TRENTON, N.J.—The Ivanhoe custom mixing division of Home Rubber Co. hit a tough stretch last year, much of that tied to the slowdown of the Chinese economy.
Business started to stall some in February 2015, and then starting in July it came down more severely and lasted through the end of the year, according to Rich Balka, owner and president of Home Rubber.
“On the Ivanhoe side of the business, we do a lot of exporting to China, and that business really dropped off dramatically relative to the second half of 2014 and the first part of 2015,” he said.
Balka said he believes the Chinese slowdown in some way was the tail end of a domino effect that started when the U.S. economy hit the skids followed by a severe slowdown in the European Union. Ivanhoe also was hurt that the drop in its exports to China came on the heels of defense cuts, as the mixer has a lot of business in military and aerospace applications.
“I think generally for molders, which is our customer base for Ivanhoe, the recovery has been a lot slower than we have seen on the hose side (at Home Rubber),” he said.
“I think most of those molders are serving the OEMs of the country, and for OEMs, it's generally been a slower recovery.”
But because the dip in Ivanhoe's business was more severe than with the Home Rubber side, Balka expects to see a slightly more dramatic improvement than on the industrial hose side.
“For whatever reason, that market is fluctuating more,” he said. “The EU is improving at a very good pace right now. Other than what will happen with oil and gas, I think there's going to be a more stable economy in Europe and in the U.S. for the next several years.”
Home Rubber bought Ivanhoe in 2006, and located the equipment at Home Rubber's factory in Trenton. About 80 percent of its mixing is dedicated for Home Rubber usage, with the rest sold to outside customers.
Ivanhoe is set up to supply small to high volumes of materials, with all of it custom-made to customer specifications.
“Our customers are looking for a compounder that can and will stand behind the compounds that they mix,” Balka said. “We fully certify everything that we provide.”
The company owner thinks that is a layer of attention that other compounders might not be able to provide. In addition, he said there aren't multiple layers to crawl through to get in communication with Ivanhoe's technical staff.
“We not only back up the material by saying they meet all the physical qualities that are required,” Balka said, “(but) if our customer has difficulty molding that compound, we will work with them until it works, or we will tweak the compound until they are able to mold their parts.”
Years back, large material suppliers used to publish recipes for compounders and put out literature that told what specifications and physical properties the materials met. Much of that, however, ended with the litigation that surrounded the silicone breast implant industry.
“Lawyers said we'll be safer if we don't make any promises,” he said. “That left a void of people that were willing and able to produce compounds and certify as to what those compounds could achieve. I think Ivanhoe takes advantage of that to a large degree.”