SAN ANTONIO—It's taken some patience and education, but American Biltrite (Canada) Ltd. finally is seeing business growth from a project it's been working on for more than three years.
The Sherbrooke, Quebec-based firm has been marketing an EPDM rubber sheet product that is NSF/ANSI 61 certified to be converted into gaskets for use in applications that require non-leaching materials for potable water.
U.S. legislation took effect at the beginning of 2014, and states must comply to the standards, with materials reviewed each year covering where the water goes from faucet to drain. Applications that are impacted include public drinking water distribution, including water storage tanks and reservoirs, water meters and all the individual components, the company said. The law also covers such items as gaskets used in the products.
"Our education program for utilities and water works municipalities has paid off," said Frederic Guerin, American Biltrite vice president of sales and marketing. "Even though it's a law, the market still needs to be educated on the necessity to use certified products."
One such way the Canadian company tried to get the word out was through a telemarketing campaign to tell municipalities about the product and the importance of using certified materials.
"Our (distributor) customers are pretty much aware that it's needed," Guerin said. "But down at the municipality level, the people specifying the material are not always considering the gasket important or prevalent enough to be certified. When you look at the gasket, the surface that is in contact with the water is so little that they just don't pay attention."
One American Biltrite staffer did the legwork to get the law for every single state, documenting the levels of certification needed at each state. Guerin said that while it's a federal law, it's one that is enforced at the state level.
"It's a lot of legwork, but when you look at our distributors and customers, it's a good sales tool because you sell all across the country," he said, noting that issues dealing with health and safety are inherently important to prospective customers.
Distributors are telling the firm they have seen an uptick in requests for NSF-certified gaskets at the municipal and OEM level, according to Paul Smith, business development manager for American Biltrite. He and Guerin discussed its efforts during NAHAD's annual convention, held April 2-5 in San Antonio.
"What we've done so far is indicative of the fact that American Biltrite is a leader in rubber compounding, and I think that's what leaders do," Smith said. "They have to provide the research and the information and download it to distribution, so that distribution can intelligently guide their customers to satisfy the applications that are available with the proper products that won't present a health hazard. It's not an easy job. Not everybody wants to learn and, in some cases, not everybody wants to teach."
Thus far, Guerin said growth has come in pockets. When it starts in one region, it seems to expand from there. He noted that areas of growth include California, New York, Minnesota, Texas and Florida.
"Some big population centers seem to be easier to get to then some of the smaller municipalities," Smith said. "I think it's a lack of major training programs within the state governments."
He likened the market's growth to that of a child's development. "We're now in an adolescent stage," he said. "We're a long way from being mature, and that's the level we want to get to."
Guerin added that a number of firms at NAHAD are beginning to talk about developing hoses using the NSF/Ansi 61-certified EPDM, meant as a complement to the polyvinyl chloride products the companies have been supplying for a few years. "We see an emerging demand for such products and we will certainly assist hose manufacturers in that development."
Growth in other areas
Smith said American Biltrite continues to develop its Transeal nitrile rubber gasket material for use in electric transformers, covering OE, repair and replacement.
The firm is revamping its marketing and training program, Guerin said, to better assist its distributors in developing that market.
An area seeing a re-emergence is the Blast-brand line of natural rubber compound curtains created specifically for the ballistics market, according to Smith. When practicing at target facilities, it is used as protection for shrapnel that otherwise could bounce back toward the shooter. It has high tear resistance and self-healing qualities.
The American Biltrite officials also said there has been growth in its FKM Viton cured sheet gasketing material. Guerin said the firm has increased inventory at its six stocking locations in the U.S. and two in Canada, and also "changed our approach to the market in the last year to now supply more frequently to better serve our customers."
American Biltrite's compounding business, especially for specialty compounds, is becoming more important each year, bringing some new vertical markets to sell to. It will never be a primary focus of the firm's business, but he said it's a nice side business to have.
"For compounding, we specialize in our specialty compounds as well as color because we have a mixer that is dedicated to color," Guerin said. "It offers smaller batches, color and no contamination. That's our forte. We don't want to play with the commodity black mixing for the rubber industry."
American Biltrite employs about 250 at its 300,000-sq.-ft. plant in Sherbrooke.