When it was first founded as the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, SOCMA focused on providing support to small and medium-sized chemical companies largely involved in custom/toll manufacturing. Today, as the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, SOCMA provides support to companies involved in a much broader range of activities beyond chemical synthesis, including repackaging, blending, compounding, as well as distribution, analytical services and much more.
This broader scope, combined with the myriad benefits offered by SOCMA, convinced Illinois-based Avatar Corporation to join SOCMA in 2014, according to President, CEO and company founder Michael Shamie. Avatar manufactures products for the pharmaceutical and personal care sectors, including excipients and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), using current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). For the food industry, Avatar is the leading global supplier of baking release agents, and all of its food ingredients are certified to conform to SQF Level 2 by an independent third-party auditor (NSF) recognized and accredited under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). “All three of these sectors have a common thread, largely high expectations for quality,” Shamie said. “At Avatar, we place extreme emphasis on quality and have both in-house quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) groups, which sets us apart from many of our competitors.”
The company’s biggest accomplishment, he adds, occurred two years ago when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration upgraded the Avatar facility from a bulk pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer to an API manufacturer. “While we don’t do unit dose manufacturing, published classification as an API manufacturer reflects our commitment to quality and safety and enables us to provide a wider range of products to the pharmaceutical industry,” Shamie explains. “Our goal is to be a solutions provider, to help our customers – in all three of our end markets – overcome challenges or address needs that aren’t currently being met by available products or technologies. The transition to API has enhanced our ability to do so for our pharma customers.”
Avatar has several projects under way to further expand its capability to meet and exceed customer expectations. “We buy a lot of raw materials in bulk, and have up to now been trans-loading from rail cars into tanker trucks,” Shamie said. “Significant investment is being made to upgrade the rail track into the plant site from 90- to 115-pound rail to enable direct rail delivery and pick up at the plant.” The company is also installing a 70-foot digital truck scale to improve on-site efficiency and control. In addition, 75,000 square feet of new space will be added to the ~120,000 square feet already in use by Avatar. New HVAC equipment is currently being installed to bring the packaging area up to ISO Class 8 standard. “While many companies are putting off capital investments like this due to uncertainties surrounding the presidential election and its impact on the economy, Avatar is growing, and we are committed to making investments that will enable us to continue to meet the needs of our customers,” Shamie said.
On the safety and quality front, the company is upgrading its SQF food safety certification from Level 2 to the highest Level 3. “Even more than SQF Level 2, SQF Level 3 provides added assurance to our customers that we are continually evaluating global industry standards to meet and exceed their highest expectations,” says Shamie
SOCMA is also helping the company better serve its customers. “We have a very positive relationship with SOCMA, and being a member of the organization has been very good for the company,” Shamie observes. For Avatar’s visit in January 2015 by United States Congresswoman Robin Kelly, the company followed SOCMA’s format, which helped contribute to the success of the event, according to Shamie. Participation in the ChemStewards® program has been a big plus as well, leading not only to a better and more logical safety program at Avatar, but also resulting in lower insurance premiums.
SOCMA’s Chemical Operator Training Program has been very valuable for the company in a number of ways. In addition to using the program to train its employees, Avatar has been successful at getting several of the local community colleges to adopt the program into their curricula. “We and other specialty chemical companies in the area have had difficulty finding people with relevant knowledge for working in a chemical manufacturing plant,” Shamie said. “SOCMA’s training program has been a key component of our strategy to overcome that difficulty.”
He also points to SOCMA’s work on Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) as being particularly beneficial for Avatar. “I spent a lot of time working with SOCMA staff to get the bill passed and was very pleased when it did,” Shamie said. “We have at least one product we import into the United States that is not made by any U.S. manufacturer, but for which we were being charged import duties. These types of tariffs don’t make any sense and are in fact anti-business. Passage of the MTB should bring relief to Avatar and other small companies facing similar but unnecessary costs. SOCMA played a pivotal role in getting the bill passed, and we are grateful for all the effort the staff put into making it happen.”
In addition to the resources that SOCMA brought to bear on this trade issue, the association also has a very active advocacy group fighting for reasonable regulations that consider the environments within which small and medium-sized companies operate and provides extensive regulatory compliance support, according to Shamie. “Membership in SOCMA provides companies like Avatar with access to many types of resources they would not otherwise have, and as importantly, the organization is specifically focused on supporting small and medium sized chemical companies that perform a wide range of activities from chemical synthesis to blending and compounding,” he said. “Our membership in SOCMA has been truly beneficial to the overall operation of the business.”