20 Years and Counting
Not every company celebrates its 20th anniversary by opening a new 10-acre campus. But not every company is Chemsultants International.
The Mentor, OH-based company opened its new campus, with state-of-the-art testing, product development, research and training facilities, in 2006 to serve its global customer base. It was designed with room for growth - the 35,000-square-foot building can be expanded to almost double the manufacturing capacity of the building without changing the current employees’ work habits.
But there’s another reason for the new facility. “What I really want to do is get everybody all together in the same building,” said Chemsultants CEO Richard (Dick) Muny. The company had been previously located in three separate buildings less than a mile from the new site. Two of these buildings may still handle additional projects if necessary, Muny said.
With a total of 35 employees and 14 sales reps worldwide, Muny projects that the company’s work force could grow by 50% over the next five years.
All Under One RoofA factor that sets Chemsultants apart is its all-in-one capability. A client might approach the company with an idea for a product they’d like developed, and Chemsultants has the facilities to not only develop the product, but to manufacture it on-site for a period of time. “We can manufacture it for a short period of time - until the client has proven that there’s a market demand for that product,” Muny said. “We can also help them design their manufacturing facility, buy the machines and do everything for the process part. And in the meantime we will manufacture the product.”
“The strength of our company is that we have the ability to take an idea that comes in the door or from us from concept to research and development into the actual manufacturing of the product, and service it with test equipment as well,” said COO Gary Avalon. “You’ll find people who can do components of that, but very rarely do you find one that brings all that together in one place.”
Opportunities for PartnershipsA strong code of ethics has been in place since the start, which includes treating customers like partners and doing everything possible to help them succeed. “From the very beginning of our company we’ve had a code of ethics and a set of rules that we always follow,” Muny said.
‘One of the very unique things about us is that we always give away the intellectual property to the client,” he said. “When they pay our consulting fee, the intellectual property rights go along with it without any negotiation. That has been a real bugaboo with a lot of other R&D operations - that somebody would come in and fund a project and then halfway through the project find out that they don’t have the intellectual property, that it stays with the university or wherever they took the project. That’s one of our strengths. People have learned to trust us over the years, and don’t have to worry about things like that.”
In addition, opportunities for crossover among client companies can take place. Muny said, “We’ll have a client come in who might manufacture something that needs a very unusual polymer or something. So we do all the lab work and pilot plant work for that one customer. But then we get this polymer supplier and this manufacturer together, and they may collaborate and start a new spinoff business together as a partnership. We have the technical expertise to understand how these things go together and the independence to be able to think about these things without this narrow focus of a one-company kind of approach. We’re also business oriented - we’re businessmen as well as scientists - which is a very unusual combination.”
Avalon cited an example where they were able to keep a company running despite a supply shortage. “We have a client now whose source of supply blew up. They couldn’t continue to do business so they came to us,” he said, “and we found someone who could supply that product. We were able to put our client in touch with those suppliers, and he was able to move on. So his business survived because he came through us.”
Helping the Little GuyA common problem in many industries is finding the right person to talk to when there’s a problem. If a company needs help with a product, they might get caught up in bureaucracy and not get an answer. “That’s where we fit in, and I see it almost weekly,” said James Duvall, VP-Technical Operations. “We fit in where they would be stymied if they had nowhere else to go. If they called a big tape or label company, they might not get the response all the time; we’re uniquely situated to do that.”
“And our name opens doors,” Muny said. “Sometimes the little guy comes to us and gives us a project to do. But if he didn’t have a relationship with us, when he went to the next step in the supply chain, they wouldn’t even pick up the phone. When we introduce him to those people, he’s got the next step up - and that service is free as long as he’s a client.”
“We have the big technical leaders in the world, not just adhesive companies,” Duvall said. “These are people who use adhesives and don’t really need to know a lot about it, but they have to use the materials. They don’t have a lot of people like us. But they have to solve a problem, and that’s where we fit the best.”
In addition, if a company has been buying adhesive from one supplier and keeps asking their supplier to solve a problem that can only be solved with an adhesive from a different supplier, the problem will never be solved. The same company can come to Chemsultants, who can point them to another company’s product that will solve the problem.
A Team of ExpertsMuny credits Chemsultants’ people for the company’s success. “The quality of people we have here is very high,” he said, “because I have been able to start this business and build this business in an area in northeast Ohio where a lot of the polymer industry and adhesive industry is. These companies may recruit a lot of good people, and then when there’s a softness in the labor market and some are let go, we’re able to pick them up. Our select ability to locate and bring people on is tremendous. So we have guys who’ve owned their own businesses here and some very well-known scientists.
“We also have a network of guys we can call if we don’t know the answer to a question. They may have a really well defined specialty that we may only need once every two years. We’re a place where those kind of people know they can come and get a fair deal.” Muny continued, “The other thing is that we can select from a bigger basket of technical options than most companies. If Company A has a project to do the purple widget, there are some technologies that that company doesn’t want to use. Maybe it’s chemicals that are owned by a competitor, or they don’t have the exact equipment. So they want to fit that project into the equipment that they have – which is not a smart thing to do. But when they bring a project like that to us, we look at everything that’s available. Then perhaps come to them and say, ‘This is fine, we’ll be done in three months, but you have to take this wheel on your machine and put it over here,’ and the guy will say that they will or won’t do it, so we tell them that if they won’t then we don’t think we can do the project. Decisions get made much more quickly.”
“And this applies with raw materials as well,” Avalon said. “Some companies restrict that, but we’re open and can talk to anybody and use any materials that are out there. So it’s a little bit different environment in that regard.”
R&DMany times, when a new product is introduced to a big company that’s running its machines continuously for three shifts, that company won’t break into their shifts to test anything.
“So the suppliers would come here and do all of that development work and actually make the samples on our machines, then hand them over so that they wouldn’t have to wait maybe six months just to wait for open machine time to try a trial,” Muny said. “There are very few places around where you can do that. And, if you come to us with a technology that’s 80% figured out and you start it out on our pilot lines, we have a whole lab full of chemists that you can call while the pilot plant is running, and they come over and look at the technology that’s been presented to the pilot coater crew, talk to the customer, and maybe they can solve that problem technically before the guy leaves.”
Most pilot plants, Muny said, are owned by an adhesive company or a company that builds big coating lines, and they want the customer to buy their products.
“If they come to us and use our pilot line, we may recommend six different adhesives from six different suppliers that they can choose from, and we can say, ‘This is the most expensive. This has the best performance,’ and they can try them all.”
The ability to provide choices has a huge impact on companies that have downsized their R&D departments. Independent laboratories that were developed inside of these client companies were shut down or reduced in size to save cost. “And everybody started relying on the suppliers to do the laboratory work and make the technical recommendations,” Muny said. “That’s a big mistake, because what happens is this: if you have a company that wants to develop a unique product, and they go to these suppliers and the suppliers give them the adhesive that they need to develop that unique product, the supplier can then sell it to the company’s competition.”
The company can also bring products through R&D faster than a large company might. “In a big company’s R&D department, a project may last 10 years - not because the technology is so tough, but because of the difficulties associated with navigating the labyrinth of all of the bureaucracy that a big company has. We don’t get paid until we finish a project, so the average running time of a project in our laboratory is very short.”
The main reason a company might employ a consultant is because they can’t solve a problem or they’re late in their plans to launch a product to the market. Avalon said they receive many challenging projects that usually come with a very tight timeline on them, but being a consulting company, they are able to work through those things and really focus on the project itself. “And that’s what we’re doing,” he said, “we’re focusing on it to the point where we can make quick progress.”
Past to PresentMuny founded the company in 1986, four years after his 15-year stint with Avery Dennison. He began the business in a 550-square-foot office, and consulted with companies to set up quality-assurance testing programs. Later, he added adhesive formulation and testing service for pressure-sensitive adhesives and products.
“The nature of what we’ve done has changed from just working on pressure-sensitive adhesives to many other types of adhesives and sealants and related materials,” Avalon said, including heat-seal adhesives, specialty coatings and adhesives, and thermoplastic and thermoset coatings. The company also participates in writing test methods for organizations like the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council and ASTM.
A notable example of a consulting project Chemsultants took on is the yellow change-of-address label for the postal service.
“It is a very sophisticated label,” Muny said. “It seems simple, but the adhesive has to stick well enough that this yellow label doesn’t fall off through the whole postal system process, from re-addressing it, applying it, sorting it, getting it out to the carrier and, finally, delivery. But if for some reason, when they put this information on this label, it’s not the right information, the carrier has to be able to take this label off and look underneath because it’s placed over the old address. If this adhesive was very, very aggressive, when you try to take this label off, you’d be obliterating the old address underneath.”
Chemsultants developed the test machine to test them as well. “We did this label from the very beginning to the end. And we do that for a lot of customers.”
Avalon said, “At any given time, we have 25 projects on the list and 50 opportunities that are being screened to look at, and it’s constantly moving. It’s a fast-paced kind of place because projects are constantly coming and going. Each person has five or six that they’re working on, and they’re getting them done and moving on.”
The company is involved indirectly or directly in projects that vary from medical products and airplanes to cars, flat-screen TVs, and computers. “When you see our ads, you might not realize that we’re involved in these types of projects, but we are - and on a daily basis.”
Chemsultants is also getting involved in fuel-cell technology. The company is sharing a $1.5 million grant with the Michigan Molecular Institute to develop and produce new polymer systems for hydrogen fuel cells.
“We’re looking at ventures like this to really get us to the next point,” Avalon said. “If you think about what we do - provide services and develop products and testing equipment - then in the fuel-cell industry we can help customers to develop better fuel cell membranes, or we can possibly manufacture those materials, or we can produce and sell test equipment to help analyze and evaluate fuel cell membranes to determine their functionality before being put into an actual fuel cell stack. So it fits back into our basic model of who we are and what we do. That’s what’s really exciting.”
Muny said it’s also part of the company’s new effort in terms of the new building. That funding, he said, could help the company to develop enough technology to start a separate spinoff business focused on the manufacturer of components - especially the membranes - for fuel cells.