Polymers Industry Enhances Akron's Business Climate
B.F. Goodrich and the other industrialists who made Akron The Rubber City more than a century ago might not recognize today’s generation of engineered materials, but their legacy shines in a polymer sector that attracts global attention. The regional concentration of polymer activity includes more than 400 companies and 35,000 employees. The University of Akron graduates more doctoral students in polymer science than any other institution in the country, and its research efforts are world-renowned.
Research across the region is cutting edge – flexible cell phones that change colors, television screens that roll up for stowing in a pocket, wallpaper that morphs into a series of your favorite images. The applications for polymers – which, like the synthetic rubber that preceded them, start as modified oil byproducts – are virtually endless. Medical devices, consumer electronics, business equipment and construction are just a few of the end markets. Diamond Polymers Inc., has been in the business for more than 20 years and provides polymer pellets for toys, lawn items, appliances, cosmetics packaging, automotive products, lawn and garden items, appliances and packaging. Manufacturers order the raw pellets for their fabrication plants.
“We are a value-added application,” says CEO Alan Woll. “We design what you need.”
The company’s newest line uses acrylonitrile styrene acrylate, or ASA, allowing the material to better withstand heat, pressure and other forces. That means the coating on vinyl siding lasts longer, the bright green body on a lawn tractor wears better.
“It is the most weatherable product there is,” Woll says. “Most of big players want to run 100,000 pounds at one time. We bring the technical and niche boutique side.”
The company, partnered with Network Polymers Inc., its sales arm, also offers other composites, including polycarbonate, crystal and high-impact polystyrene, and high-and-low-density polyethylene.
Ovation Polymers Inc. in Medina is a newer player with a different focus. The company started about six years ago with backing from Early Stage Partners, a Northeast Ohio venture capital company. It develops high-performance polymers for electronics, batteries, fuel cells, wind and solar components. Ovation uses nanotechnology to compound polymers with specific thermal, electrical, elastic, lubricating and flame-retardant properties.
“Our focus is on niche areas into conductivity and nanomaterials and nanocompounds,” says Ovation's Asis Banerjie. “We’ve developed our own product line, and it is very diverse.”
Applications include tiny medical devices and aerospace components. Carbon-based nanotubes are gaining momentum in many industries because of their high strength-to-weight ratio, Banerjie says. In basic terms, polymers are plastics with added molecules that make them stronger and improve resistance to heat, shattering, chemicals and corrosion.
Regardless of the target market, polymer firms in the region get a boost from multiple industry groups, including PolymerOhio Inc., the Ohio Polymer Strategy Council, Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center, the Center for Multifunctional Polymer Nanomaterials and Devices, and the National Composites Center, all based in Ohio. The Akron Global Polymer Academy at The University of Akron reaches out to preschoolers through college students. The university’s Polymer Training Center sponsors courses on nanomaterials, corrosion testing, polymer compounding, medical elastomers and injection molding for engineers, and the university itself turns out highly sought-after candidates.
“Of our 58 people, 25 are graduates of The University of Akron,” Woll says.