An innovative organization that demonstrated its pioneering character as early as the 19th century, Pfaudler Inc. introduced the world to glass-lined steel. This revolutionary fusion of glass to steel provides strength and adds value to numerous applications. Very few companies are capable of producing this kind of material, indicates Technical Sales Engineer Ron Stella, and Pfaudler remains the world’s leading supplier, offering a full range of trademarked Glasteel® equipment.
The innovation is but one chapter in a rich and long history. “In 2009, we’re celebrating our 125th anniversary, which is remarkable,” Stella points out. “Today, you don’t find many companies that reach that kind of milestone. The uniqueness of our longevity appropriately matches the uniqueness of our products.”
Pfaudler is the global leader in providing glass-lined reactors, storage vessels, columns, mixer systems and instrumentation. The company also offers reglassing services and the largest inventory of spare and replacement parts. Its Glasteel reactors became the gold standard for chemical process industries, as they demonstrate top-quality design and construction that contribute to a long, dependable service life. Indeed, the patented Glasteel technology is such a potent advancement that it’s integrated into all Pfaudler glass-lined equipment.
Glasteel, describes Stella, is a distinctive composite material consisting of glass fused to a steel substrate. “This composite combines the corrosion resistance of glass with the strength of steel,” he points out. “Glasteel is a strategically modified sodalime formulation. The chemical resistance in both acid and alkali actually exceeds that of a borosilicate glass such as Pyrex®. That’s why it has become a global standard of excellence.”
Pfaudler is a member of the Process Solutions Group within the Dayton, Ohio-headquartered Robbins & Myers. The relationship weds two entities with matching activities and ambitions. Robbins & Myers is a leading supplier of engineered equipment and systems for critical applications in global energy, industrial, chemical and pharmaceutical markets. Within this organization, Pfaudler focuses on addressing customer needs to provide appropriate and profitability-enhancing solutions, expanding its own technology and continuously improving manufacturing processes and product quality. This approach positioned the company at the top of the world for corrosion-resistant equipment and modular process systems utilized in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. That’s not bad for a business that started out serving the brewery industry.
“Our history is highlighted by some very significant transitions,” says Stella. “From the brewery industry, we transferred into food and dairy and then into the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, just as they were emerging in the United States. Today Pfaudler is very involved in the energy market with our Engineered Systems group. Among others, this group has designed systems to purify biodiesel and glycerin, and re-refine used motor oil.”
Headquartered in Rochester N.Y., and officially established in 1884, the company has been supplying glass-lined mixer systems and fluid agitation applications for glass-lined reactors since the 1930s. However, its roots date as far back as 1865.
That’s the year the Pfaudler family (Michael and Barbara and their three sons, Charles, John and Casper) emigrated from Germany to the United States. Michael worked in the brewery industry in Germany and, in the United States, his inventive offspring would eventually receive several industry related patents. In 1872, the 20-year-old John conceived the idea of regulating pressure in a wine-containing vessel, a concept he patented in 1878. In 1883, the patent was re-issued to James Sargent, who established the Pfaudler Vacuum Fermentation Company a year later in Rochester, N.Y. For his new company, Sargent decided to retain the Pfaudler name, as it was well known in the brewery industry. Casper Pfaudler served as the company’s superintendent and, in 1885, he obtained a patent for a new fermentation process that employed a vacuum, which he sold to the company.
Subsequently, the company searched for an acceptable material of construction for this demanding process and came up with the revolutionary idea of fusing a glass to a metallic substrate. A by-product came out of this endeavor: glass-lined equipment.
In 1889, the Pfaudler enterprise built a plant in Detroit to handle its rapidly growing business and then built an even larger plant in Rochester in 1903, the year the business was renamed the Pfaudler Company.
Before World War I, most of Pfaudler’s products were sold within the brewery industry. Thes eproducts included fermenters, compartment/sectional storage tanks, bottling tanks, yeast propagation equipment and beer coolers. But, after the passage of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug laws in 1906, the company expanded into the dairy industry. Sanitary, easy-to-clean equipment was needed, and glass-lined steel proved ideal.
Then the company faced a severe crisis: On Jan. 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sales and transportation of alcoholic beverages. This essentially eliminated Pfaudler’s largest market. Fortunately, the company had already started to diversify, and its new markets proved even more profitable. In particular, Pfaudler’s dairy and food business grew and its product line became quite extensive. Also, another new market opened up after World War I with the rapid expansion of the U.S. chemical industry. Pfaudler’s contemporaneous introduction of a new glass formulation (with superior corrosion resistance) made glass-lined equipment an ideal material for this burgeoning industry. To handle growing demand, Pfaudler opened two more facilities, in Elyria, Ohio (1924) and Leven, Scotland (Pfaudler-Balfour, Ltd, 1933).
Through the years, Pfaudler continued pioneering ways to fabricate and weld new materials, particularly stainless steel. During World War II, Pfaudler’s stainless steel equipment was used in the Manhattan Project for the research and development of the atomic bomb. Also, company scientists designed glasslined polymerizers to meet the wartime need for rubber.
Also in the 1940s, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries relied more and more on Pfaudler equipment. Sulfa drugs, antibiotics, synthetic vitamins, insulin and vaccines were produced in the company’s reactors. In the 1950s, Pfaudler led the development in the fabrication and welding of reactive metals such as tantalum, zirconium, and niobium.
More recently, Pfaudler Glasteel Parts and Services (GPS) was formed in 1995 to provide the highest quality, most reliable source for glass-lined equipment parts and services throughout North America. GPS offers users of glass-lined equipment the necessary products, field service repairs, consulting and training, wide-ranging standard and custom-engineered accessory items, and specialized parts.
In addition to the Glasteel business and as an answer to customers’ requests for design assistance, Pfaudler formed its Engineered Systems department. This department designs and builds complete modular process systems as solutions for its customers’ process needs, and started by building systems based around its Glasteel reactors. These systems included the reactor plus any other ancillary equipment, instruments and piping required to operate the entire process. In the early 1950s, Pfaudler obtained its line of thin film evaporators known as Wiped Film Evaporators (WFE). Theses evaporators are used in troublesome high vacuum applications where products are heat sensitive or have high viscosities. This product is another example of Pfaudler’s ability to increase its product offering to solve its customers’ problems.
The Engineered Systems group also provides the WFEs as complete modular systems to clients around the world in the chemical, specialty chemical, petrochemical and nutraceutical markets. These industries have latched onto the modular design approach to projects versus stick build as it lowers capital project cost and shortens the project’s schedule. Today, with this change in construction philosophy, Pfaudler’s modular systems business is one of its largest product lines.
Meanwhile, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries still rely on Pfaudler equipment’s outstanding characteristics such as superior corrosion resistance, essentially inert nature, exceptional surface quality, price and the material’s strength and reliability.
FULLY INTEGRATED DOMESTIC AND GLOBAL OPERATIONS
Today, Pfaudler accomplishes engineering and production in its 500,000-square-foot Rochester facility. The location enables the company to quickly lend support to customers throughout North America. But Pfaudler also works from international locations (the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Mexico, India, South America and China) which enables it to better service its customers internationally.
At its fully integrated Rochester plant, Pfaudler deploys processes necessary to produce corrosion-resistant Glasteel and alloy equipment from start to finish, as well as any machined or fabricated equipment its clients need.
Equipment and capabilities include metal fabrication (including roll forming, a 600-ton press brake, a 500-ton four-post press, a 230-ton hot forming press, CNC shape cutters, and ASME code-certified welding of carbon steel, stainless steel, nickel alloys and reactive metals). Further, the facility’s full-capability machine shop is equipped with CNC turning, boring and milling technology. The site also includes assembly and test bays with 75-ton crane capacity, and a state-of-the-art paint booth for application of high-performance epoxy coatings.
As far as Glasteel, glass coatings are manufactured and tested in house, and the site includes multiple coating stations for vessels and accessories, as well as multiple controlled furnaces capable of handling vessels from one to 24,000 gallons capacity.
Glasteel equipment production proceeds upon two paths, reports Stella: one for the substrate material and the other for the glass lining. “First, the steel must be suitable for coating, which requires a particular steel chemistry, special fabrication techniques, high-quality welds and a grit blast surface preparation,” describes Stella. “Then a glass particulate slurry or dust is sprayed on the substrate steel in approximately 0.010-inch layers, with each layer followed by a high-temperature fusing operation. The first or second layers comprise the ground coat of specialized formulation that promotes adherence to the steel. These coats are fired at approximately 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, approximately three to five cover coats, each fired at about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, are applied to an overall thickness that achieves an optimum balance of corrosion resistance, thermal properties, mechanical strength and surface finish.”
A remarkably strong glass-to-steel bond of greater than 14,500 psi is ultimately achieved, he reports. The company’s continuing improvements in substrate and coating materials, coating practices, vessel design, and vessel maintenance have eliminated concerns over the reliability and durability of glass linings and have extended the operating lifecycle of Glasteel equipment.
“The result is an exceptionally strong, reliable and affordable composite material with unmatched properties,” concludes Stella. “It provides significant advantages over other material options for reactors, storage vessels and other equipment used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.”
That’s only one of the reasons why Pfaudler is regarded as a pioneer as well as an industry leader in terms of quality, dependability, technology, innovation and market-based process solutions. But it’s not resting on its laurels. The company may be 125 years old, but it still possesses the vibrancy and enthusiasm of an ambitious and youthful enterprise. Its anniversary isn’t an occasion to reflect on the past. Rather, it’s an opportunity to envision the future with the fervor of a new business.