Dr. Rich Podhajny, manager of technology, NPD & QC for Colorcon No-Tox Products, is just such a person. Ever since he attended Loras College in Dubuque, IA, his thirst for knowledge has been virtually unquenchable, particularly in the fields of printing and ink. As a result, he has been involved in countless innovations in the field of inks.
For his 36 years of contributions to the field of inks, Dr. Podhajny was awarded the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’(NAPIM) Technical Achievement Award at the National Printing Ink Research Institute’s (NPIRI) 47th Annual Technical Conference in Dana Point, CA on Oct. 16.
“I’m totally taken by shock,” Dr. Podhajny said. “It is so humbling to receive this award, and there were so many other people involved throughout my career.”
While Dr. Podhajny may have been surprised, other leaders thought his selection was perfect.
“I think it was an excellent choice, for someone who came into the ink industry as an applications specialist and made a significant contribution,” said James Coleman, executive director of NAPIM. “He’s an extremely intelligent man who brings so much to our industry.”
Entering the Sciences
Dr. Podhajny’s path to the U.S. was a difficult one. Born in 1940 in Poland, Dr. Podhajny’s mother toiled in a German work camp until it was liberated by the U.S. Army in 1945. After going to a work camp in Germany, Dr. Podhajny’s family was sponsored by relatives in the U.S., and ended up in Chicago, which was a tough environment to grow up in.
Dr. Podhajny began playing football, which got him a scholarship to Loras College. The football program ended after one year, but his scholarship was honored, and he found a mentor in Msgr. George Schulte, a nationally known academic in the field of chemistry. His love of science really began to sprout at Loras.
“My love of pure chemistry came from Msgr. Schulte,” Dr. Podhajny said. “He was a brilliant chemist in the old German style, where everything was done meticulously. He was a father image to me.”
After his two-year stint in the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division ended in 1965, Dr. Podhajny married his wife Susie, and they settled down to start their family. He took night courses for his Ph.D. at Loyola University in Chicago, and he began to explore numerous aspects of the printing field, starting as a research chemist at Nalco Chemical and joining A.B. Dick in 1967, where he worked on synthesizing organic photoconductors.
“I enjoyed the synthesis work and the learning that was involved,” Dr. Podhajny said. “It was very pure and specialized.”
After having left A.B. Dick in 1969 to finish his Ph.D. at Loyola, Dr. Podhajny joined Addressograph Multigraph, which had a state-of-the-art lab but was beginning its industry decline. He quickly left for American Can as a research engineer in 1974, and began working on printing equipment and other projects that led American Can to commercialize UV 2-piece metal deco inks.
“I worked on a number of projects, including determining energy consumption of UV inks for metal deco,” Dr. Podhajny said “It was an $80 million project.”
By 1976, he was promoted tosupervisor for graphic arts R&D, which was in charge of more than 100 projects, including working with flexo, gravure and web offset presses. He was developing water-based inks and determining how they would run on press, even etching plastic gravure cylinders to see how they would transfer water-based gravure inks.
“It was fun doing all of this research,” he said. “Still, I was restless.”
In the Ink Industry
Dr. Podhajny first joined the ink industry in 1980, when Mr. Coleman recruited him to come to Borden Chemical as head of product development. The company had $80 million in annual sales, and Dr. Podhajny was responsible for 40 people in R&D.
“It was felt that my understanding of the printing industry would be valuable to the ink company,” he said.
While there, Dr. Podhajny made numerous contributions to the company, but when Borden Chemical did not move into offset from letterpress fast enough, layoffs followed in 1983. After ensuring that his former employees found new jobs, Dr. Podhajny joined Inmont as product development manager, where he started working on energy curing technologies, among others.
“They were the yardstick everyone measured themselves against,” Dr. Podhajny said of Inmont. However, when BASF acquired Inmont in 1984, he decided to form Graphic Arts Industries, his own consulting business. It allowed him to utilize his myriad experience in printing, ink, pigments and other aspects, and he enjoyed his time.
“Of all the experiences I had, I loved consulting,” he said. “I met so many different people and traveled to many different parts of the world.”
Many people also know Dr. Podhajny for his prolific writings on the fields of printing and ink. He has written more than 300 articles on the subjects, including many articles for Ink World, "Converter's Consultant’s Column" for Converting Magazine, and a monthly material science column for Paper, Film and Foil Converter (PFFC).
“In 1987, Dave Margraf of Enercon and Yolanda Simonsis, who is now the associate publisher and editor of PFFC, asked me to write a monthly column,” he said. “It was not my first choice to do, but I started to write columns for the grunts, the little people in the technical departments. I know people who now keep three-ring binders of my articles.”
By 1997, Dr. Podhajny was ready to return to the corporate world, and he joined Heritage International as technical director to work on news and corrugated inks.
“I missed being in the workplace with the human interaction,” Dr. Podhajny said. “Besides, I had been in almost every area except news inks and corrugated, and we had made tremendous strides to move new products before we were sold to Sun Chemical.”
Soon after, he joined Shamrock Technologies and a friend, owner Bill Neuberg, where he worked on waxes and other technologies. “It was a new area for me, which was interesting,” he said.
Although Dr. Podhajny enjoyed his brief time at Shamrock, he felt it was time to utilize his vast experience in printing inks.
With the passing of Fred Bichaylo, Colorcon’s technical director for more than 30 years, the leaders at Colorcon were faced with difficult shoes to fill.
During his years as a consultant, Dr. Podhajny worked with Colorcon on a variety of projects, and Michael Gettis, Colorcon’s general manager, felt that Dr. Podhajny was the ideal fit for the company as its manager of technology.
“Fred Bichaylo and I knew Dr. Rich for many years when he began helping us as a consultant in the 1980s,” said Mr. Gettis. “After Fred passed on, I asked Dr. Rich to join us.”
Colorcon specializes in customized ink applications, particularly for food packaging, and it has been the perfect place for Dr. Podhajny to utilize his vast experience and knowledge.
“I’ve enjoyed Colorcon very much,” Dr. Podhajny said. “When you find people who you enjoy working with, you have to hang onto it. There’s a sense of trust and friendship. It’s what Colorcon has, and it is exceptional.”
Mr. Gettis said that Dr. Podhajny has brought more to the company than Mr. Gettis could have hoped.
“Since joining us, he has helped move our company to another level, and he is also a mentor to our younger technicians,” Mr. Gettis said. “Because of his knowledge of inks, he’s opened new doors for our QC department.”
“I love doing QC,” Dr. Podhajny said. “Mike gives me a lot of freedom to operate.”
Ironically, Colorcon is opening new doors for Dr. Podhajny as well. Its latest product, No-Tox AM functional coatings and inks, provide antimicrobial protection for packaging. This has led Dr. Podhajny to delve into biology, a subject he has avoided in the past.
“It’s a perfect project for me,” he said. “I now have to become an expert in biology.”
Because of Colorcon’s customized approach, Dr. Podhajny figures that retirement is a long way off, although he hopes to travel more with his wife, Susie, who is recovering from breast cancer. They have three children: Debbie, who has six children; David, a sales executive; and Danny, who just earned his computer engineering degree and is heading into law school.
Outside of inks and printing, Dr. Podhajny has been absorbing military and ancient history, with more than 300 books on each topic. He is now writing articles on these areas as well.
“I always needed to learn,” Dr. Podhajny said of his love of knowledge.
There is no doubt that Dr. Podhajny will continue to enjoy his pursuit of knowledge in all aspects of his life.