September 26, 2015
**Guest Post Courtesy of Akron Section of the Society of Plastics Engineers, David Schultz**
The Akron Section of the Society of Plastics Engineers, along with the Vinyl Plastics Division of the SPE, will be hosting a conference this fall that highlights a most ubiquitous polymeric material. This conference will be held at the Hilton hotel in Fairlawn on October 13-15, 2015. The subject of this conference will be Vinyl, more commonly known as PVC. This material was front and center in Akron, Ohio in 1926 with the advent of Plasticized or Flexible PVC by B.F. Goodrich’s, Dr. Waldo Semon, who at that time was in the process of pioneering an industry.
The conference has been titled “Enabling Technologies for the Future of the PVC Industry” which includes a Pre-Conference Program on “PVC Compounding Technology and Materials” and will be presented by the Vinyl Plastics Division.
We are excited to provide a short history of how this great industry has morphed over the last many years, and how pivotal Akron was during this development with the aid of Dr. Waldo Semon, and the B.F Goodrich Company.
It all started in 1870, on the soil here in Akron, Ohio when Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich founded the B.F. Goodrich Company. Shortly thereafter, an engineer from the Northwest Territory, Dr. Waldo Semon, was highly instrumental in jump-starting the vinyl industry. Dr. Waldo Semon, known as “A Man of Ideas” is credited as the inventor of Plasticized Polyvinyl Chloride, even though PVC had been discovered in Europe at a much earlier date. Dr. Semon was able to bring a practical nature to the use of PVC and developed the cotton covered fire hose, and later, around 1926, the waterproof rain coat and PVC coated umbrella. Dr. Semon informed that even though scientists had been studying vinyl polymers for more than 50 years, no commercial use had ever been developed for these compounds, because process and handling was of the utmost importance. He informed in a historical facts book that “he was much happier when he could see practical results of his labor”. Innovation, according to Waldo Semon, “is not just one thing from one person. It is not just research. It is not just development. It is not just marketability. It is a combination of all these things and it’s a dedicated group of people all contributing to an idea.”
During 1930-1970’s, the B.F. Goodrich Company continued on with a reduced interest in PVC. They instead focused on their tire expertise during the big war periods (WWI & WWII), which Dr. Semon also played a large role in. It was not until the late 60’s and early 70’s that the focus again shifted to vinyl. The early markets found vinyl being used in electrical insulation, flooring tiles, garden hose, draperies and luggage. At that time,all other tire companies located in Akron had limited involvement in the PVC market. This included Goodyear, which in 1968 promoted the “instant do it yourself floor” and Neothane roofing, that supplemented their flooring business. In addition, Goodyear had a full line of household products including vinyl garden hoses, shower curtains, garment bags and rain coats made of Pliofilm. They also promoted their Pliotuf line of nitrile PVC products, all supplied from vinyl from their Niagara Falls, NY plant. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, General Tire jumped in with both feet and augmented their tire business as GenCorp and developed their business dealing in flooring and wall covering, which was all supported from their own vinyl plant in Niagara Falls, NY. Firestone also promoted their own offerings in the 1990’s, with their Building Products Company, that marketed PVC roofing membrane and vinyl monofilament.
It is easy to understand that all the tire factions jumped on the band wagon in those early days and found their own niche market so they too could be listed as experts in this new polymer. It is surprising to note that for the most part, B. F. Goodrich, who started this fray, ended up being the company with the most longevity in the PVC business.
In the late 1980’s, B.F Goodrich went into a joint venture with Uniroyal Tire that would leave PVC, specialty chemicals, and aerospace to expand their own horizons. Once again, B.F.Goodrich continued further development of compounds and processes and jumped into action during the late 80’s and developed improved PVC compounds for the pipe, siding, and floor covering markets.
In 1993, after a wild run at these booming markets, Geon spun off from B.F. Goodrich and became the 3rd largest PVC resin supplier in North America. Today, Geon Performance Materials is owned and operated by PolyOne, after a merger between Geon and M.A Hanna in 2000. They are headquartered in Avon Lake, Ohio. Shortly after PolyOne purchased Geon, the resin-producing portion of their business was spun off.
The PVC industry owes a great debt of gratitude to the man, Dr. Waldo Semon, who filed for US PVC Patent #1,929,453, and who stated he, ”at his heart – an engineer interested in science” was ultimately nicknamed the “man who wrapped the world in Vinyl”.
David R. Schultz, Technical Director
Harwick Standard Distribution Corporation
Co-Chair – Vinyltec 2015 – Akron, Ohio