It always pays to do a good job.
Charlie Martin, president and GM of Leistritz Extrusion, Somerville, N.J., learned that lesson while operating his own landscaping and lawnmowing service during high school and college.
His diligence and hard work helped him land his first job in the extrusion machinery business.
One of his regular landscape customers was Laurie Killion, wife of Fred Killion, who founded Killion Extruders. Her recommendation helped Martin secure a sales position with the company after he graduated from college, and he has worked in the industry ever since.
Leistritz Extrusion, which is part of Leistritz Extrusiontechnik GmbH, Nürnberg, Germany, provides equipment and engineering services to the plastics, medical and pharmaceutical industries, and sells and services Leistritz equipment in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Colombia.
Martin serves on the board of directors for the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Extrusion Division and the Polymer Processing Institute at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and on the technical advisory board for Teel Plastics.
He earned his undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College in 1983 and an MBA from Rutgers University in 1990.
Martin discussed his career and the future of the industry with Plastics Machinery Magazine Senior Staff Reporter Bruce Geiselman.
What was your first job out of college?
Martin: My first job out of college was, believe it or not, for Wells Fargo Guard & Investigative Services. I was supervising a security guard force in Newark, N.J., at Prudential division headquarters. I sent out a bunch of resumes after college, and I had interviewed at Killion and Wells Fargo. Killion was not ready to hire, so I took the job at Wells Fargo. I worked down there for a year and a half to two years.
My high school football coach’s wife was working at Killion as an administrative assistant, and there was a job opening. She gave Jack [Laurie and Fred’s son] my name. I went in for an interview and I realized that I had cut a Mrs. Killion’s lawn for five years. ... I asked him [Jack] if he was related to Mrs. Killion. … He said yes. I said, “I’ll use her as a job reference. I cut her lawn for five years.” I guess that made an impression on Jack, and eventually I ended up with a job that I was completely unqualified for.
I got a job in spare parts sales at Killion, and it was a great learning experience in that I learned the machines from the nuts and bolts up — heaters, dies, screws, barrels, controllers — and it gave me the opportunity to interface with a wide range of customers and to help them get their machines up and running sometimes in somewhat stressful situations. It was a great first job for me in the plastics industry.
While you were studying business, did you ever imagine you would end up in the plastics industry?
Martin: No. When I went in for the interview, I had to look up in the dictionary what an extruder was. The only thing I will say is that Gettysburg [College] is a liberal arts school and because of that, I had to take two years of physics, so I was not completely devoid of technical background.
How did you become an expert on screw extrusion?
Martin: I use the word expert loosely. Once you think you are an expert, you are not, but I was always observing, always watching, always asking questions, always trying to learn from people. Because I was to a degree not particularly versed, I took it upon myself to read and immerse myself in a number of textbooks — “Twin-screw Extrusion,” by Jim White; “Polymer Extrusion,” by Chris Rauwendaal; “Compounding of Polymers,” by Dave Todd — and I applied myself in a methodology similar to when I was taking a course and studying for classes. I would read a chapter and highlight what I considered to be key points to learn and understand.
Then, after I was in the business for 10 years or so, I would seek out experts and ask their opinions, including people like Dr. Dave Todd, Joe Biesenberger and Costas Gogos. I worked very closely with the people down at Polymer Processing Institute, and then I worked at Leistritz with [former GM] Bill Thiele. He is one of the leading experts in the world on twin-screw extrusion.
Talking about projects and working on 500 or 1,000 projects over the years, you learn a lot from dealing with customers, but not only that, learning from the technologies that are being utilized and also the mistakes you make.
How did you make the transition from Killion to Leistritz?
Martin: Jack Killion sold the company to a British holding company, and through my work at Polymer Processing Institute, I was mentored by the president down there at the time, Dr. Joe Biesenberger, who was perceived as one of the top people in the world on devolatilization, which is one of the processes typically performed on twin-screw extruders.
He was aware of an opening at Leistritz, and he recommended me for the position to Bill Thiele. Given that Jack had sold the company, and I was, through my work at Polymer Processing Institute and with Dr. Biesenberger and Dr. Costas Gogos, I was interested in mixing and compounding, it was kind of a natural transition, and I didn’t have to move out of New Jersey.
What’s the history of Leistritz?
Martin: In 1905, Paul Leistritz departed from Siemens and started his own company building screw pumps out of his garage. Around the 1930s, they loosened up the tolerances and started building extruders. Leistritz claims to have invented the counter-rotating intermeshing twin-screw extruder.
At the end of WWII, Leistritz was kind of bombed out and decimated. They started to rebuild and started to build extruders again in the 1960s, especially counter-rotating intermeshing compounders. In the 1970s or 1980s, they started building co-rotating intermeshing compounders. As the market expanded in the mid-1970s, Leistritz opened a North American operation and Bill Thiele was the first employee. Leistritz is currently a worldwide 2,000-employee organization with a number of facilities [including] in Europe, Singapore, and Shanghai.
You have worked in the extruder manufacturing industry for 36 years. How has it changed?
Martin: That is kind of interesting. In the ’80s, when I started, it was exploding. There were a lot of new developments and there were a lot of research activities. There was a lot that was unknown. I would say that through the year 2000, there were big companies doing a lot of cutting-edge development and a lot of stuff that had not been done before. Now, it has become more mature, and it is not the explosion that it used to be. Companies are not focusing as much on new, novel, cutting-edge technologies, but on modifying, tweaking, redirecting.
What significant changes to extrusion equipment have you witnessed or helped develop?
Martin: What I have witnessed and been part of developing is the expansion and the use of twin-screw extrusion technology into novel areas.
When I started, co-rotating intermeshing twin-screw extruders were, and kind of still are, thought of as continuous mixers to make pellets that then go into a single-screw [extruder] or a molding machine so that mixing and devolatilizing was separate from the forming step. One of the things here at Leistritz that we’ve developed since the mid ’90s is the integration of upstream and downstream systems to go from the raw materials right to the final part — that’s now referred to as direct extrusion. It’s currently a pretty well-known, established technology, but back in the ’90s, it was almost unknown.
A bigger picture of what I have seen with twin-screw extruders is the mating of unit operations to produce with one system what used to take two or three or four. An example would be a filled polypropylene sheet. You used to make the pellets of 40 percent calcium with 60 percent polypropylene, then those pellets would go into the single-screw extruder, then you’d make a roll of sheet and then that would go into a thermoformer. You had a mixing operation, a sheeting operation, and a thermoforming operation.
But with the twin-screw, you can mix the polypropylene and the calcium in the extruder, go right to the sheet, and then marry it right to a thermoformer. What you are doing is taking a $3 million system ... and turning it into one $2 million [operation] with a lot less manpower.
Who were your mentors?
Martin: One of my main mentors was Joe Biesenberger, president of Polymer Processing Institute. He was a professor down at Stevens [Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.]. He took kind of an interest in me and helped guide me both professionally and personally. He encouraged me to go back to get my graduate degree at Rutgers. He wrote my letter of recommendation.
When I started, Jack Killion was a great, great mentor. He was an idea guy who was open to listening to new, novel ideas and trying them out. He was willing to delve into new areas. Those were my primary two early on. Then — learning twin-screw technology from Bill Thiele — he would be the third guy.
What challenges did you encounter as your business grew?
Martin: I have a saying: No orders, no problems. What has been key to the success here at Leistritz in the last 20 years has been identifying new markets like metal injection molding, pharmaceutical extrusion, specialty devolatilization. In developing these markets, it forces you to work on what I call greenfield applications, things that have not been done before.
Doing something new is more difficult. It is working through the myriad of challenges and issues to get a proof of concept into a reality and making a usable, commercially accepted product. You make a lot of mistakes along the way, but you learn a lot. It allows you to focus and plan for difficult challenges, and once you have done that and developed these markets, then you are in good position to reap some of the benefits.
What are some company milestones?
Martin: I think there are a few things. Leistritz introduced [in 2005] what we call the Maxx Technology, and that was the introduction of the asymmetrical spline shaft that allowed higher torque and more free volume with the screws with increased cooling capacities in the barrel. It was a big step toward increasing the efficiency of twin-screw technology.
And then there was the emphasis and the investment in direct extrusion of filament sheet in our laboratory. For 20 years, our laboratory in New Jersey was probably the only place in the world where you could go to perform development testing for film and sheet products directly from a twin-screw extruder for compounding and devolatilization, so by default we got exposed to a lot of those cutting-edge installations and learned a lot from that.
Those are the ones that are the primary ones. The more traditional ones include color masterbatch and then another one that we have developed, although KraussMaffei has done the same thing, is foam extrusion — the use of twin-screw extruders for chemical and physical blowing agents to facilitate foaming.
To what do you attribute your company’s success?
Martin: Understanding our core technology and strengths, combined with listening to our customers, and keeping an eye on both existing and potentially new and emerging markets, and don’t get too smart for yourself and remain humble. Humility is very important when you are facing complex tasks.
What is your impression of Industry 4.0 and its future in extrusion?
Martin: I think it is great. I think it should be embraced. I think also it is overrated, and I get a little taken aback when people are concerned about 4.0 when they are not logging their specific energy on the existing extruder. The first thing people have to do is log their data and keep it in a usable way for what they are doing and not get too highbrow. I do not know if I am saying it in the right way, but if you are not logging what you are already doing, why are you worried about other stuff?
I also think there are security issues with the cloud. Anything we can do to log and manipulate and analyze data is a great thing but start with baby steps and keep going.
Isn’t the purpose of Industry 4.0 to help people log data?
Martin: Yes, but people are looking to do it without doing [logging] what they have got. The first thing you have got to do is write down what you have got. If you cannot do that, then the next step would be, if you have a machine that has been running, modify the instruments so that it automatically logs. If you are only going to do it moving forward, what are you going to do with your 20 lines on the floor?
I do not completely understand what 4.0 is, but do I think it is great to monitor the gearbox oil and the gearbox vibration? Yes, it is a great idea. But the first thing to do is, if you have got 20 extrusion lines out there, pull the oil samples once a month and get them analyzed. You have got to look at what you have got now and that gets you in a mindset.
So, you if you have this one extruder that has the vibration analysis and it has the inline oil analysis. That is all great, but what does it do for your other 20 lines? It is not that big of a deal to take an oil sample and send it out for analysis. That is kind of what I meant when I said do not get too smart for yourself. Do I think those are great? Yeah, but what are you doing for the stuff that is out on the floor?
And, again, I think people have to be careful about the cloud stuff. I am not saying do not do it, but depending on what you are doing, you do not want necessarily people to have access to your information.
What do you see as the next major development in extrusion?
Martin: I think eventually — it is slowly getting there — it is the integration of disparate systems and a common communications protocol. Right now, Ethernet IP is the most common. I’m not an electrical engineer so I might misspeak a little bit, but it used to be RS-232, RS-485, Modbus, Profibus, but the standardization of communication protocols allows complex subsystems to be integrated a lot more easily.
The other thing I see, particularly in medical and pharmaceutical and electronics, there is a trend toward miniaturization and prototyping and the embracement of 3-D printing technologies. A lot of times, the challenge on these very small, low-volume, high-tech specialty systems is that the commercial equipment is not suited, so the miniaturization, as exemplified by access to 3-D printing of complex prototypical parts, is another trend that I see.
Do you have any hobbies?
Martin: I have been involved in amateur wrestling and was a coach for 20-plus years [junior high and high school]. I am an avid college football fan, and, at times, a competitive poker player. Competitive means I win sometimes, and I lose sometimes, and if I break even, I am happy. I have played in some tournaments and won a tournament once with 1,500 people. It was online, but I have also played in Atlantic City and Las Vegas and in a bunch of places.
How do you want to be remembered?
Martin: I try to listen to a lot of smart people, but at the end of the day, I make my own decisions. I recognize that sometimes I am going to be right and sometimes I am going to be wrong and, hopefully, do everything with a lot of humility.
Just the facts
Who is he: Charlie Martin, president and GM of Leistritz Extrusion
Headquarters: Somerville, N.J.