WAPAKONETA, Ohio—Midwest Elastomers Inc. is 35 years old this year, and if the company hadn't abandoned its roots and evolved, it long ago could have gone the way of many of its competitors—belly up.
The supplier of granulated rubber and plastics did change, though, and continues to increase its capabilities and enter new markets, a distance from its origin of cryogenically processing whole tires.
In 1979, the original Midwest Elastomers investors hoped to tap into funding from the state of Ohio to reduce the massive scrap tire problem, said Ron Clark, MEI president and CEO.
“We were like everyone else—we were going to solve the problem of tire piles,” he said. And like everyone else, the firm struggled to find end-use markets. By 1984, the founders had sold the business “to a bunch of retired doctors who were looking for a place to make an investment,” he said.
“To be honest, we had some lean years,” said Evan Piland, sales manager for MEI's Industrial Rubber Division. “But they stuck with it.”
Clark said by 1984 MEI was out of the whole tire recycling business, instead focusing on grinding post-industrial scrap—rubber from rejected parts, flash or trimmings from rubber molders, extruders and mixers. It moved into processing materials for the sports and safety surface markets; added plastics grinding in 1995; in 2002 started grinding adhesives materials; and in 2008 began adding equipment to serve the uncured rubber markets.
The result: MEI is nearing 1 billion pounds of processed industrial scrap.