By Eric Peterson | Apr 17, 2023
Concrete densifiers and sealants
After working in the concrete densifier industry for 20 years, Dal Hills saw a better way of densifying concrete surfaces using lithium silicates in place of the status quo, sodium silicates. He subsequently organized a group of investors to buy intellectual property in 2000 to introduce lithium to the concrete industry.
"It's the normal story: You work in it, you learn the business, you get a passion about it, and you find an idea that might be the wave of the future," says T.J. Bland, president of Meridian Adhesive Group's Infrastructure division.
The resulting manufacturer, Convergent Concrete Technologies, made a mark with additional innovations in densifiers and sealants, leading to its acquisition by Houston-based Meridian in 2021. Meridian's Infrastructure division encompasses Convergent along with Albuquerque-based E-Chem and Adhesives Technology Corporation (ATC) of Pompano Beach, Florida.
The strategy makes for a catalog with breadth and depth. "We function more on the market segments we sell into: Convergent's line represents our densifier business," says Bland. "Bringing Convergent along was a natural fit and it also expanded our ability to be a better partner for our customer with these large-format floors, whether it's a large warehouse or data center or Amazon distribution facility. You drive around anywhere, there's just huge amounts of large tilt-wall space that's going up, and our products are used on every floor."
The synergies carry over to the manufacturing side. "We've been able to transition products within the division," says Bland. "We've also done the same across divisions. The electronics division had one customer that did something unique that was closer to infrastructure work, so we were able to transition that customer and the manufacturing over to the infrastructure division and decrease their lead times and improve the customer support from an expertise perspective, while also putting the products where it made more sense for us internally."
Convergent consolidated manufacturing at a second location in Heber City to its 20,000-square-foot Orem facility in 2022, boosting production capacity by 50 percent.
"When we consolidated it, we went state-of-the-art as far as the valving and the vessels, but the key to a lot of these facilities is maintaining the water quality, the basis of the products," says Bland. "We have reverse osmosis for water purification so we start with the best possible water quality, then depending on the product, it's blended with the appropriate additives to give the product its performance properties, whether its water repellency or abrasion resistance or stain resistance, you name it."
With Meridian's broad network, there's an opportunity to decentralize some of Convergent's production. "We're looking at eventually being able to produce the densifiers on the East Coast," says Bland. "It doesn't make sense to ship a product that's water-based like that across the country to our customers."
Under Meridian's ownership, Convergent "continues to be the innovator in the space as far as different densifier chemistries," says Bland. "They were the leader 20 years ago in bringing lithium silicate-based densifiers to the commercial market, and then in the early 2010s, we launched colloidal densifiers into the market, which are also used as polishing aids for concrete polishing."
The latter were historically made for private-label customers until 2022, when Convergent launched colloidal products under its brand. "In 2021, we launched Strion, which is a strontium silicate product," says Bland. "It can be used in lower temperatures, below 40 degrees Fahrenheit."
Bland is bullish on the future of Convergent and Meridian's Infrastructure division, noting, "Our particular division is in a really good position for growth, since a good portion of the business is tied to road and bridge and infrastructure work, quite clearly by the name, but the government spending in that space and the general age and condition of our roads and bridges is a path to growth for us for the next five or 10 years, minimum."
Challenges: "The last two years have been very interesting from a supply chain and labor perspective," says Bland. "The drive for electric vehicles and battery production in general has made lithium go up in price, which is the basis for the lithium silicate product, so our history in working in different chemistries to accomplish the same goal is beneficial."
Opportunities: New products and higher manufacturing capacities, says Bland. "We've invested a lot in technology, both by acquiring companies with good technology but also launching new products or second or third generations of existing products to continue to improve their performance and value. Adding E-Chem to the business, we gained a lot of scale, because they were a high-volume manufacturer."
Needs: Talent -- and/or automation. "As you struggle with skilled labor, the automation question always comes up," says Bland. "You always grapple with the right balance of investing in automation where it makes sense, and then investing in the training and the skill set of the team to get there."