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Chemcut CEO and General Manager Rick Lies speaks about the growth he has seen in the marketplace over his 18 years in the industry, and how Chemcut has been able to remain competitive in the PCB and photochemical milling spaces. Jerry Reitz, Chemcut’s HES manager, also addresses the current shift towards zero-discharge facilities.
Barry Matties: Can you start by telling us a little bit about Chemcut?
Rick Lies: Chemcut’s main market focus has been on making equipment for the wet processing industry that sprays chemicals, water, etc., across a moving conveyor populated with parts. We’ve been in business for over 60 years now. We started in the PCB and photochemical milling industries, which involves the etching of different metals to make small or big parts of various sizes and dimensions out of a wide variety of metals. Over 60+ years, Chemcut went from being a private company to being acquired by Schering, then Atotech, and back to Chemcut as a private company in April 2002, so it has been 17 years. Now, we’re just an equipment manufacturer.
Matties: Is that an ESOP? Is Chemcut employee-owned?
Lies: It’s not an ESOP, we are employee-owned; there are six of us now—we started with eight, but a few have retired and moved on. We bought it back from Atotech, so it went from Atotech back to Chemcut.
Matties: I remember all that transition.
Lies: And it has been going well. In the capital equipment business, you always have your ups and downs. We’ve lived through and survived those, and for the past three years, things have been going well. We’ve entered into some new markets, but our traditional business in the PCB industry remains strong. Then, the photochemical milling industry picked up, and we’ve started to get into semiconductors and glass etching for flat-panel displays, etc.
Matties: How long have you been with Chemcut?
Lies: I’ve been with Chemcut since I got hired at Atotech in July 2001, so since the inception of the new Chemcut.
Matties: And what did you do before Chemcut?
Lies: Before Chemcut, I worked 25+ years in a different industry, including at Avery Dennison, a worldwide leader in adhesive technology.
Matties: What is your background?
Lies: I have a degree in chemistry from the University of Louisville.
Matties: So, you came into Atotech in chemistry because that was a big play for them.
Lies: Yes. I worked with the chemistry and their equipment. They sold it as a package, and when the PCB market went over to Asia, they downsized the North American equipment.
Matties: Right. You entered at a time when the market was declining in North America.
Matties: What were you thinking (laughs)?
Lies: Well, for me, it was all about location, location, location. We lived in State College, Pennsylvania, for close to 20 years—the longest my wife Maribel and I had ever lived in one place before; that was the first time I made a decision based on wanting to stay somewhere (laughs). It was time to settle down.
Matties: That’s great. It had to work because there were no options there (laughs). So, what was the challenge back then? At that time, Chemcut was six years old, and by 2001, most of the industry was gone.
Lies: I think the challenge was to survive the first couple of years. Then, we wanted to keep our existing customers happy in PCB and photochemical milling and let them know that we were still there because Atotech was mainly interested in selling their chemistry, and the Chemcut equipment brand needed to be highlighted again as our main product line.
Matties: The brand got diluted.
Lies: Yes. When you look at Chemcut, the company was primarily known for its subtractive processes. Atotech’s chemistry is more for additive type processes like plating. So, I like to say we divested ourselves of Atotech and had to get back out there with the Chemcut name in the subtractive area. That was good for us because we went from a large corporation to a small entity, and at the same time, there was the advent of websites.
To read the full article, which appeared in the August 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.