ROMULUS, Mich.—Alliance Polymers & Services Elastomers, a distributor of thermoplastic elastomers including its own private label products, reached a business milestone in celebrating its 10th year.
The company's culture and philosophy played a role in reaching that mark, but a major part was its ability to move quickly and make decisions to meet customers' needs, according to Stephane Morin, one of the company's two owners and principals.
Morin and APS's other principal, Roger Huarng, came together while working at BASF Corp.'s Wyandotte, Mich., location. Morin had arrived at BASF with a background as a mechanical engineer with processing experience, and Huarng as a chemical engineer, Morin said. Both worked for BASF's thermoplastic urethanes business for about 15 years. Before going out on their own, Morin was a sales and product manager, and Huarng was a marketing and project manager.
"When (BASF) did not have, at that point, a distributor for their small and medium-size accounts, we made a proposal to the business to become their exclusive distributor of TPU, which they agreed to," Morin said. "They eventually added another distributor, but we started the business by being only a TPU distributor, and only a BASF elastomer distributor."
The company started with just the two of them, housed in a 5,000-sq.-ft. building in Romulus. Right away, they realized how much more quickly the company could move as a lean organization to make decisions for customers, Morin said.
"The thing that really amazed me when Roger and I started this company is the amount of time that we did not have to spend in meetings," he said.
Their accumulated knowledge of how corporations worked gave them insight into the best ways to develop and support customers, Morin said. Eventually, APS got into thermoplastic vulcanizates and thermoplastic elastomers to give customers a one-stop shop for elastomeric materials. But more than providing products, they realized that their customers needed education and recommendations about elastomers.
"Our biggest strength is to be technically knowledgeable enough to make very quickly the right assessment on the material that is needed," Morin said. "We've become not only a supplier of material, but a technical resource for our customers."
On top of some compounding and blending in-house, APS can do tool and part design, and has the ability to run trials for smaller parts in-house, as well as produce new samples. Morin said it amazes him how many design shops, engineering firms and new customers call because they can't get that kind of information from OEMs.
"Elastomers is unique in itself, so it's important to find the right people to solve problems, or keep people from falling into problems," he said. "Roger and I, our background is technical, so we know what we're talking about."
In time, Morin and Huarng decided that the company should make its own materials, alongside the others it distributed, he said. Working with producers under private labels in both Asia and Europe, APS developed its own products, such as Viprene TPV, Zythane TPUs and Maxelast TPEs. With their industry knowledge, they've been able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of suppliers in chemistry and processes. Volume in that business has grown to the point that APS is evaluating the potential of a supplier stateside.
"Right now, we're at the crossroad of having enough volume to start looking at a partnership in the U.S., or a manufacturing facility in the U.S., to start something over here, just to cut down on the long lead time on the supply-chain side," Morin said.
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