June 6, 2014 12:23PM
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — A recently completed 56,000- square-foot addition to the BYK USA headquarters was unveiled Thursday. The expansion will more than double the company’s domestic production of additives that are used predominantly in the paint industry.
BYK USA is a subsidiary of Altana, a privately-held company based in Germany. Altana management traveled from Germany to attend the grand opening at the 16-acre campus on South Cherry Street. The expansion project represents a $50 million investment from Altana, the largest investment the company has made outside of Germany.
“This is truly a proud moment for us,” Matthias Wolfgruber, chief executive officer of Altana, said Thursday.
Construction started on the three-story expansion at 524 South Cherry St. in September 2012, said Ed Ogle, BYK USA’s senior operations manager. Chemical additives produced at the company are used in most well-known household paint brands. Certain additives help paint companies reduce costs by better dispersing pigment, while others make paint scratch and drip resistant. Additives for plastic industries are also a big part of the company’s business, but about 60 percent of the company’s business is related to paint, said Kevin Lassila, the company’s director of technology.
Previously, a large percent of the additives were created in Germany and shipped to Wallingford. By building the expansion, about 90 percent of the company’s product can now be produced in Wallingford, said Dirk Plas, president of BYK USA. By producing the product domestically, uncertainties in the supply line such as work stoppages in ports are avoided, thus improving customer service and reliability, Plas said.
The new addition should be operational by July, Ogle said. As part of the expansion, as many as 37 jobs will be added at the Wallingford facility. The company employs 115 people in Wallingford. There are also several distribution plants across the country. The goal is to hire as local as possible, Ogle said.
Since the company first moved to town in 1981, it has grown to a campus that includes 10 buildings. Wolfgruber said the company expects $500 million in U.S. sales this year. The additive company is not the biggest in the world, Wolfgruber said.
“It’s not important to be the biggest, but the best,” he said.
As a majority of BYK USA’s customers are in the U.S., Wolfgruber said, the company will look to continue expansion “where the customers are.”
“We are truly committed to the U.S.,” he said.
The expanded production facility should fulfill the company’s needs for years to come, Wolfgruber said, but there is a need for more research and development laboratories, something the company is looking into.
Plas said the town has been helpful in allowing the company to grow. Low electricity costs are beneficial, along with the availability of highly educated workers in the area.
The company’s relationship with local and state officials has been healthy. In order to fund the expansion, the company received a $6 million low interest loan from the state with a $4 million forgiveness package if at least 37 additional employees are hired.
With the completion of the expansion, what was just a grass field two years ago is now a modern, high-tech production and packaging facility. During a tour Thursday morning, someone asked Ogle if a small window on a mixing machine was just a gimmick.
“We don’t design gimmicks,” Ogle responded. “Everything in this building is necessary.”
Engineers designed the building to take advantage of gravity. Additive production begins on the third floor, where raw materials are added to mixing tanks. The tanks extend down to the second floor where the raw materials are blended accordingly. BYK makes more than 600 different additives. This floor contains a labyrinth of piping, as well as a system to purify water.
On the first floor, the final product is packaged in an automated process. About 90 percent of the additive production process is automated, Ogle said. There is a control room on the second floor with four operator stations. Each operator has access to the entire system and can pull-up and start additive recipes. The control room equipment, installed by Oxford-based Rockwell Automation, accounted for 10 percent of the project’s cost. A quality control lab is also located on the second floor.
Ogle said one of the main purposes of the new facility is to separate products with and without silicon. Silicon is used in several additives to create a slippery surface, make things easier to clean or create non-stick coating. But if silicon gets into a batch when it is not desired, even in small quantities, it can cause defects.
Yet to be installed at the facility but set to arrive any day is machinery that will be used to create additives with little or no volatile organic compounds — chemicals that evaporate into the air at room temperature. The company takes pride in its green initia- tives. There is very little chem- ical byproduct in the production process, Plas said. Everything is handled according to state and federal regulations.
BYK USA is a “global company with global responsibility and global policy,” Plas said.