Pressure Sensitive Manufacturers Have a Competitive Edge When Employees Are Industry Savvy

Students have the opportunity to work directly with coaters on the manufacturing line.
Steven Shane gladly accepted the position of senior process engineer of fabrication at Graftech Inc. in Cleveland. Graftech's Cleveland facility manufactures pressure sensitive products for its eGRAF product line, electronic thermal-management products.

With 27 years of successful service in sales, marketing, plant engineering, international technical service and management at Graftech and other divisions of UCAR International, Shane was seemingly the perfect choice for this newest challenge. But Shane's resum?ad one flaw - he had virtually no pressure sensitive experience.

All too often with highly specialized manufacturers, prospective candidates lack one key employment component - industry-specific technical knowledge. And if the company is small or mid-size, without a formalized training department, money can be lost in the form of unproductive time as resources are refocused on educating new employees.

In the $5.5 billion pressure sensitive industry, frontline sales representatives, process engineers and customer service representatives (CSRs) are often left in the dark. For example, the administrative-support personnel who play a key role in a corporation's success are not educated on test methods, adhesive-performance characteristics and coatings -- primary aspects in understanding the sticky-paper business.

In theory, when your customer calls the service line because of coating or drying defects, a trained CSR should be able to troubleshoot and intelligently discuss adhesive and surface treatments. But this doesn't always happen, and the overused response, "I'll have someone return your call," can frustrate customers and affect credibility. Simple terms like early or high release, edge ooze, or blocking shouldn't be foreign to employees talking to or calling on customers.

Richard Muny understands this training gap and expanded his research and development firm to incorporate pressure sensitive training at multiple levels to meet the needs of industry personnel.

Muny founded Chemsultants in 1985 as a consulting firm specializing in pressure sensitive research and development. He later renamed the company Chemsultants International Network to reflect the diversity of the company's expanding service functions, which include R&D, lab-equipment manufacturing and training. And Muny has definitely found a niche. Chemsultants grew in sales from $8,500 to $10 million since 1985 -- a span of 16 years.

Chemsultants International Network provides highly interactive and customized seminars to train employees involved in the adhesives and coatings industries. Representatives from Chemsultants' technical staff pull together resources and share expertise to provide hands-on experience for companies across the nation.

Chemsultants' new building houses the executive offices, a 35-seat classroom and a fully functioning laboratory.

Team Training

The employment environment in the United States has seen quite a fluctuation within a short period of time. As business boomed in early 2000, a low unemployment rate had companies scrambling to find new employees. Later, overrated stock expectations sent the economy in a downward spiral, cutting loose a number of employment candidates.

Although out-of-work Web wizards are available, prospective employees with good sales skills, extensive business knowledge and much-needed technical expertise remain elusive. And with more than 30 years of experience in the PSA business, Muny was well aware that the adhesives and coatings industries were not built on chemists alone. They needed employees with other skills.

Support personnel including customer service, sales representatives, lab and quality technicians, equipment operators, and purchasing staff is the foundation for a successful company. A support staff needs not only job-specific training but also requires overall industry knowledge. With that in mind, Muny created a seminar program that pulls the experience and knowledge from its Network divisions -- ChemDevelopment, ChemInstruments and Chemsultants International -- to create comprehensive seminars.

Pat Santurri is general manger of the ChemDevelopment Division, the arm of the company that concentrates on coating, laminating, converting and slitting operations on the Mentor, Ohio, campus. He has 40 years of printing and pressure sensitive experience as well as a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Rhode Island.

Santurri's industry experience ranges from PSA and heat-seal adhesives to PVC and PVDF films, specialty coatings, and printing inks. He shares his knowledge and experience in the seminars and with the equipment division, ChemInstruments.

ChemInstruments manufactures and sells a full line of testing equipment for the adhesive, sealant, ink and converting industries. Muny's son, Keith Muny, manages the 14,000-sq-ft, Cincinnati-based plant that generates more than $3 million in annual sales.

"We're a beta site for our own equipment," says Santurri. So before customers invest in lab equipment, they can be sure each instrument has been performance tested under actual manufacturing conditions. And during the seminars, hands-on demonstrations and training are provided so clients have total working knowledge.

Chemsultants International is the full-service research and development, converting and consulting group of chemists and development engineers managed by Jim Duvall, lab director. "Every week, you most likely touch something we developed under contract for someone," says Duvall from his Mentor office.

Products developed under the Chemsultants umbrella include cold-temperature labeling for airline baggage, pharmaceutical labels and Chemsultants' patented pressure sensitive wallpaper borders.

Duvall also teaches in the seminars. The team-training style offers students more than 75 years of combined experience. This year, the basics on pressure sensitive adhesives (PSAs) were covered for more than a dozen new hires within the industry with a seminar entitled Introduction to Pressure Sensitive Adhesive Technology.

The lecture series and hands-on training overview covered products, adhesive types, compounding, web stocks, drying and curing of adhesives, physical and analytical testing, slitting, and finishing.

Also, two sessions of the Laboratory Technical Certification Program were held to cover physical testing, sample preparation and testing, and data collection and analysis for lab technicians. Training in correct methods of test-results reporting and equipment calibration is imperative for an organization to assure tighter variances on test data.

The Pressure Sensitive Adhesive Testing Overview seminar was offered multiple times last year as a refresher course or for those newly appointed supervisors in quality assurance and/or quality control. Training topics included PSA properties and test methods, test-equipment functions, sample preparation, data collection and analytical-testing methods.

Shane decided to attend the overview session and says he was very impressed by what he saw. "The training was very beneficial, not only because of the specific information presented in the seminar, but also the interaction with other attendees from various web-converting and PSA-related industries," he says.

Also available is Advanced Coating Methods/Adhesion Technology Seminars for process and coating professionals. In-depth training in coating preparation and handling, die design, static issues, dryers and drying, web handling, and machine drives is included during the seminar.

Tricks of the trade are taught that include recognizing coating and drying defects, and unlocking the mystery of surface treatments. The Project Management Introductory Course is unique in design, and was created for new project managers and team leaders. It covers project goal and scope definition, planning, work-unit breakdowns, budgeting, and reporting.

Muny suggests that before even sending purchasing managers out to pound the pavement to your largest suppliers, give them the competitive edge of the technical knowledge that will make the company stand out.

The Last Layer

Last year, Muny formalized the company's training program with a state-of-the-art educational center on the Chemsultants' Mentor campus. "The school fills in the last details of the vision I had when I started the company," explains Muny.

The new building houses the executive offices, a 35-seat classroom and a fully functioning laboratory to provide practical, hands-on training. Trainees walk next door to work on the manufacturing line that includes two Dixon narrow-web coaters and a Busch 40-inch coater. The wide-web coater features eight coating methods, and ultraviolet- and oven-curing systems.

Santurri says the opportunity to listen to lectures, prepare tests in the lab and work directly with the coaters differentiates Chemsultants' seminars from others often held at hotels and conference centers.

"In our industry, new sales representatives often do not get the time to learn the industry before they hit the streets," says Santurri. "That can cause a lack of confidence at the customer level."

From Concept to Reality

Muny did not envision the extent of growth when he continued to link the divisions into a large network. The Greater Cleveland business community responded to the company's success by recognizing Chemsultants International Network as one of the 50 Fastest Growing Companies in Cleveland in the Fastrack 50 awards program from 1992 through 2001.

Muny was also honored as a finalist in the Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Award of Greater Cleveland in 2001. And most recently, Chemsultants became one of the Weatherhead 100, an honor for the fastest and most consistently growing companies in Northeast Ohio by Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.

Clients recognize the company's teaching methods. Shane says he appreciated the non-commercial way Chemsultants provided training without promoting a particular liner or coating technology. "Industry-wide, it can also help standardize test procedures, which goes a long way toward controlling and improving industry processes," Shane explains. "This can only help improve quality and lower cost -- which is good for the PSA industry as a whole."

For more information on PSA training programs, contact Chemsultants International Network, 9349 Hamilton Drive, Mentor, OH 44060-4559; phone 440-352-0218; or visit the Web site Or Circle No. 70.