American Roller keeps manufacturers spinning

Rollers are used to manufacture products you use every day, like toilet paper, aluminum foil and the film technology used in some electronics.

Union Grove-based American Roller develops and refurbishes the coverings, coatings and cores for those rollers. The company, which has two divisions comprising 10 locations worldwide, serves more than 1,700 customers that are mostly in the paper, textile, film/foil, tissue/towel, printing and packaging and steel mill markets.

The American Roller division focuses on rollers for any machine that uses a web to make a product, said Dan Cahalane, chief executive officer. For example, a diaper starts with a substrate that is topped with padding and adhesive through a web process.

Rollers from a variety of industries await refurbishment at American Roller.

“Almost everything you touch in your life is made with a substrate running through a web process,” Cahalane said.

Refurbishment is completed in one of two ways at American Roller: The old rubber can be stripped off and a new sheet of rubber applied and cured in an oven, which is called shade building; or liquid urethane can be applied as the roller spins to build up the material as it cures, known as strip building.

Mike Sobolik adds urethane to a roller using the strip building process.

The completed coatings are then ground on lathes to give the desired smoothness or pattern.

The Plasma Coatings division uses a thermal spray technology to enhance the surface of rollers used in the food, mining and oil and gas industries.

“You’re changing the surface of these parts so they don’t wear out quickly, so they clean easily,” he said.

American Roller has more than 400 employees, 150 of whom are in Wisconsin.

The company has three facilities in Wisconsin: two American Roller buildings on the headquarters campus in Union Grove and a Plasma Coatings facility down the road in Kansasville. They total 190,000 square feet.

About 80 percent of American Roller’s business is refurbishment of existing rollers. The rest of its work involves engineering and designing solutions for customers’ roller core needs, Cahalane said.

The company’s material science experts work with polymer and hardfacing technologies to develop custom rollers. The coatings could have greater wear resistance or advanced release characteristics, for example.

“Within each of those technologies, there are hundreds of materials you can choose,” Cahalane said. “We know all of those materials and we know how to mix them to create the perfect blend you’re trying to achieve.”

American Roller has doubled its sales over the last 12 months, bringing it into the $60 million to $100 million range.

Last year, American Roller acquired SCS Machine and Fabricating in Houston and opened a Plasma Coatings facility there. In June, the company added a Plasma Coatings facility in Shanghai.

Cahalane plans to continue expanding the company internationally and at home by targeting complementary acquisitions. India and Latin America are next on the list, he said.

Another goal involves bringing in younger talent to fill the pipeline of workers at the company. The average age is 57 right now, with lots of long-term employees, so Cahalane expects a big change will occur over the next decade and he’s planning for it.

“Our focus right now is on talent—we’re growing extremely fast and we need more talented individuals to help drive it,” Cahalane said.

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