Ask the Expert

Jeff Black, President and Site Manager of Evonik Jayhawk Fine Chemicals Corporation

Jeff Black serves as President and Site Manager of Evonik Jayhawk Fine Chemicals Corporation, Galena, KS. Black started his career in 1989 as an analytical chemist for Koch Industries and then progressed through a series of production and management assignments with Evonik Jayhawk and Evonik Industries AG. He currently leads Evonik’s custom-manufacturing hub for complex chemical intermediates and active ingredients.

In which segment of the specialty chemical industry are you involved and how long have you been a part of the industry?

I have been active in the custom manufacturing and synthesis of specialty chemicals for nearly 30 years and with Evonik for 17 of those years. My experiences range from supporting roles in production, pilot facilities, R&D, and quality assurance to management roles in quality control, process introduction, manufacturing operations and site management.

What services and/or values do custom manufacturers provide?

Custom manufacturing can range from simply providing spare capacity, to the establishment of a full-service partnership including process development, regulatory support, procurement, logistics, accounting, analytical and IT services. An experienced and fully integrated custom manufacturer has the ability to take customers from a kilo lab; to a pilot facility where a Minimally Viable Product can get them to market as quickly as possible; and then onto commercial production at the best possible cost position. Whether requiring something as simple as distillation to recover a raw material, or a complex 10 to 15 step synthesis, a custom manufacturer is in many cases the most cost‐effective means to address the customer’s make‐or‐buy question.

Can you address some of the major challenges/changes in today’s custom manufacturing landscape?

Where manufacturers once looked to Asia for their requirements, in today’s environment the focus has turned toward domestic production. Customers are looking for transparency and involvement in all facets of an outsourced project as a means to judge alignment with core competencies, reduce risk and minimize costs. In essence, the two companies that are engaged in the project ideally act as one, working as a team to troubleshoot problems, optimize yields and productivity. The custom manufacturer integrates the customer’s product/process into their own production unit and operates it just as the customer would if conducted within their own facility, but with the added ability to scale as needed. Custom manufacturing is all about interfacing with the customer as a trusted partner. Therefore, long‐term relationships have become increasingly important.

Why would a company consider, and ultimately decide to engage, the services of a custom manufacturer?

There are many reasons why a company would consider partnering with a custom manufacturer. The
need to free up internal assets, access to technical expertise, and speed‐to‐market to name a few. Initially, the customer may simply be seeking proof‐of‐concept at pilot or low production scale prior to upscaling; this is often where a manufacturing partner first comes into play. Customers interested in launching a product with a minimal amount of capital investment, or phased capital, which allows them to build the market prior to investing fully in production, should consider custom manufacturing. Regional considerations may also play a role, for example, if the intermediate or active ingredient has to be finished at a customer site near to the marketplace. As previously mentioned, a strong business relationship and technology match are critically important factors.

What advice would you give to a company that is considering whether to manufacture in‐house or externally?

Quite simply, utilization of a custom manufacturer must be more cost‐effective and/or provide an advantage in speed and flexibility relative to the in‐house option. This is especially true in early stage product/market development.

That said, when considering the custom manufacturing option, keep the following in mind. The service provider must have expertise and demonstrated capabilities aligned to the client’s specific technology or chemistry requirements. Ideally, a custom manufacturer should possess a broad range of capacity and equipment options that are fully configurable against a specific campaign requirement. Speed and agility are required in this dynamic environment, but of critical importance is process safety management and operational discipline. Strong management systems are requisite, but must be matched with a visible safety culture and a quality mindset. Numerous requirements exist from a regulatory point of view including permitting, registrations, risk and hazard analyses, agency reporting… all requiring a good working relationship with government agencies; a staff highly qualified in the execution of these requirements is of the utmost importance.

How would you define and measure a successful custom manufacture relationship?

Open communication and trust is critical and facilitates the full integration of the customer and service provider. This partnership approach enables mutual information sharing and creative problem solving of not only today’s synthesis challenges, but also support for project pipeline opportunities. Ultimately, the customer can engage their preferred service provider directly in development programs, in order to expand synthesis options for new products. At the end of the day, the custom manufacturer is an extension of the customer’s own company. While they work for the customer, they should treat the product as their own by taking ownership and having a genuine interest in the success of the project and the client’s business.

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