, Hartley said. "It gives us a lot more capabilities and it certainly has helped us to grow."

It handles both silicone and rubber testing and development, he said. The company still has a testing lab at its Ravenna facility, but all development work has been moved to Mogadore.

ESOP a possibility

While Hartley continues to add parts to the growing business, he said the company has begun putting in place a plan to turn Portage Precision into an employee stock ownership program company.

He would rather do that than sell the business "because it will give everyone working here opportunities in the future."

"I'm not planning to retire any time soon ... but years ago I was involved in an ESOP at Goldsmith & Eggleton Inc., so I know how they work," Hartley said. "And I know it takes a number of years to put in place."

He also said Portage Precision will continue to look for potential acquisitions. "At this point in our growth, it's something we always look at and will follow through on if it makes sense."