Known for bringing innovation in laboratory testing for various manufacturing segments, the US-based ACE Products and Consulting is now looking for an opportunity to set up its services and technology base in India. In this interaction with Huned Contractor, the company’s founder elaborates about what they do and how it benefits the industry
ACE Products and Consulting may have seemed like a new kid on the block a few years ago – but make no mistake – this young, dynamic company of highly trained professionals, led by president and CEO Erick Sharp, is no newcomer to the testing and research and development services industry. With over 100 years of combined experience, the ACE management team is pushing ahead with key growth initiatives to help their current and future customers and the industry. The company, an ISO 17025:2017 accredited, independent laboratory facility, offers a full-range of high-quality testing, research and development and consulting services to various industrial sectors, especially rubber and silicone.
Housed in a modern 172,000 square feet industrial park facility, ACE is located in the heart of rubber country on 72 acres of land and has ample room for expansion beyond the immediate planned expansion. The company’s immediate access to rail transport and major shipping road routes make it an ideal site for attracting additional polymer-type businesses to the park. ACE has embarked on a six-phase growth plan that will continue over the next 18 months. Phase I (testing lab) and Phase II (process lab) are complete. Phase III (conditioning lab) is near completion and Phases IV-VI are under construction in ACE’s additional 8,000 square feet of space. That is in addition to the original 10,500 square feet for a total of 18,500 square feet.
Prior to launching ACE, Sharp worked with Portage Precision Polymers, Inc. (P3) for several years. Then, in December 2014, P3 was acquired by Hexpol AB and it was then that Sharp decided to exit the corporate environment and start something new. “I have been through this before, going big to the corporate side. I would rather go completely to the other side and start grassroots,” he says. So, at the start of the year 2015, Sharp decided to launch out on his own and he started ACE Products and Consulting. The company began operations with some basic testing and research and development equipment in a 2,000 square feet facility in Akron, Ohio. “That was going well for us and there was a lot of feedback from customers pushing us to go into independent testing and expand the scope of what we were doing,” Sharp says.
He had been looking at “industry anxieties” in the rubber and silicone industry for several years prior and began establishing a plan to build the next generation of an independent testing laboratory with a broader scope for research and development. Sharp noted that he could maintain the business as a small company or look for investment partners to grow and become a world-class laboratory. He decided to invest in growth. Erick Sharp is a man who is never content with the status quo. It was then that he teamed up with three other investors as part of his core team. He began acquiring additional equipment, adding capabilities and planning for ACE’s laboratory accreditation. Moving to Ravenna gave ACE the space to expand while being in a strategic location to key customers.
Pursuit of ISO 17025:2017 Accreditation
Throughout the year during 2017, the ACE team worked tirelessly to earn its ISO 17025:2017 accreditation as an independent testing laboratory – a requirement by many customers. Accreditation was awarded in 2017 and was facilitated by the company’s technical team which consisted of several key employees with many years of experience working in an accredited lab at DuPont.
Investors with the Right Stuff
Erick Sharp also values input from his highly experienced group of three primary investors. They all have backgrounds in business and help him avoid pitfalls as he continues building ACE from the ground up. Two of those investors are silent partners and the third is Doug Hartley, who currently serves ACE as vice president of sales and marketing. Hartley and Sharp share a past history through their work at P3. The two men collaborated on many ideas after ACE was launched and Hartley looks forward to spending time advising and mentoring at ACE. An example of the insight and advice the investors and Hartley offer is the installation of a Laboratory Information System (LIMS). The LIMS system is designed to help track samples and tests for customers in a much more robust and valuable manner than current industry methods. Hartley recognised that some sources have advised on waiting to implement the system.
However, Hartley encouraged Sharp to move forward with the implementation of the LIMS system knowing that it would help set ACE apart from other laboratories. “I knew how costly implementing LIMS would be, particularly not having it available from the start but then having to convert to it later,” said Hartley. “If we came out of the gate with LIMS in-place, that would provide a cost-savings for ACE but also provide a better quality of product right away for customers. That’s vitally important,” he adds.
ACE continues to focus on physical and mechanical testing,” Sharp says, in addition to providing evaluations on raw materials. Another service is the capability to do silicone testing. “We are moving forward with silicone testing carefully. We don’t want to be labeled as solely a silicone lab because we are both a rubber and silicone lab. However, a rubber lab that does silicone and has that capability helps set us apart from other rubber labs,” he says. As silicone becomes more widely used in various applications, ACE’s ability to provide silicone testing opens the door into new markets. Some of those areas where Sharp sees silicone taking over are in the automotive market for heat applications and in the construction market for weather-ability applications. Sharp notes that being able to compare samples side-to-side within the same lab is of value to customers.
Erick Sharp is also a man with heart and a big vision. He has a passion for people, the industry and continuous learning. To that end, he is planning to enlist ACE as a means to provide educational opportunities to the industry by establishing approved, free training courses on a quarterly basis. “We want to put some practical knowledge out there. With the lab’s testing capabilities and process equipment, we are in a position to be able to talk about and demonstrate the details of rubber processing and testing in real-time situations. The goal is to make the manufacturing sector seem less complicated and more practical,” he says. Training won’t be focused solely on lab testing – it will also include elements of extrusion, molding and fabrication.
“We want to modernize and simplify the concept of rubber to the industry,” he states, adding, “We want to help be that interpreter and find a way that resonates with the learning style of those graduating or just starting out in a career so that we can get people into the industry and maybe make it look cool in the process.” Erick Sharp is always looking forward to the potential for new growth. If volume continues current trends, he expects to hire additional employees and be close to 20 employees within the next three years. And India is definitely on his list for geographical expansion. “I see great potential in sectors like rubber and automotive. And that is where we can chip in with our expertise,” he says.
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