Catalytic Combustion Corporation clears the air by helping clients comply with strict environmental regulations. Approaching its 60th birthday, the Wisconsin-headquartered enterprise started out by offering the first-ever U.S. patented catalyst to destroy volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. Today, it’s a diversified enterprise with a recent history of organizational growth and product-line expansion, Dan Harvey reports.
Though founded more than a half-century ago, Catalytic Combustion Corporation (CCC) really kicked it into high gear in the past 15 years.
The turbo-charged period began when the Bloomer, Wisc.-based organization, a leading supplier of systems, processes and products that target volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants, gained its present independent ownership structure. That development provided the catalyst for diversification, product line expansion and, in turn, formation of focused divisions. Ensuing success and growth soon accelerated at a steady pace. In the past two years, it transitioned some of its resources and capabilities into a new direction (alternative energy) to continue its growth and expansion. This year, the company is moving production operations into a larger facility.
RUFF AND READY
However, CCC proved an innovative and influential force right from the start. In 1950, the company’s perceptive and enterprising founders (brothers Norbert and Richard Ruff and partner Russ Suter) recognized the growing need for air pollution control and envisioned a solution through catalysts, which accelerate chemical reactions. Transitioning the vision into practical application, they developed the first-ever U.S. patented catalyst to destroy VOCs.
As it moved forward, CCC expanded into the design and supply of catalytic oxidizers and thermal oxidizers. Oxidizers eliminate VOCs by converting them into products of combustion. Compared to other oxidation technologies, catalytic oxidizers offer high-destruction efficiencies at lower operating cost and using less supplemental energy, the company explains. CCC eventually developed, manufactured and packaged major system components (heat exchangers, burner systems, catalysts, control systems, etc.) into efficient skid-mounted modules.
Today, these technologies find application in a range of industries and products. But that’s not all the company does.
During the first half of its existence, the company was purchased and operated by larger corporations. “However, in 1984, the company became a private business once again, and when it was purchased by the current owners we really started diversifying,” says CCC’s Technical Director Craig Arendt. “We still made catalysts. That’s what we were founded on, and that’s what we’ve done through our entire history. But we diversified into the broader air pollution control industry. Among other activities, we started making environmental equipment to clean up gasoline spills and other problems.”
As the company expanded deeper into the air correction/air pollution control industry, it began making larger equipment to control exhaust streams from industrial processes such paint manufacturing, printing, and production line spray, adds Arendt. The company now has a whole range of air correction products that span from compact catalytic oxidizers that can economically treat on the order of 100 standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM) fume streams to zeolite concentrator systems that can efficiently treat fume streams on the order of hundreds of thousands of SCFM.
Now a truly diversified operation, CCC includes four major product divisions: appliance, catalyst, industrial and environmental. The core engineering group and technical service group that support these product divisions also both continue to expand to provide support for independently contracted external projects. In addition, in recent years, the company became increasingly involved in the alternative energy industry, thanks to available resources both human and technical. “Our resources, as well as the equipment we make, has a lot to do with thermochemical processing,” explains Arendt. “Because of that, we’ve been getting involved in more and more alternative energy related projects that require similar thermo-chemical techniques.”
CCC possesses a highly skilled, multi-disciplinary engineering staff that includes mechanical, chemical, industrial and electrical engineers. Further, the company deploys cutting-edge tools such as SolidWorks 3D parametric modeling and AutoCAD.
“Because our resources tend to overlap, we were asked by several clients to design, build and prototype alternative energy-related equipment and to experiment with different processing methods,” relates Arendt, “for instance, thermochemical treatment for processing biomass, such as gasification, pyrolysis, and torrefaction.”
APPLYING RESOURCES TO APPLIANCES
Such customer-oriented innovation assumes a central spot in the company’s heritage. For instance, in the 1960s, a supplier to the largest household range manufacturer asked CCC if it was possible for a catalyst to control the smoke and odors arising from a self-cleaning oven. In response, CCC came up with a viable solution and subsequently produced millions of pieces for the specific application. This seminal event helped establish the company’s appliance division.
Today, that division supports the appliance industry by specializing in the design, testing and manufacturing of custom catalysts, vent assemblies and other metal components for large and small products manufactured by major appliance companies. The division’s major focus is providing precious metal catalysts supported on various ceramic and metal substrates for smoke and odor control.
Division services include complete engineering and 3-D modeling support in the design and prototype manufacturing of new components; tube bending and forming capabilities for metal components; performance testing of the catalyst in ovens to validate performance and optimize the catalyst selection process; and a quality control and documentation program that ensures superior products and on-time deliveries.
Similar expansion occurred in the catalyst division, which now offers a versatile portfolio of precious metal-based catalyst products developed, manufactured and supplied to food service, stationary engine, wire enamel, remediation and air pollution control customers. CCC also develops custom catalysts for special applications like fuel cells and nuclear power recombination of hydrogen gas.
Some specific applications include high-speed residential and commercial ovens and charbroilers, catalytic converters for after-treatment on commercial and retail coffee roasters, VOC and NOx reduction for stationary natural gas compression engines, VOC control and energy recovery in wire enamel ovens, catalytic converters to control ozone in commercial aircraft cabins, catalysts for hand tools fueled by butane (such cordless soldering irons), and VOC reduction in the environmental remediation industry.
CCC’s environmental division develops, manufactures and tests standard and custom thermal and catalytic oxidizer systems for site remediation. Both types are skid-mounted to minimize field installation. Applications include soil vapor extraction, dual-phase and multiphase extraction, groundwater pump and treat, and air stripper projects. Contaminants most often targeted include BTEX, MTBE and TBA. The catalytic oxidizers can be electric heated or fuel-gas fired. The thermal oxidizers are fired on either natural gas or propane. The division also custom designs systems for high-concentration sites and situations (such as rapid-response events and pipeline projects). The CCC Flame-Ox allows quick site clean up with its ability to process very high VOC concentration fume streams. As the site is cleaned the Flame-Ox units maintain efficiency by quick conversion to operate as a thermal oxidizer and then a catalytic oxidizer as the VOC concentrations drop. This division also builds oxidizers and scrubber systems for chlorinated/fluorinated contaminants and maintains a rental fleet for shorter duration projects.
The company’s industrial division designs, assembles, installs, starts up and services major air pollution control systems such as regenerative thermal oxidizers and zeolite wheel rotary concentrators for a wide variety of industrial applications.
Now, the company is looking to develop a new division for the alternative energy industry. “Our resources fit well into that industry, and we have already taken on an increasing number of projects,” reports Arendt.
Throughout the years, CCC has relied upon developing new products and product applications based upon the continuously advancing best available technologies to maintain its growth rate. “Our growth has all been organic, based on the new projects as well as the new products that we have been developing for each of our existing operating divisions,” says Arendt.
NEW FACILITY CONSTRUCTION
Currently, CCC runs two manufacturing facilities, but they will soon be expanding their capabilities. The company plans to move its general fabrication and industrial scale manufacturing operations into a custom designed 30,000-square-foot facility. Construction began in Spring 2009, and CCC hopes to relocate to the new location late this summer. Like the existing facilities, it is located in Bloomer, site of the company headquarters.
“Construction is part of our continuous improvement efforts for the company and its processes,” says Arendt. “As far as processes, we are always learning and implementing lean manufacturing techniques such as 5S and Six Sigma. We also exercise quality control throughout the entire business, as we make everything from the smallest components for customers in the appliance and foodservice industries to the large equipment for industrial clients. We’ve developed a uniformity of quality from customer to customer, project to project, division to division and product to product.”
In this way, CCC takes the quality management mentality to a higher level, comments Arendt. Quality needs to be applied to the custom projects that involve large equipment, the same way it needs to be applied to the repetitive manufacture of smaller products, he points out. “That’s what sets us apart when it comes to the large custom projects. Some companies don’t always follow through with the same quality control applied by businesses that make millions of the same type of product each year.”
In addition, CCC helps companies assemble as well as commercialize new products, especially the smaller businesses that come up with new ideas but don’t have the necessary resources. That’s what it has been doing in the alternative energy field, a sector that CCC feels has the potential to represent its largest growth area in the next five years. In the meantime, from division to division, CCC will provide all customers with the expertise and technology necessary to meet regulatory requirements for capture and destruction of VOCs. In the process, CCC is helping to make the world’s most precious, vital resource – the air that we breathe – cleaner and safer.