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October 02, 2012 | Tom Ballard

TLC does business “where it’s hot and dirty”

Chances are you’ve seen some of the parts made from the custom compounds produced by a Clinton-based company if you have ever tried to solve a paper jam or had to replace an ink cartridge in a laser printer or copier.

“We do business where it is hot and dirty,” says Tom Drye, Managing Director of, LLC (TLC), in referring to the gears inside printers and copiers as one example of the products made from the firm’s compounds.

“We produce special compounds to address high temperatures and dissipate the static build-up on printer paper,” he explains, adding that “we don’t do much of the pretty stuff but a lot under the hood.” He said printers operate at high temperatures and contain many different plastic components, just the opportunity that matches the core capabilities of TLC.

The company was founded eight years ago when Techmer PM, a provider of color concentrates and additive master batches, and Lehmann & Voss & Company, a provider of custom engineering compounds, came together in a joint venture. TLC was the name given to the partnership, and it subsequently acquired the specialty compounds business from DSM Engineered Plastics in October 2004.

Drye, who joined TLC in its first year, said the company works closely with OEM’s, tier suppliers and processors both domestically and internationally.

“We’re a technically-driven company and our customers appreciate our easy access support,” he says. “Whether it’s our technical sales team, technical services, or one of our distribution partners, TLC support is never far away.”

TLC products may not be readily recognized but are often the materials behind some well-known brands.  TLC products can be found among the automobile giants, medical device manufacturers, business machine leaders like Xerox, and many other market segments.

Its brands include “Luvotech,” a product line dedicated to structural compounds, high modulus, custom-color unfilled products, high temperatures, flame retardant, thermally conductive and high density; “Luvotech for Colors” which includes filled or unfilled resins that can be custom-colored; “Plaslube,” a line dedicated to internally lubricated products; and “Electrafil,” a line focused on electrically active compounds used in electronics, data storage, automotive and other statically-sensitive applications.

In the case of medical devices, Drye noted that the color compounds used in them must be able to withstand the repetitive high temperatures of the autoclave sterilization process. He explained that doctors and surgeons are accustomed to a unique color for each of the instruments they use. Ensuring that the color is not modified through the repeated sterilizations is a key feature of the compounds that TLC produces for medical device makers.

“For them (surgeons), there is less chance of a mistake” if they can depend on the color consistency for each instrument, he said.

TLC operates its’ R & D and manufacturing facility in a dedicated compounding wing located on the same campus as one of Techmer PM’s largest facilities in Clinton.  With its research operation located about 20 miles from the soon-to-open Carbon Fiber Manufacturing Facility in Oak Ridge, it is only natural that Drye and his team are taking more than the proverbial passing interest in this development.

“It’s an important piece for us,” he says in explaining that the electrical conductivity potential of carbon fiber is attractive to TLC if researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) can reach their price point goals. One example of an application on Drye’s radar screen is usage in 24-hour bank teller machines where statistic dissipation is very important.

Drye recently made a presentation about his company at the monthly meeting of the Advanced Composites Employment Accelerator monthly meeting in Oak Ridge.

For Drye, custom compounds are his professional life. He’s been involved in the field for more than 30 years and previously worked for the LNP division of General Electric (now called SABIC).  Drye initially headed sales and marketing for TLC before moving into the Managing Director slot a few years ago.

Describing the recent economic downturn as “tough on everyone,” Drye said that TLC saw a significant rebound in 2010 and “additional growth” last year and thus far in 2012.

Like many of the region’s employers, TLC faces challenges in recruiting workers. “It’s not as easy as it would seem,” Drye says, adding that it takes from six months to two years to get new employees “fully up-to-speed.”

The Techmer group hires two to four college graduates each year in addition to those who operate its machines. To identify candidates, Drye said that each November Techmer hosts a college recruiting program.  Fifteen or so candidates are invited to the Tennessee site for a full day of interviews followed by an evening dinner social where the candidates have an opportunity to further their cause in a more casual environment.  He says the latter part is some of the personal touch that helps define the Techmer business style.

Drye is upbeat about the future with an employer that he describes as “a very solid company,” one that he says simply “wants to meet customer needs.”

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