Do you ever wonder what R&D chemists do on a daily basis? I know we do! We recently sat down with Steve Milano, Director of R&D at Tremco Commercial Sealants & Waterproofing to take a deeper dive into what he and his team actually do and the impact they make on our business - and trust me - it's a huge one!
Q. How long have you been at Tremco? What different positions have you had?
A. This was my first job after graduating from Kent State – I want to say I started around 1995. Tremco was owned by B.F. Goodrich at the time and then it was sold to RPM International. I was originally hired into the Residential Windows Group as an R&D Chemist. RPM then sold this group to TruSeal Technologies, Inc., owned by Kirtland Capital Partners.
After 5 years, I returned to Tremco to work in Urethanes when Dymonic® 100 came about. I then received a job offer from Sherwin Williams around 2008 but later returned to Tremco about 2 years ago to work as a chemist mainly in New Technology (business-related technologies) but also worked in Residential Windows on the new warm-edge spacer EnerEDGE®. On and off, I’ve been at Tremco about 22 years.
Q. What do you do on a daily basis? What does an R&D Chemist do?
A. Every chemist is assigned project work; some people create their own projects and some are told what projects to work on. We train new chemists on our products and systems in different applications in the field and once they start to understand our systems, they can put their own creative spin on it.
Any curiosity that our chemists have, must be aligned to our business objectives. We track our projects on a board that has several strategic categories. Each project is measured in milestones: the goal statement, what are you trying to do, how are you going to do it, and what does success look like.
Q. What sort of training does a new chemist go through?
A. Each chemist has a 90-day onboarding plan. We sit down with the new chemist(s) and have discussion topics such as formulation strategies, calculation requirements, analytical verification, and other related areas. We also have weekly huddle meetings on Fridays to get the proper chemists on project teams.
Q. What tests are typically run in the lab?
A. All of our tests are governed by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards. For example, if you take ASTM C920, which is the Standard Specification for Elastomeric Joint Sealants, this standard has 14 sub-tests underneath it – all of these requirements must be met in order to give the language to determine what sealant to use. These are some of the standards we follow.
Q. Besides other chemists, who do you work with most often?
A. We work quite a bit with Product Management to understand what the market standards are and then we come back to the lab and reevaluate what technologies are available to meet those standards. We evaluate if we have the capability to do these and if we do not have the capability, then we engage in New Business Development.
Q. If someone comes to you with a new product idea, how is it handled?
A. We ask them to determine if their idea and concept is aligned with our strategies. If this is not aligned, we don’t disregard the idea but we see how it COULD align. We measure the number of new technology ideas that have been initiated and the number that have been completed.
Q. What do you think is a vital skill in your job? Does that same skill translate to every R&D Chemist?
A. I learned from a past mentor on how to move around the office and who I need to make relationships with; I even learned how to form relationships with customers, what is it that they really need, and the ways to communicate to them.
Now that I’m a director, I am able to coach and mentor. My hope is that what I learned can be reflected onto my team so that they feel that they have value in their work and realize what they are doing is important and significant to the business.
For new chemists coming into our organization, I look for desire, drive, and absolute engagement. I don’t care if you fail – as long as we learn and tweak along the way, that’s how we succeed.