John R. Manuck ChE’69

John Manuck is an entrepreneur who has focused on custom design and production of polymer materials via a collaborative process of problem solving. He founded Techmer PM, LLC, in Los Angeles in 1981. The company’s name represents an amalgamation of “technical polymer” while PM stands for “polymer modifiers.”

John received his BE in chemical engineering at The Cooper Union in 1969 and began his career at Monsanto in western Massachusetts as a process engineer. He attended a night program at a graduate extension of Rensselaer Polytechnic and earned an MS in Management in 1972. Later, after holding technical sales positions in Detroit and Minneapolis, he moved to Los Angeles to join a small privately held company. He saw the west coast as a new frontier that was “importing” specialty products from the east.  John’s inspiration came from The Third Wave published by futurist Alvin Toffler in 1980, and he decided to create a 21st century company designing custom solutions by leveraging technology rather than a second wave company of mass production.

His first collaboration was with Rehrig Pacific Company who was a molder of industrial containers that needed colorants for appearance and UV stabilizers for extended outdoor life. The first production line was patched together from used equipment and located in a back wing of the Rehrig plant in Los Angeles. By 1985 Techmer moved into its first plant in LA, and ideas of expanding east became a focus. John recognized the synthetic fiber industry as a target because of their high-quality requirements for fibers that were thinner than a human hair. He later met the representative of a Japanese producer of inks and plastic colorants who touted their high quality and technology and accepted an invitation to see their facilities in Japan and Korea. John was later quoted as saying, “Going to Japan in 1985 for me was like going to Mars, but we had to find a way to take the company to the next level.” In 1987 a joint venture was formed with Tokyo Ink and Mitsui Plastics of Japan, and a new plant was opened in Tennessee in 1988.

As a great believer in collaboration, he has honed Techmer PM –– now with six manufacturing sites –– to be a custom problem solver. Often described as a futurist and a visionary, in 2016 Manuck was named by leading business publisher Crain Communications Inc. to its “Crain 100” list of innovators, disruptors, and change-makers in business. On the list, John joined the like of other leading innovators such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. In 2017 he was named a Life Fellow of the London-based Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA). This was in recognition of support for student design scholarships in the name of the late, legendary British designer Bill Moggridge.

R&D Magazine has recognized Techmer PM for its innovative materials design work by naming it a winner in the Process/Prototyping category for its 2017 “R&D 100 Awards” program. It earned the honor for its work collaborating with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to design  3D-printable, engineering thermoplastic compounds. They developed these compounds specifically for high-temperature autoclave tooling applications used in composite aerospace and automotive parts. In 2021 an award was received in the “Battling COVID-19” category to produce high-efficacy filter material for N95 masks.

When the White House asked ORNL to name a company that exemplified government/industry collaboration, they named Techmer PM. This led to a 2015 visit by President Obama and Vice President Biden, where John led them on a tour of the Tennessee plant where the carbon fiber composite was produced to 3D print a functioning replica of a Shelby Cobra sports car. In his speech following the tour, the President referenced a conversation that he had with John and stated, “That story of entrepreneurship – that’s what built this country.”

John received a Cooper Union President’s Citation Award in May of 2022 and is a member of the Cooper Union Hall of Fame.