Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Day 2: Flexible Vinyl Products Compounding Conference

How do you move forward, improve and grow while simultaneously defending against unfounded efforts by others to impede those very advancements? That was the nature of the presentations on the second day of SPI’s Flexible Vinyl Products 21st Compounding Conference, as they alternated between  discussions of cutting-edge research, the latest market information and new tools to improve products on one hand, and strategies to negotiate product de-selection initiatives on the other.

Bill Hall, who chairs the environmental law practice at Winston & Strawn, presented a range of measures to employ in order to discourage product de-selection, and reminded attendees of the famous phrase of his former basketball coach, the late great Jim Valvano: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Hall played basketball under Valvano at Bucknell Univesrsity, prior to Valvano winning the NCAA national championship as the coach of North Carolina State University in a highly memorable last-second upset victory in 1983.

Later in the day, members of the ACC Phthalate Ester Panel exposed several anti-phthalate studies and news reports as myths using a glaring spotlight of reality in the form of government  statistics and common sense conclusions drawn by a variety of independent experts. The panel members also provided a regulatory and legislative update as well as a report on recent media trends.

Bill Carroll spoke to attendees about a few things, including his work as a member of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative Science Advisory Panel. The Green Chemistry program is a highly complex, some might say “convoluted,” process to remove or reduce chemicals deemed hazardous from products sold in California. Carroll, vice president, industry issues for Occidental Chemical Corporation, an an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University, also engaged conference attendees in a discussion about the future of the flexible vinyl industry, asking, “Where will we be in 10 years? Where do we go from here?” The ensuing conversation swung from the need for greater innovation, to the need to be less risk-averse when it comes to investing  financial resources in compelling opportunities, and the possibility of the federal government setting policies that make the United States a friendlier place to do manufacturuing business.

But in addition to sessions on how to deal with negative external challenges, attendees also heard from speakers who brought expertise to the table that would help them do their jobs better and improve their vinyl products. Jim Roberts of BYK-Gardner, for example, spoke about how to best measure color, gloss (the amount of light reflected off a surface), haze, clarity and other physical properties of vinyl and its products. This is particularly important in today’s manufacturing world where one part of a product may be made in the United States as others are being made at other plants around the world. When they come together, they need to be exactly alike. Luckily, as I learned, there are lab and production line tools like the “Micro-Gloss” and “Spectro-Guide.”

Toward the end of the day, industry lion and Lord of the Rings enthusiast Dean Finney, retired from Eastman Chemical Company and now almost set to retire from Rivendell Consultants, paraphrased the Tolkien character Aragorn in addressing his embattled flexible vinyl colleagues: “Success does not belong to one man but to all. Let us together rebuild this world that we may share in the days of peace.”

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