My goal with this column is to bring to light all the small manufacturers making a small product for big applications and using big ideas with a huge does of innovation. We all use products every day in our houses, cars and at work. But, do we think about where they come from, who makes them and all of the R&D that goes into them? Manufacturing is an amazing industry that utilizes cutting-edge technology and innovative, creative, critical and analytical thinkers as well as skilled production staff who run the machines and equipment on the floor that take these products from an idea and turn them into tangible, saleable goods.
When was the company founded, by whom and why?
Powdermet was founded just over 20 years ago. We had a 20-year celebration here in August 2016. Powdermet’s focus is on the creation of new, nano-engineered materials-science-based technologies. During those 20 years nearly $50 million has been invested in materials-science research here, and Powdermet has earned dozens of patents, three R&D 100 Awards, commercialized 18 trademarked materials, been named to the Inc.5000 list twice (including last year), been named to the Weatherhead 100 multiple times, and served as the platform for 11 new company launches. Terves is one of those launches. Terves technology is based on Powdermet work done for the Department of Defense, repurposed and modified to meet specific needs in the oil and gas industry. Terves was founded in 2013.
Why did you locate in Euclid, Ohio?
This goes back in history, well prior to me, but I believe there were two issues at play here. First, Andy Sherman, our CEO, was originally from this area and relocated back here from California to make this our headquarters. Second, this amazing building and site become available. We occupy what was the TRW World R&D Headquarters. Our building alone is a historical landmark, besides being ideal for our business profile. The other key aspect of locating here was that this region has a broad range of materials suppliers that are well versed in two key areas for us: polymer and elastomeric technology and high-performance alloys, driven by the birth of the rubber industry in Akron and a strong aerospace/military development industry throughout Northeast Ohio.
What do you make?
Essentially, we “make materials do more.” We create technologies, starting at the atomic level, to meet the needs of industry and government. So, we cover the gamut from lightweight materials used for aerospace, armor plating materials used for the military, thermal insulating and radiation shielding composites, nano-coatings (microscopic coatings), reinforced composites, highly engineered and reactive alloys, and high-surface hardness composites. On a given day here you might find a prototype rocket motor on one desk, a high-performance electrical capacitor on another, and a pallet of dissolvable tubular alloy being loaded on a truck.
What types of customers buy your products or for what industries?
Essentially we operate in two different manners. On one front, we are doing funded research to create new technologies for both government agencies and industry. In this scenario, we may be working on specific technology for NASA for the Mars Mission or creating a new material for a major oil company to meet specific downhole application needs. On the other front, we actively sell magnesium and other component materials that we manufacture to companies serving the oil and gas exploration industry. These materials have unique properties that make them ideal for creating tools for downhole exploration work.
What are some of the applications of your products? In what ways are they used that readers might be familiar with? What products? How are they used in oil, gas and
As I noted previously, we literally created a solid-fuel rocket motor, in conjunction with Penn State University. Our most common sales are into more end-use-specific, esoteric applications. As anexample, our TervAlloy magnesium is sold in many cases to companies that build hydraulic fracking plugs. These units are designed to segment horizontal well bores to allow a section to be fracked. Typically, prior practice was that many frac plugs would be set over thousands of feet to allow fracking of multiple stages, and after this process was completed an expensive process of re-drilling the well would have to take place to clear out these frac plugs. Our TervAlloy material actual dissolves after exposure to the environment (elevated temperature and salt water) in these wells; so, the expensive drilling-out process is negated.
How many employees work for the company and in what types of roles? What types of skilled labor do you hire?
Our workforce varies with market demand (e.g., the price of oil), but I’m comfortable saying we operate with 25 or so staff. The skill sets of the organization are broad. We have some truly brilliant material scientists and engineers, along with highly skilled production staff (foundry and machining). We also have the full array of administrative and support people to make this all work.
How long have you been with the company, what is your role and what do you enjoy most about what you do?
I’m a relative newbie here, having joined around one year ago. My role is oversight of our sales and marketing efforts. Our sales efforts are essentially all Terves-focused and international in scope. On the marketing side, I work with both the Powdermet business and the Terves business. For me, the most enjoyable aspect of my role is working in an industry that is new to me – most of my prior experience was in the specialty chemicals and retail consumer markets.
What role does the company play in the manufacturing industry locally? Do you use local suppliers or have local customers?
We absolutely use local suppliers. As I noted earlier, it is one of the reasons we are located here. On the other hand, other than work that we may do for NASA that happens to have oversight at Glenn Research, the vast majority of our customers our outside of the area. This is particularly true for the Terves customers, who are basically located in key oil locations: Texas, the Western U.S., Western Canada, the Middle East, and the North Sea.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that manufacturing currently faces?
In our business, I think there are two areas that represent our greatest challenges. On one front it is innovation – the ability to not only ideate exciting new technologies, but also to quickly move those technologies to production. The other issue is the ability to manage tremendous variability in demand – the oil industry is commodity-driven and very reactive to price movement. Anyone here can tell you on any given day what West Texas Crude is trading for per barrel. The other challenge that we face is that we operate in a true international market, and, essentially, as a raw material supplier, we need to innovate to assure that we can offer differentiation, because there is the inevitable issue of an off-shore producer creating a low-cost knockoff material.
What does the future of manufacturing look like?
From our perspective, it is about people, systems and equipment to produce very high-tolerance components as efficiently as possible.
Who is Bob? What do you enjoy outside of work?
I enjoy Cleveland and spending time with my family and friends. I was raised here, spent time in other locations, and have a great appreciation for our city, our parks, our sports teams and theaters, and the great food venues available to us. I also love the West Side Market.