GRANGER, Ind.—"Mutually beneficial" is often an overused phrase. But for QPoly L.L.C., establishing itself as its own company has provided a stronger identity within the custom rubber compounding industry.
Formerly the fluoroelastomer business of Specialty Products & Polymers Inc., QPoly stands on its own two feet as an independent entity solely focused on custom mixing FKM compounds. The firm employs five people at a 5,000-sq.-ft. site in Granger, with offices in South Bend, Ind.
Being independent from Specialty Products, a custom compounder with a primary focus on silicone, has allowed QPoly to make FKMs the priority.
"We've been able to really focus on this product and seek out specific FKM users," President Michael Shaul said. "The biggest benefit has been in marketing. We now have a brand name in QPoly that is an FKM mixer. This is what we do day in and day out now. It's our specialty.
"We're a dedicated polymer mixer with a real focus on customer service and helping the small and medium customers that aren't necessarily buying truckload quantities."
Shaul had worked at Specialty Products for about 11 years, starting as a process engineer. About the same time he started with the company, it was approached by one of its customers—who Shaul said identified Specialty Products as its best mixer—to try its hand at FKM compounds.
Specialty originally said no because of its focus on silicone. Its operation is completely white, Shaul said, and adding in a product that uses carbon black didn't fit its vision. However, when the customer came back, sat down and outlined its problem for Specialty, the firm agreed to take on the production.
Shaul said to keep the FKM business separate from the silicone side, the firm dedicated a portion of its carbon black room for its conductive products to mix the FKM compounds.
"It was a combination of their support and input, plus the suppliers that we had," Shaul said. "We reached out to some of the FKM suppliers, their technical services, to get the right product for them."
The success led to some organic growth for Specialty Products as Shaul said the company then turned to its existing customers who were working with FKMs and found more business opportunities organically.
But silicone remained the main marketing focus. Shaul, who was the primary face of the FKM business, sat down with Specialty Products founder Rick Rey and outlined his vision. The conversation eventually led to Shaul purchasing the FKM business.
"They're very much a dedicated silicone mixer," Shaul said. "Although we did well with the FKM product, it wasn't something Specialty marketed or went after. It wasn't their primary business. They are a silicone mixer and that's what they do."
After Shaul officially started QPoly, he stayed on with Specialty Polymers for another six months to ensure a smooth transition. The firm handled the mixing for QPoly during that process, allowing QPoly to set up and eventually move production into its current facility in Granger, just 10 miles away.
The process took about one year from May 2017 until April 2018. QPoly invested in a full set of dedicated equipment and Shaul said it continues to have a strong relationship with Specialty Products. Despite being separate production and legal entities, the two refer customers to one another regularly.
"Overall it went very smooth," Shaul said. "Given that I had been with Specialty Products for so long, I knew their business inside and Rick was more than willing to support me in this venture. We had time to do a gradual transition."
He added that the transition for customers also went smoothly.
"I was the primary interface for the FKM customers at Specialty Products," Shaul said. "The transition was really easy. All of our customers were really open to it. We didn't have anybody leave us. Anybody who was working with us at that time is now a customer of QPoly. I think everyone was comfortable knowing that I was running it before and am still running it now."
Most of the firm's business comes from the automotive market, but Shaul said it also serves the aerospace, military/defense and general purpose industries.
One of the main sources of growth for the firm has been new oil applications in engines. Shaul said automotive manufacturers are trying to achieve longer cycle times on oil and other fluid changes. A result of that push is that the fluids are becoming more synthetic and aggressive, which in turn is leading to those customers looking at FKM compounds as a solution to provide better chemical resistance.
The trend is not limited to automotive. Shaul said emission standards for small engines like lawnmowers and weed eaters are causing the fuels and oils to become more aggressive there, too, leading to increased demand for FKMs in the commercial and consumer markets.
"FKM has been big in that market to keep up with those changes," Shaul said. "You need the higher chemical performance to keep up with current requirements. It's continuing to grow. We're seeing a lot of interest in the newer peroxide technology with a higher chemical resistance in the FKM product line. There's a lot of development in that now for us."
QPoly follows the same business model as Specialty Products, which Shaul said is a focus on small- to medium-sized rubber product manufacturers looking for a supplier who can respond quickly to business opportunities.
"There are a lot of people that want that personal touch, who they can call up and talk directly to us with development projects, concerns or whatever it may be." Shaul said. "We try to be very quick and turn around quotes within hours or at least a day. For so many of the small businesses that are trying to make it it's about timeliness and service. It's about being available when they need us. That's the biggest advantage we have, we're nimble and we're quick."
He said that, combined with a deep knowledge of its customer base, has helped QPoly find success as it establishes its brand within the market.
"Our team here cares," Shaul said. "We enjoy the rubber industry, a lot of these people we consider our friends. When they need something, we want to help. You're not going to talk to a customer service representative who doesn't know who you are and what you do. We know our customers really well and we're happy to help."