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Business boom prompts more expansion for R.D. Abbott

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Rick Ziebell (left) and Scott Kearns of R.D. Abbott
Photo by RPN photo by Bruce Meyer Rick Ziebell (left) and Scott Kearns of R.D. Abbott were on hand at the recent International Silicone Conference, held in Fairlawn, Ohio.

CERRITOS, Calif.—R.D. Abbott Co. Inc. put in a laboratory at its Cerritos headquarters less than two years ago, but the lab already is being expanded.

The project will boost the size of the laboratory by 1,850 square feet and will be completed by the last quarter of this year, according to Rick Ziebell, the firm's vice president of technology and innovation management.

As part of the expansion, R.D. Abbott is adding internal mixing and mill mixing equipment, along with an integrated lab information management system supplied by Alpha Technologies. Ziebell said that will enable the firm to add product design and development, and repackaging capabilities in addition to what already is offered.

Cost of the project was not released.

Filling a technical gap

R.D. Abbott touts itself as a full-service supplier to the rubber industry, marketing and selling a variety of goods to the sector, including synthetic rubber, silicone elastomers, adhesives, chemicals, additives, release agents, thermal carbon blacks, lab and testing equipment, and a variety of other goods.

A partial list of the companies it represents are Lord Corp., Dow Corning Corp., Lanxess A.G. and its Rhein Chemie unit, 3M, Hallstar Corp., Franklynn Industries and Alpha Technologies.

“All we do is related to rubber,” said Scott Kearns, vice president of sales and commercial development. “No paints and coatings. No personal care. If it's a thermoset or you're sticking that thermoset to something, that's in our tool box. Or if you want to release it from something, we sell release agents.”

R.D. Abbott originally put in the lab because as the rubber industry enters a new phase, the technical resources that customers and their suppliers have aren't as strong as they used to be, Ziebell said. “To obtain the technical resources, we decided that we should build that up in-house. We have the know-how. We just needed the mechanism in order to test and take invention to data and reporting.”

The lab is a resource for the firm's chemists, chemical engineers and other technical staff to utilize to work on specific projects to support customer needs.

“It's only R&D, so we develop formulations in the rubber polymers to meet specification requirements, applications requirements and processability requirements,” Ziebell said. “Then we feed that information back to our suppliers and offer the support of acquiring those products as necessary.”

Kearns stressed that the intention is to provide a service to its customers, not to supply the materials itself. “We do not compete with our customers,” he said, “because we have customers who are custom mixers as well as fabricators. Our intention is to help develop a compound for the requirements, but then to deploy that to a mixer.”

R.D. Abbott—founded in 1948—will produce materials in special circumstances, Kearns said, if the available firms don't want to do it, such as when the volume is too small, it's difficult to mix or is a very high-end type of elastomer.

The company has a good idea what its supplier partners are interested in re-sourcing or receiving support on. “If a supplier partner wants to sell a product, but may not have the resources that they can put toward that particular product, then we will take that on and do the development work and write the formulation, and Rick's team will do the testing,” Kearns said.

The lab expansion was needed because it has been so busy since opening, Ziebell said. It is working on more than 100 projects a year for customers. Current equipment before the expansion includes two mixers, two mills, a lab prototype extruder, a press, ovens, heat aging and immersion capability, and a full rheometric lab.

The expansion also will add a dispersometer to look at the dispersions of the firm's formulations. “We sell a lot of dispersion-grade additives,” Ziebell said. “We're interested to check and help custom mixers reach better quality dispersions and use that material to demonstrate how our products and services can help improve the mixing capability.”

Translating into sales

R.D. Abbott worker
A worker in R.D. Abbott's laboratory at its headquarters in Cerritos, Calif.

While helping suppliers and customers with technological expertise is a main purpose behind the expanding lab, it is also no secret that R.D. Abbott is looking for the work there to turn into higher sales and profits.

The privately held company doesn't release its sales, but Kearns said it is “aggressively working toward its annual sales growth goal of $100 million.”

“It's a leveraged value-add to help us further penetrate the market,” he said. When writing formulations, for example, Ziebell said most of the additives will come from companies that R.D. Abbott represents. “It's a pull-through type of model,” he said.

Its customer base includes OEMs, fabricators and custom mixers. Anyone who is specifying materials, mixing or molding would fall within the firm's radar.

“We translate customer needs to the suppliers, and in a lot of cases that's very helpful to them to create the products and services necessary to meet those needs,” Ziebell said. “We can probably get you the polymer you need. We can probably get you all the additives and fillers and curatives necessary through Lanxess and Rhein Chemie. And we can supply you with the equipment to test it.”

Kearns said the company doesn't carry competing lines, as most of the technologies are pretty well defined.

In the past year, R.D. Abbott has received awards from both suppliers and customers. Meggitt Aerospace honored the firm with seven awards for excellence in quality and delivery; Dow Corning and R.D. Abbott shared a Premier Performance Award from Parker Composite Sealing Systems; and Lord de Mexico presented RDA with the Lord Chemlok Award.

R.D. Abbott employs about 45 but has been adding to its staff, often with people who worked at their supplier firms.

Kearns and Ziebell both have been with the firm about seven years, with Kearns coming from Dow Corning and Ziebell boasting 32 years of experience in the rubber industry, including stints with Minnesota Rubber & Plastics, Bryant Rubber Corp. and Dow Corning.

Overall, R.D. Abbott has more than 150 years of Dow Corning experience on the staff, and an employee who spent 40 years with Bayer and Lanxess.

Kearns said the company doesn't poach from its suppliers. Many people on its staff have gotten to retirement age or retire early and join R.D. Abbott. But the firm is looking to create sales interns to start bringing in younger people.

“Our intentions are to hire people our supplier partners would hire and feel comfortable with, because we are to be an extension for them,” Kearns said. “We want people in the marketplace to see us as Lanxess or Dow Corning or Rhein Chemie. When we're in front of the customer, we should be able to speak the same language and provide the same level of technical support and be very expedient with service and getting product to their door.”