Interplastic Corp. RESINates with Trenchless Market
Minnesota-based Company Projects Strong Future for Trenchless Business
By Sharon M. Bueno Jul 14, 2014
In the world of trenchless rehabilitation, cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) is like the most popular kid on the block. It’s the trenchless method that gets all the attention — from the large diameter pipe it can rehab to the lengths of the projects completed.
But the unsung hero in CIPP projects is the stuff that makes it stick to the wall of the pipe — the resins.
Since 1959, Interplastic Corp. has been manufacturing unsaturated polyester, vinyl ester and specialty resins, gel coats, colorants and putties under the CoREZYN, Silmar and Integrity brand names for the composites and cast polymer industries. The company recognized the untapped potential that trenchless technology offered early on and pretty much got in on the ground floor of what was then a fledgling industry.
Pretty smart move and investment for a company to make for an unknown market that paid off more than company officials could have imagined at the time. Some 30 years later, Interplastic is a well-respected leader of the trenchless market.
Led by an industry experienced executive team and its 600-member workforce, the company has served as an innovator for the resins community for the trenchless market, developing enhanced resins to provide for higher mechanical properties and allowing contractors and liner manufacturers to design projects with thinner liners. The company also touts that it’s a leading provider in the number and types of vinyl ester resins offered for the CIPP market, not just for municipal work but for industrial applications, too.
Company senior vice president Bob DeRoma and national sales manager Steve Wetzel have been integral in driving the growth and success of the CIPP market at Interplastic and they are two key people on the management team providing direction in the market.
Interplastic business manager for remediation polymers Kaleel Rahaim has been fortunate to see firsthand how his company has grown and prospered over the years, having worked at Interplastic for 25 years. The accomplishments of both Interplastic and the resins industry are staggering to him. “I am amazed at how far the company has come,” he says. “I take a look at what we’ve done and what our competitors have done. I am biased of course, but I feel that Interplastic is the poster child for how a company should grow and progress.
“Manufacturing resins is an extremely competitive market,” he says. “And it will continue to be that way because all of the different manufacturers of polyester and vinyl ester resins continue to be very aggressive in pursuing business in the total market, not just in trenchless.”
Interplastic’s roots date back to 1959, serving as a thermoset resins company based in Minneapolis, that produced Orthophthalic and Isophthalic polyester resins that served the marine, construction and all of the other polyester industries. Thermoset polymers were made popular as a result of a product called Bakelite, which was one of the first thermoset resins to be developed. From that product, the industry flourished into thermoset polyesters, which found fertile markets in North America in both upstart and existing markets.
“At one point during the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were 15 to 20 companies manufacturing thermoset polyester resins,” Rahaim says. “Today in North America, there are only six companies of significance manufacturing them.”
Interplastic incorporated in 1962 and was even traded on the local stock exchange and in later years on the American stock exchange. A second manufacturing facility was built in 1971 in Pryor, Okla., just northeast of Tulsa, to accommodate the company’s growth. In 1973, Interplastic established a distribution arm called Southern Fiberglass Supply, which today is known as North American Composites.
In 1979, Interplastic was acquired by Phillips Petroleum who later had a change of heart and sold the business in 1983 to a group of Interplastic managers and investors.
Between 1989 and today, Interplastic has grown by leaps and bounds. For example, the distribution arm of the company expanded from five locations to 28 during that time period and now encompasses both the United States and Canada. Due to its success and growth the company moved its headquarters to St. Paul, Minn.
In 1993, Interplastic made a business acquisition that resulted in a major shift in the polyester resins market in North America and proved to be the catalyst for the company’s continued growth — the company purchased the Silmar resins division of British Petroleum. “That one acquisition made Interplastic one of the largest producers of polyester resins in North America,” Rahaim says.“We went from two manufacturing facilities to four, adding them in Kentucky and California.”
The trenchless industry and Interplastic make for a perfect marriage. Many of the industry’s applications — primarily CIPP — require the resins that companies such as Interplastic produce. The relationship between company and industry goes back to the late 1970s and has continued to grow.
Interplastic has been manufacturing CoREZYN thermoset resins, gel coats and colorants for the composites and cast polymer industries since 1959. The division introduced CoREZYN epoxy-based vinyl esters in 1978. Today, it produces an extensive line of vinyl ester resins in the marketplace. CoREZYN vinyl esters are for specialized high-performance, high-corrosion applications within the marine, transportation and construction industries.
“When we started our involvement in the trenchless industry, our participation compared to the total company’s business was very small,” Rahaim says. “That was 30 years ago. Today, we’re proud to say that it has grown into a leading business segment for our company.”
Rahaim notes that Interplastic serves several segments of the trenchless market beyond the popular CIPP faction. The company also provides resins for the pipe manufacturers that produce pipe for sliplining, pipe jacking and other trenchless methods. “We are not just about CIPP, although CIPP is the dominant area of our trenchless business,” he says.
The trenchless market is an exciting business segment for Interplastic as the road to rehabilitating and upgrading our underground infrastructure is a long-term, never-ending process that cannot be ignored. “We saw an opportunity,” Rahaim says of the company’s decision to enter trenchless. “We saw that the infrastructure in North America wasn’t getting any better. The infrastructure was aging and it wasn’t going to stop and it would continue to need renovation. We saw the opportunity to participate in this market and that there was going to be a growing need for the products we manufacture.”
For the trenchless industry, Interplastic manufactures polyester and vinyl ester resins. Beginning in 2010, the company started to commercially market environmentally friendly resins that contain no styrene or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), known as its ECO Series resins. Another product it produces for trenchless through its Gel Coat Group is its putties, which are used for adhesion and gap filling.
While known for its rehab products for pipe, Interplastic is also looking into the manhole rehab market with a new putty product. “This would be a completely new market for us,” Rahaim says. “[The putties] can be troweled on or sprayed on. We are looking at different processes and working with different contractors on these processes.”
Interplastic has been around for more than 55 years and Rahaim points to several reasons for its successful longevity, including its technical and laboratory staff, its manufacturing group and marketing/sales group. He says all of them working together have made the company so respected in the field today. “We just have outstanding resources within our company,” he says. “We all communicate well with all functions of the company.”
Rahaim is also proud of the customer service Interplastic provides, being as responsive to customers’ needs as quickly and professionally as possible. “It’s not just our customers, but our customers’ customers that we respond to,” he says. “We provide quality products, competitive pricing and extremely good technical support, but I think service is the key word for Interplastic that separates us from our competitors.”
But the biggest factor to Interplastic’s success is the senior leadership team. Rahaim describes the company’s executive team as having strong technical experience while understanding the business world — a team with tremendous business insight.
“It never fails to amaze me how good our executive team is with business decisions, such as when we purchased the Silmar resins division from British Petroleum,” he says. “At the time, [outsiders] would have thought it wasn’t the best time to make such a purchase but it turned out to be an extremely wise move because a year later, the market turned around and we were able to expand our North American business significantly. It’s decisions like that that have made me really respect the business acumen that is in our corporate leadership.”
As for the decision to expand into the trenchless market, the results speak for themselves, especially when you factor in the collapse of the economy in 2008 that affected nearly all the construction markets, with the exception of the trenchless market.
“One of the saving graces was the infrastructure market. The CIPP and pipe market did not go that same route,” Rahaim says. “Those markets remained relatively stable in light of the dismal performance of the other markets. That helped us and other manufacturers. Those who rode [the infrastructure] horse were able to survive much easier than those who did not.”
And the market is getting stronger with each passing year, with Rahaim noting that industry numbers are getting back to pre-2008 levels.
Everyone seems to talk about how a company or an industry evolves. With resins, things stay pretty simple and they don’t go through a lot of evolution. In fact, the basis for the resins used today have remained almost intact, which speaks to their makeup and how they are used.
“The workhorse resins really haven’t changed an awful lot,” Rahaim says. “From the 1980s to today, we still use some of the same formulations. A lot of these formulations were developed by AMOCO Chemical, which produced Isophthalic Acid, which is the workhorse for corrosion-resistant resins. We have evolved in that we have manufactured second generation resins and we are working on third generation products where we can tweak the polymers to give better mechanical properties and better economics to work easier during the process. But a lot of what is being used today are basically the same polymers that were used back then.”
The influx of the so-called “green technologies” hasn’t taken full effect for resins just yet, Rahaim says, explaining that for now it remains very much a niche market. He foresees the resins being manufactured for this market will, in the future, be used as the basis in developing resin systems for other areas of pipeline remediation
With so few significant competitors in the market, the challenge to remain at the elite level of resin production can be daunting, especially to meet the goal of providing a high-quality product at a competitive price. So closely tied to the petro-chemical market, resin prices reflect that market. “There’s no doubt that we are at the mercy of the petro-chemical market,” Rahaim says matter-a-factly. “The fact that these products are made from derivatives of oil and natural gas tells the tale of our dependence on those products. How those products go is how we go…Over the years, we have found ways to make our process more efficient.”
Also critical to the resins market is the cost of transporting the product to the customer — a cost that has continued to increase over the last few decades with no data to show that it will stop. “To deliver a product to market nowadays is a much more significant part of our overall cost than it was 20 years ago,” Rahaim explains, noting the regulations of trucking companies and their dependence on fuel.
The company also continues to reinvest to have new equipment brought to the plant and to have processes made more efficient and to bring in high-quality employees to get the job done. “We are committed to the resins industry. This is what we do,” Rahaim says.
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.