TCI goes east
TCI officially opens its new East Coast warehouse in the Philadelphia area. Andrew Warmington found out more
August 2012 was an exciting month for TCI America, according to Rebecca McKechnie, assistant general manager of organisational development at the US headquarters in Portland. The official launch of the company's new East Coast warehouse near Philadelphia took place on 22 August with a kick-off party at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
This new distribution centre, which will serve nearly 80% of TCI's customers, has been moving into operation for several months. At the time of Chemspec USA in Philadelphia in May, it had just begun stocking and test-shipping. Now it is fully operational and is shipping most packages by next day ground service to East Coast customers. This means that TCI can offer free ground shipping of reagent chemicals to all of its US and Canadian customers.
"We mainly sell products in small bottles, but with 22,000 different compounds a lot of shelf space is needed for adequate inventory" McKechnie says. These are mainly speciality organic reagents, plus some biochemicals and chromatographic products. About 25% are unique to TCI and many are patented or niche products.
In all, the warehouse covers just over 2,300 m2 with three control zones for the segregation of different kinds of product in separate areas, a bank of refrigerators and freezers and row upon row of metal racking, usually three metres high.
The warehouse is modelled on the Portland distribution site, although it is actually much larger. Unlike Portland, which also has scale-up, pilot plant and multi-tonne manufacturing capabilities and a multi-purpose cGMP facility, the Philadelphia facility is strictly a distribution centre.
The key aim in setting up in Pennsylvania was to be able to reach the vast majority of TCI's East Coast customers in the universities and the pharmaceuticals and semiconductor industries in one day by ground transport. Whilst small volume reagents can, of course, be delivered by air freight to anyone, anywhere, lower cost next-day ground delivery is a key part of the new warehouse's competitive offer.
The new warehouse was officially opened in August
TCI - the name stands for Tokyo Chemical Industries - dates back to the late 19th century and it has been focusing on reagent chemicals since 1946. The company first moved to the US in 1985, choosing Portland after its US president, Masa Isono, met a group of people from a sister city programme while he was in California, went to see the city, took a liking to it and decided to invest there.
The site selection process when going East, McKechnie says, was far more thorough and lengthy. TCI originally decided to build a new warehouse in 2010, then started looking for the right location in March 2011, focusing mainly on New Jersey and the Philadelphia area, as these are nearest to the majority of its regional customers.
Eventually it chose a site in the Montgomeryville Industrial Park, a small town about 65 km west of Philadelphia, though still within the Greater Philadelphia region. The area was chosen partly because of its proximity to the UPS distribution centre, but even more because of the assistance of Select Greater Philadelphia, a quasi-government agency that promotes investment in the region.
"Select Greater Philadelphia rolled out the red carpet for us, showed us around different properties, educated us in the grant system and helped us make some good contacts locally," McKechnie says. "Through them we found our architect and an excellent builder, A1 Construction. We drew up the contract in December for it to be finished at the end of March and happily construction was completed on time. It was a significant investment, and we are very pleased with the results"
The company, McKechnie adds, has an excellent safety record, is a SOCMA member and is soon to receive ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 accreditation. In the run-up to opening, it met with local fire marshals and ensured that all the controls were in place. As the site does not manufacture, there are no tanker loads and the risks minimal - "The worst case scenario is a bottle being dropped" - so there was no local opposition.
TCI sells more than 22,000 different chemicals, mostly in small volumes
In addition to supplying chemicals, TCI increasingly has to support clients. "We sometimes collaborate with customers on developing new product or reducing costs by taking steps out of a process. Companies come to us for custom synthesis or to make a commercially available compound at a higher purity or just to find products that they can't locate. TCI offers the largest number of specialty organic reagents in the world, and we create about 500 new compounds every year. "
It was mostly with new leads in mind that TCI America was present at Chemspec USA and it had a successful show. "We had people coming up to us from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, even a woman from Africa who was sourcing products for mining, petroleum and agriculture. The language of chemistry knows no bounds," McKechnie says.
Business is good at the moment, she continues. Demand from the pharmaceuticals industry is down, but they are outsourcing more which is generating more business for TCI. University researchers are still getting their grants as the US strives to remain the hub of innovation, even as manufacture drifts off to Asia, and this accounts for over 25% of TCI's sales volume.
TCI is already an international company. In addition to the Japanese facilities and the two sites in the US, there is a laboratory and sales office and warehouse in Belgium and an office in the UK, near Oxford, a warehouse in Chennai and manufacturing, sales and distribution in Shanghai. However, company president Seichiro Asakawa, whose family owns TCI and who is US-educated, wants to take it further still.
"We are growing the business in Canada, Brazil and Mexico, both direct and through distributors," McKechnie says. "In addition, the newly launched TCI America website is available in French, Spanish and Portuguese as well as English, so that we are covering all of the main languages in the Americas. Chemistry is global, and TCI products are globally available to support research and fulfill the TCI mission 'to keep moving forward to serve society through chemistry'".
From Online Issue: October 2012