Business View Magazine interviews Ron Clawson, Global Director of Technology & Commercial Development at Kop-Coat Inc., for our focus on Wood Products
As a global supplier of innovative protective products, Kop-Coat, Inc. is leading the way in discovering more sustainable ways to protect farm, forest, and building materials while minimizing our impact on the environment. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the pioneering firm has raised the bar in environmental stewardship and is setting an outstanding example for others to follow.
According to Ron Clawson, Global Director of Technology and Commercial Development at Kop-Coat, “About 10 years ago, we took a step back and asked, ‘Who are we going to be in the future?’ We took a holistic look at our identity, and the direction we took was one with a real commitment to environmental responsibility.”
Before its formation, Kop-Coat was part of the global chemicals and materials conglomerate Koppers and represented its specialty chemicals division. “Koppers, at the time, was the world’s largest wood preservative company and a huge petrochemical refinement company,” Clawson recounts. “They bought materials from coal and coke plants and made asphalt, specialty chemicals, creosote, and other byproducts of coal refinement.”
In 1988, Beazer International launched a hostile takeover of Koppers, intent on securing its road and construction chemicals business. Through a management buyout, the company’s specialty chemicals division was spun off, forming Kop-Coat, Inc. Kop-Coat retained its original mandate, focusing on creating short-term wood preservatives and high-quality, long-term preservatives that were more environmentally friendly than existing commoditized products. “With this identity came the notion that we did not want to sell or make commodity chemicals,” says Clawson. “We wanted to make innovative chemicals that you can use less of and still get the same performance.” This is of importance in today’s world where the use of pesticides is under constant scrutiny.
In 1990, Kop-Coat joined RPM International Inc., a global leader in coatings, sealants, and specialty chemicals. This strategic move allowed it to focus on innovating along a specialized line of products focusing on environmental sustainability and forward use of protective chemical formulations, a focus that RPM supports.
Today, Kop-Coat excels at creating farm, forest, and building material protection specialty chemicals compared to competitive offerings that rely on “adding more to work better”. For example, Kop-Coat manufactures synergists and adjuvants, an area seeing significant growth as industries shift towards using fewer quantities of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other agents that control or eliminate unwanted pests. Clawson describes synergists and adjuvants, which are also used in cosmetics, as inert, benign chemicals that make other high-value chemicals like pesticides work better at lower quantities. He notes, “For example, you can put on less glyphosate (a controversial herbicide) and still have the same performance.” So, Kop-Coat’s commitment to environmental responsibility has been to develop products to help our customers use less harmful chemicals.
While synergists and adjuvants constitute a significant part of the company’s business, Clawson is quick to point out that the company does much more than this. He reports, “Kop-Coat protection products, or programs as they call them, are divided into seven business units comprising around 100 employees in total. Our wood protection line of business is represented with a presence in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Then we have our engineering division, TDS Technologies, based in Vancouver, BC, which manufactures high-end equipment for wood preservative applications and specialty animal food manufacturing like feed pelletizers.” Wrapping up the list are the company’s agricultural chemical and engineering units: Agpro in New Zealand and Alphakem Global in Australia.
As a research and development-oriented organization, the company also maintains a series of laboratories alongside its manufacturing plants. Kop-Coat’s Global Research and Development Center of Excellence is located at the company headquarters in Pittsburgh. In addition, it operates satellite laboratories in other locations in the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia, which are used as commercialization centers for new products coming out of the central lab in Pittsburgh. Along with the laboratories, the firm has a major manufacturing plant in St. Louis, Missouri and international manufacturing facilities in Auckland, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia.
Stitching all seven business units together is a customer-centric corporate culture, which relies on what the company calls its Three Pillars of Execution. Clawson shares, “We rely on an innovation-to-value culture to put out the most innovative products using the best manufacturing methods while offering the best service. With these three pillars, we shine through the competition and ensure any customers who come to us will not go elsewhere.” With this execution, Kop-Coat can continue to deliver on environmental forward offerings to the protective products marketplace.
On the innovation front, the company eschews commodity-based products, focusing instead on bringing innovative products to market that amplify performance of other materials, thus reducing the needed volume of such materials in application. In manufacturing, the company’s manufacturing plants enable it to bring innovative products to market cost-effectively. When it comes to service, the focus is on steadfast product stewardship, which it delivers through end-to-end programs that go beyond just selling a product and include how the materials are used and stored and helping customers monitor biological indicators. All important factors to ensure the appropriate and responsible use of pesticides and protective materials.
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every business around the globe and Kop-Coat’s industry has not been immune to its effects, although it is seeing more of an indirect impact. “Fiber (wood) availability is our biggest challenge right now,” says Clawson. “Fiber demand is at an all-time high, so our customers do not have enough timber to treat, meaning they buy fewer wood protection products from us.”
With so many people at home due to pandemic lockdowns and social distancing, demand for timber for home improvement projects has exploded, triggering a massive shortfall in the entire supply chain, including downstream users like Kop-Coat’s customers. To illustrate this situation, the company recently launched a new product, laminated veneer lumbers (LVL), in conjunction with Pacific Woodtech, a global leader in engineered wood based in Burlington, Washington. Acknowledged by Clawson to be “the Holy Grail of engineered veneer lumbers,” the product is currently sold out for two years because fiber shortages are limiting the company’s ability to service the massive demand for the LVL product. “Put simply, they can’t get veneer fast enough to make the product,” says Clawson.
Although the pandemic has slowed some operations down for the company, Kop-Coat has not stopped aggressively pursuing organic and synthetic growth. “Our commitment as we continue to grow and evolve is to push the limits of wood preservation and solidify wood’s position as the absolute pinnacle building material,” affirms Clawson. “We plan to achieve this through our cutting-edge penetration technologies, including our Woodlife®, PENTEC®, and TRU-CORE® process technologies.”
On the farm and forest side, Kop-Coat’s focus is to continue playing an integral role in helping farmers feed the world more sustainably and economically. It plans to do this by expanding into new markets and segments such as aquaculture and arboriculture. Clawson’s final words ring like a clarion call: “Our overarching focus and commitment is to help build a world on durable wood and feed the world more cost-effectively through our innovative technologies.”
AT A GLANCE
What: Global innovator in protective chemical products
Where: Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania