Feature article written for Fall River, Mass. ink pigment manufacturer
Roma Color by Richard Stewart
City Ink Pigment Plant
Makes Colorful Reading
Twenty-five tons of ice cubes rattle overhead through pipes
at the Roma Color plant on Quequechan Street each work day.
"That's a lot of iced tea," jokes Stuart Booth, president and
CEO of the Fall River company that manufactures pigments for
printing inks and textile dyes.
On a plant tour, he points to the gleaming, half-million-dollar
ice-maker with pride. Until only a couple years ago, men had to
unload 300-pound barrels of ice by hand from trucks parked
outside the cavernous, 260,000-square-foot, former mill building.
Duarte Medeiros, 21 years at Roma Color, remembers the
long days of wrestling with the barrels, dumping the cubes down
chutes leading to vats of swirling, colored liquids on the floor
below. The ice cools the chemical solutions, maintaining the
temperature at 0ºC to prevent the formation of dangerous PCBs.
This is no casual operation.
"Getting that ice machine was the best thing that ever
happened in this place," remarks Medeiros. Now he controls the
flow of ice, piped to 10 locations in the plant, electronically,
from a computer panel. No more backache at the end of the day.
Other changes have occurred in the 10 years since the Booth
family — father John and his son Stuart — took over the plant
that's made pigments here for nearly 30 years. For one thing, it's
warmer in the winter.
"I can remember days when it was so cold in here the water
would freeze as we washed the salts out of our pigments," recalls
Plant Chemist John Tavares.
In pigment making, the liquefied pigment flows out of the tanks
into long filter presses. The liquid drains away from filters, leaving
pigment, which is then washed to remove salts and impurities.
"Guys would have to take cold showers in those days, too," he adds.
A recent quarter-million dollar investment sits on the floor near
the pigment tanks. It's an automated high-solids filter press, which
can produce cakes of pigment with a lower water content than
older presses yield. More ink makers can process this drier
presscake, which will open a wider market for Roma Color's
products, Booth feels.
He refers to the company's 51 employees as associates, and he's
proud of the positive attitude they've shown toward a program of
Total Quality Management that was instituted to help improve
overall product quality and customer service.
The company also recently began efforts to qualify under ISO
9000 standards, a set of strict and highly respected international
standards of quality management.
Team Roma, as Booth calls the work force, is the key to
achieving Roma Color's goal of being known by the printing ink
community as a "world-class pigment maker, continuously striving
for improvement while measuring ourselves against the best there is,"
he says, paraphrasing the company's mission statement.
A company-sponsored training program in English as a Second
Language (ESL), reading, technical writing and business math was
started two years ago. On March 10, Booth handed out course
completion certificates, along with checks for as much as $200, to
each of the 21 Roma Color associates who completed the training.
Booth had started studying Portuguese, the native language of
about half of the plant's work force, to facilitate communication
with employees. But that didn't seem a practical solution, he now
observes. ESL training has proved more fruitful.
"I was fooling myself to think that my learning Portuguese
would solve the problem," he says. "I knew that unless our
employees improved their business communications skills, they
simply would not be qualified for the future jobs we could provide."
Roma Color has attracted the attention of more ink makers in
recent years. Pigment sales have improved significantly. That's due
in part to a restructuring of the national sales force and an emphasis
on personal contact with customers.
It hasn't hurt, either, that ink makers have started looking for
environmentally friendly alternatives to pigments containing heavy
metals, now tightly controlled as pollutants by government regulators.
Roma Color specializes in a family of organic pigments, without
heavy metals, especially naphthols. They are used for making red
printing and textile inks. Sales of the naphthol reds have increased
by 350% in the last five years, Booth notes.
Customers have responded to the company's efforts to become
more customer-friendly, too. That includes visits to customer
facilities by Roma Color technical personnel, as part of a
"technical partnering" program.
And customers seem to appreciate a new attitude in the
company's "Resource Center," where customer service
representatives have vowed to respond to customer phone queries
— about shipments, product issues, billing or any other customer
concern — inside of 15 minutes. Booth says that's virtually unheard
of elsewhere in the pigment industry.
"We're constantly trying to improve our products and our
communications with customers," he says. "We know that if we
don't take care of them, somebody else will. And we're not going to
let that happen."