Chemetall is the only global manufacturer that specializes in the development and implementation of customized technologies and system solutions for metal surfaces treatment used in a wide range of industries. David Soyka reports on how this unique company executes its guiding IDEA—Innovation, Dedication, Environment and Assets.
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Every company has at least one big idea behind it—the Chemetall Group has an IDEA that drives its unique global focus on chemical treatments and services for metal surfaces. The IDEA is that Innovation, Dedication, Environment and Assets provide the framework for the worldwide development and supply chain execution of custom technologies and applications that solve customer needs, sometimes even before customers recognize the needs even exist.
“Our business activities are based in a tradition of chemical treatment innovation that dates back to the 19th century, when we were part of Metallgesellschaft AG, formerly one of Germany’s largest conglomerates,” notes Julia Murray, vice president of global marketing and communications. “In 1982, Chemetall was spun off as a separate company. At the beginning of this year, specialty chemicals producer and supplier Albemarle Corporation acquired Chemetall as part of its merger with our former holding company, Rockwood Holdings.“
“The Chemetall IDEA underpins our ability to provide value-added product with top quality products delivered on-time, supported by high-level technical services in close cooperation with customers worldwide across a range of industries,” notes Hendrick Becker, global aerospace manager. “The IDEA philosophy permeates our processes to provide innovative products, developed and delivered by dedicated experts, with a concern for sustainability and environmental impact, supported by our assets, which are both the physical facilities and the people that make our company successful.”
One example of IDEA in action is Chemetall’s state-of-the art surface treatment facility in Blackman Township, Mich., a $25 million investment that opened in 2012. Located on 40 acres, the plant’s 200,000 square feet houses administrative, manufacturing and warehouse operations, as well as a physical test lab. Almost a hundred thousand different product mixes are produced here, representing 120 million pounds of chemical surface treatment, metal fabrication, cleaning and sanitizing applications, notes Greg Sanko, director of North American aerospace operations.
“We’ve introduced a number of innovations, both in terms of our processes such as implementing continuous manufacturing and top-of-the-line automation that include bulk material handling systems, mixing vessels and packaging lines to increase productivity as well as improve product yield. In addition, we’re making use of the latest test lab technology to continually improve and perfect our products,” Sanko says. “It shows our dedication to further expand our surface treatment business in the NAFTA region as well as our commitment to the environment. An example is a semi-automated waste treatment system that reduces process waste by 90 percent. Chemetall made a considerable cash investment in this asset, which allows us to better serve our equally important assets—our customers, our employees and our communities where we all live and work.”
German-based, International Footprint
Headquartered in Frankfort, Germany, with Americas operations based in New Providence, New Jersey, Chemetall employs over 2500 worldwide, maintaining 22 production facilities and more than 40 branch offices. 2014 sales totaled $826 million. While a number of companies provide surface treatment products, Chemetall is the only company that focuses exclusively on the chemical treatment of metal surfaces on a global scale.
Chemtall offers more than 1500 specialized and branded products and service used in more than 30 industries, including aerospace, automotive, agricultural, general industry, metal fabrication, pharmaceuticals and transportation, for both OEMs and end-user customers. The company holds more than 1200 patent and patent applications in the field of surface treatment. It offers 24 trademarked brands in a variety of product groups that include activation, cleaners, corrosion protection, lubricants, metalworking fluids, paint strippers, penetrant testing, anodizing, conversion coatings, corrosion protection primers, magnetic particle testing, pain detackification, passivation and sealants. Chemetall also provides the equipment necessary to apply these various chemical treatments properly and efficiently.
“We want customers to see us as their one-stop supplier for all their chemical surface treatment needs,” Becker says. “We have off-the-shelf products and we design custom solutions, but what we particularly pride ourselves on is our ability to stay ahead of the curve, to develop new technologies before our customers even realize they have a need for them.”
Under the Blacklight
An example of a new innovative product that sets the industry benchmark even higher is a Ardrox® formulation developed for the new Airbus A-350, building on a product line that was first introduced in 1946. “This is an anticorrosion treatment applied like a wax. Because it is only 30 to 50 microns thick, it’s barely visible so it’s very easy to miss spots in applying it. We added an AV characteristic so that under black light shades of green and blue appear so you can see exactly what parts of the surface are adequately treated and what parts aren’t.”
Sanko adds that this AV characteristic is a value-add for maintenance as well as new aircraft construction. “When an airplane is undergoing maintenance overhaul, all the seats are removed,” he explains. “That also removes the anti-corrosion surface treatment, which has to be reapplied. The ability to see what’s covered and what isn’t under black light makes that process easier, more efficient and more effective.”
Becker adds, “This was developed for a specific aerospace application. However, we always look to how we can take an application in one industry and apply to others to further strengthen and diversify our product portfolio.”
Pillars of Success
Such R&D innovation is one of three pillars of success, Becker notes. “We are looking five to ten years out to anticipate what our customers will need. We do this in open collaboration with our customers and suppliers, as well with our employees. We’re always open to new ideas and fresh approaches.”
Equally important, he adds, are the other two pillars of success. “Another pillar is organic growth, partnering with our customers to fulfill their needs. The third is new acquisitions to expand our product portfolio and capabilities.” Most recently, Chemetall acquired the aluminum finishing business of Chemal GmbH & Co. In 2014 it extended its glass business by acquiring the glass protection products of SaberPack, Inc. and integrated the special glass chemical materials operations of a wholly-owned subsidiary, Aachener Chemische Werke, as a division of Chemetall.
“We’re optimistic about the future,” Becker says. “We expect significant growth over the next few years, and continue to make targeted investment in our business to keep up with the pace of growth and maintain us as a technological world market leader. Which, really, is what Chemetall has been since it’s founding in 1889.”
With a lot of history behind it, Chemetall aims to continue to make even more history.