Polyurethane processors and manufacturers came together for more than just sun and surf at the 2018 Polyurethane Manufacturers Association annual meeting, held May 5-8 in Naples, Fla. They were also there to share ideas and build industry relationships.
"The real purpose of us getting together every year, is that we feel like we're stronger together when we collaborate," said Linda Katz, PMA president and Molded Dimensions Inc. owner and CEO. "It's a really great chance for everyone to share best practices and make industry connections."
A record of about 300 attended the event at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, with training sessions, keynote speakers and a supplier showcase, with time for a golf outing and an evening on the beach networking.
A new addition to the lineup, which also includes technical paper presentations and posters, were roundtable discussions for the first time in recent history, said Katz, who was Rubber & Plastics News' Executive of the Year for 2015.
"In terms of our sharing, we wanted to be more interactive," she said. "We had four topics for roundtables, and those were well-received."
The roundtable discussions included lean processes, hiring practices, automation and disaster preparedness. Being able to come together to share information freely is part of what makes the PMA group and annual meeting special, Katz said.
"We're all really good at what we do, and being able to explain what we do, and going out and digging for new opportunities," she said. "So I think a lot of us look at it as 'The stronger we are together, the bigger our market will be,' so we don't really see each other as competitors. We'll all share across the board."
As a larger organization, PMA members are working with a strong and growing economy, Katz said. But with that growth comes a bigger need to keep tabs on changing regulations worldwide.
"We keep an eye on all of the laws and regulations that are associated with our chemicals," she said. "It's our roots. The networking and growing the industry is our mission, but regulation is how we began."
PMA originally banded together to respond to a regulatory advance on methyl-bischloroaniline (MOCA), Katz said.
"So what we do now, is we look at all of our chemicals, and any sort of laws or regulations that might be changing," she said. "We try to make sure that our industry understands the very best way to handle all of our chemicals safely. We have awesome safe-use documents for every piece."
Starting with MOCA, PMA has compiled training materials that members can use for free, including shop level training and more technical advanced training, she said. The organization designed a poster that can be put up in work areas.
"These materials are free to anyone in the industry," she said. "We feel like we know how to handle our materials well, how to keep our employees safe and that it's our job to make sure everyone in the industry knows that."
PMA also promotes certification with current laws, with four levels, Katz said. The first is a pledge to comply with regulations and best practices. The second level is the achievement of compliance with current standards and regulations. The third level is doing things "above and beyond, sort of a scavenger hunt to say, 'Here are some extra things I'm doing.' " The fourth level is mentoring, or working on a committee that advances best practices in some way.
Katz said recently a step has been added in the second stage, called "PMA Safe and Compliant" verified. In that step, PMA members don't just self-certify that they're following best practices for handling chemicals and environmental health and safety laws. They also have an outside consultant come in and audit the system. The results of that audit are sent to the PMA, and qualifying companies receive a seal to show compliance.
"At my company, we have it displayed right on our way in to manufacturing, and we put it on marketing materials," Katz said. "So we can say we have third-party verification that we are handling all our chemicals safely using the best possible standards out there, and they really appreciate that."
Adding the PMA Safe and Compliant step makes for a good marketing standpoint for the individual companies, Katz said. It also sets a goal for the industry to be able to say that a large percentage of processors and manufacturers are compliant.
"That would be our ideal goal, to say we know safe practices, we share that information, and we can verify that we're actually using them as an industry," Katz said.
Employing self-regulation shows that government regulation isn't necessary, she said.
PMA also has established an advocacy committee, working alongside its established regulatory committee, with a goal to make connections in the regulatory world and establish a message to use in talks with legislators.
"We have a ton of industry data that's associated with our chemicals, that might be coming from other countries or older studies, and they're working hard to pull that together, to say there is a lot of data, and make sure we have a strong message in terms of that," Katz said.
The committee is making connections with the American Chemistry Council, partnering to work on best practices for materials such as isocyanates. Earlier this year, the committee led a group of PMA members to Washington where they spoke to lawmakers about the needs of the industry and regulation. They're also working collaboratively with OSHA.
"This is a new development, and we're feeling really good about this as well, being able to say that we have good relationships with these people," Katz said.
As changes come in the regulatory landscape, the committee is charged to be proactive about connecting with lawmakers on the state or federal level, and answer questions to participate in the process if industry chemicals are involved, she said.
After one year in her position as president, Katz said she would like to grow the number of processor members attending the PMA meeting in the future.
"I'd like to get more people around the table," she said. "We're always pushing, but I'm inclined to push even harder to reach out to get more processor members, and also to get processor members who don't attend. We'd like to reach out and say, 'We'd love to see you at our meeting in Vegas or at our meeting in Austin in two years.'"
In addition, she said she'd like to continue moving forward on the education front, including more training materials and workplace posters for industry chemicals.