Acheson Industries has grown into one of the world’s top manufacturers of coatings, dispersions and lubricants. David Gill describes its distinctive customer service, which has helped underscore the “special” in the company’s specialty chemical products.
Acheson Industries was founded by one of the great inventors in American history, Dr. Edward Goodrich Acheson — and remains one of the most innovative firms in U.S. industry. National Starch and Chemical Company, a leading supplier of specialty chemicals, purchased Acheson in 1998. Today, the company is a unique blend of an entrepreneurial inventor’s family-run business and a customer-driven multinational specialty chemical company. This combination brings added value to Acheson’s customers.
Acheson has possessed a strong culture of innovation since it was founded by Dr. Acheson as The Acheson Oildag Company in 1908. Dr. Acheson was more than an entrepreneur. He established himself as one of U.S. industry’s true pioneers with his invention of both carborundum and the process to manufacture synthetic graphite. Dr. Acheson logged more than 70 patents during his lifetime. He also founded both The Carborundum Corporation, currently part of Saint-Gobain, and The International Acheson Graphite Company, which he sold to Union Carbide Corporation in 1928.
Acheson is now part of National Starch and Chemical’s Engineering and Electronic Materials group, and is itself organized into three business groups. The Process Lubricants group manufacturers and markets chemicals for castings, robotic sprayers, forging and industrial additives. The Electronic Materials group produces inks and coatings for use in circuit materials, shielding for electromagnetic interference and cathode ray tubes, and specialty electrical coatings for battery applications. The Automotive and Specialty Coatings group produces both coatings designed to provide anti-squeak and anti-friction properties regardless of temperature extremes, weight or frequency of use; and dry film lubricants which provide lifelong lubrication.
Acheson’s global headquarters are in Port Huron, Mich. The company has operations in nearly every corner of the globe. Jim Wise, business director for North America, says, “The headquarters includes the global marketing and research and development sectors, but we’re regionally oriented in regard to the management of these offices and the service we provide. The technical, sales, marketing and customer service are all managed locally to meet the specific needs of our customers. Global development and research combined with local service and support drives our success.”
This regional orientation is crucial in regard to Acheson’s customer service. “Our support includes being on site with the customer, working with them to help them with their processes,” says Wise. “We’re with them at the beginning of their product development efforts. Customers know that they can come to us and say, ‘We want to make something. How do we do this?’ We bring our insights to the customer in all areas of their product and process development.”
New Steps Ahead
Two examples of Acheson’s understanding and response to the needs of its customers and the industry are found in the company’s development of Die Management Technology (DMT) for metal forging, and the development of Deltacast Liquid Powder (DCLP) for metal casting.
The lubricant in metal forging serves two purposes. Primarily it lubricates the dies; but it also serves a secondary function to cool the die as part of thermal management. This cooling extends the life of the expensive dies and increases overall product quality.
The typical methods of applying the lubricant range from flooding to spraying. “Acheson has consistently developed spray technology to improve the application of the lubricant,“ says Wise. “But DMT goes a step beyond simple application improvements that Acheson brought to the industry in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.” DMT is a total concept incorporating the lubricant, the sprayware, the application robot and the delivery system. In this process, lubricant application is separated from thermal management to provide efficiency, cost reduction and product quality improvement.
DCLP is a revolutionary new concept to the casting industry. As with DMT, DCLP involves the separation of thermal management from part release. By applying the 100 percent active process chemical strategically upon the die, DCLP allows for improved product quality, elimination of costly wastewater treatment and the reduction in the amount of the chemical. “Product quality is a key attribute,” says Wise. “Lower porosity in the parts made with DCLP provides added strength, which is critical in safety parts for automotive and aerospace applications.”
Strong People, Strong Communities
Acheson’s products are not only used in the manufacture of metal cast and forged automotive parts and engines, but also in the manufacture of electronic medical devices, displays, security devices such as smart cards, telecommunications and a myriad of other applications. Acheson’s customer base is so broad that “our coatings are on nearly every product you see,” says Christine Haas, the company’s business services manager. “Because of our focused customer service and dedicated technical support, we are looked to by our customers as an informed partner, aware of their needs and able to create innovative solutions.”
The “we” in Haas’ statement has an added significance because of the company’s philosophy that each employee has a vital role in driving Acheson’s business forward. Wise says, “We develop our people because they create our value. We focus our training in various areas, including communication with our customers. Our employees listen to understand our customers’ real needs and provide solutions addressing the value our customers seek. This is key to everything we do.”
The Acheson people are important in other ways. “We’re good neighbors,” says Haas. “Acheson has always participated in many charitable organizations such as the United Way and the Red Cross, and we make contributions supporting a variety of community events and services through the National Starch and Chemical Company foundation.
As part of National Starch and Chemical, Acheson has elevated worker safety as a vital goal of the company. “The safety and health of our people and environmental responsibility has first priority at Acheson and must take precedence over the attainment of all other business objectives,” Wise says. “We stress safety awareness, which is the first step to creating a safe culture. No meeting starts at Acheson without a safety tip. We’ve implemented significant training programs for our employees stressing safe behavior not only for their jobs, but for their homes and the environment around them.”
The core to Acheson’s safe culture is the belief that every accident and injury is preventable. “When an incident occurs, we investigate the root cause to determine the unsafe condition and implement corrective actions and behaviors,” Wise says. “As a chemical company, we handle a variety of materials and employ unique equipment. But with awareness, training and commitment, every job can be performed safely. Significant improvement driven by employee awareness and dedication has led to our first year without a lost-time time case,” says Wise.
“Our improvements in safety are typical Acheson,” says Haas. “Our history is filled with small improvements to products and processes that have had huge impacts on our industries, our markets and our customers.”