Lakeshore, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

Top ‘Company to Watch’ looks to disrupt industry

Weis turns around struggling Abcor Industries with innovative technology.

September 16, 2016
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Abcor Industries
New powder-coating technology allows Abcor Industries to significantly reduce clients’ carbon footprints. Courtesy Abcor Industries

One of Michigan’s 50 Companies to Watch in 2016 is looking to disrupt the powder-coating industry with its technology and triple bottom line focus.

J.T. Weis, owner of Abcor Industries in Holland, said his company is one of only a few in the United States that has figured out how to effectively powder coat wood, something he said is likely to disrupt an industry focused on laminates and wet coat paint solutions.

“Our company makes powder-coated wood components and sells them to furniture manufacturers,” Weis said.

He said Abcor’s proprietary advance process recipe uses a “unique pre-heat process” to optimize the wood to attract and adhere a specially formulated powder coating.

“Our curing process integrates hybrid thermoset technology, maximizing cure and surface performance,” he said.

Weis said one of the benefits of the company’s technology is that it allows furniture designers to “freely design any curvilinear shape for collaborative efficiency, any ergonomic edge profile, any color gloss or finish texture.”

“No need for any edge banding or grommets. We are anti-edge band,” he said.

Weis said the technology Abcor uses has many environmental benefits furniture manufacturers are looking for, as well.

“We have the lowest carbon footprint of any other wood surface technology,” he said.

For example, Weis compared the carbon footprint required for powder coating a five-square-foot piece of wood, which is 1.25 kilograms, to that of laminate, which he said is 4.87 kilos, and wet coat paint, which he said is 5.81 kilos.

“That is a massive difference on the carbon footprint,” he said.

He added his product is 100 percent recyclable, and Abcor’s process does not emit any volatile organic compounds. The Abcor plant also is near a zero waste operation with ambitions of eventually becoming a zero waste facility.

“What we like to say is we are safe to produce, safe to use and safe to dispose,” Weis said.

Weis said Abcor also is focused on its employees and giving back to the community as part of its triple bottom line commitment.

Weis said when he took over Abcor Industries four years ago, he discovered one of his employees had a criminal record.

He realized workers with criminal backgrounds made great employees and were an untapped market.

“About 40 percent of my team on the production floor are convicted felons,” he said.

Weis said he feels good knowing he is able to provide jobs to people other companies might be less willing to hire.

“We are helping them lead more productive lives, developing careers for them and promoting them,” he said. “We accommodate counseling, parole meetings, AA meetings. We plan the business around those things and take on that cost.”

In giving back to the community, Abcor Industries made donations to 14 organizations in 2015, and he hopes to grow the company’s philanthropy further as profits increase.

When Weis, formerly a group president for Berkshire Hathaway, took over Abcor Industries in 2012, the company was floundering under bad management.

“I had been doing turnarounds my whole career,” Weis said. “I was looking for a company that had interesting technology that was undermanaged, and I found Abcor.

“It was a mess when we found it. It had about nine employees, and it was a struggling company.”

Weis said while the company still is in the turnaround phase, he already has seen success, growing Abcor to over 30 employees.

Weis said Abcor originally was a subsidiary of furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, which developed the wood powder coating technology the company employs today with chemical company Akzo Nobel (now Morton Coatings) to support the growing dot-com companies of the 1990s.

“But the boom went bust, and they sold the division off,” he said.

Weis said he bought the company knowing the technology was great, and he could resolve the management issues that had plagued the company for the previous decade.

He credits his current team with getting the company back on its feet and expects great things ahead.

“Today, we produce approximately 900,000 powder-coated wood components for the furniture OEMs in North America, with about 32 employees,” Weis said. “In five years, we expect to produce 4 million components and employ approximately 110 employees.”

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