Dan Harvey provides a 30,000-foot perspective of the soaring, successful operation.
In metaphoric terms, Chemetall Aerospace Technologies – the aerospace division of the much larger Chemetall organization – is like a plane piloted by an adventurous flyer who circumnavigates the world.
“We’re truly a global organization,” says Gregg Sanko, the division’s director of aerospace technology.
The division’s North American headquarters reside in New Providence, N.J., but it has offices throughout North America, Europe, China and Southeast Asia. These far-flung outposts are connected through a complex communications network that helps provide the aerospace division its characteristic synergy. “Resources can be shared, which helps us better address the needs of our customers,” comments Sanko.
Further, in Chemetall Aerospace Technologies’ flight across the world, the division has managed to steer through the recent storms that have buffeted businesses to and fro and even knocked some companies out of the sky. “Since we were established, we have consistently seen annual double-digit growth,” says Sanko. “We have weathered the recent economic storm, thanks to smart management and our best resources: products and people. We’ve stayed aloft without having to make any cutbacks or layoffs.”
PART OF A LARGE FLEET
The aerospace division is part of the larger Chemetall organization’s considerable fleet of business operations. Chemetall, a leading specialty chemicals supplier, demonstrates an encompassing focus that takes in surface treatment processes and selected areas of fine chemistry. Products for the global aviation industry are specified and approved by major aircraft manufacturers and aviation industry governing bodies. Indeed, the division and parent company are committed to the development and deployment of specialty chemistry products and processes.
Chemetall has been involved in the Aerospace industry since 1982. In 1999 Chemetall acquired Brent, which had significant involvement in the Aerospace industry, and Chemetall founded the Aerospace Technologies division for Europe and Asia to focus on this important market.
Chemetall’s dedicated NAFTA Aerospace group took flight in 2005, relates Sanko. “Chemetall recognized that the North American market for the aerospace industry had certain requirements uncommon to other industries,” he says. “As such, in 2005, it created the aerospace division that when combined with other global offices throughout the world, formed a unified supplier for the aerospace industry. Prior to 2005 in North America, the aerospace industry was called on by a general industry salesman. Now our dedicated sales force only works in the aerospace industry.”
Many of the products offered to the industry, he adds, are similar to Chemetall’s traditional surface treatment products—such as cleaners, conversion coatings, deoxidizers, among others—
but they have been modified for the aerospace industry specific needs. This involves scrutiny by an independent, third-party testing house, certifying that the products offered meet the rigorous aerospace specifications.
In addition, the division developed some unique technologies that broadened the parent company’s profile. “Applications unique to our industry include aircraft sealants, corrosion inhibiting compounds and temporary protective coatings, among others,” says Sanko.
The parent company, Chemetall GmbH, is headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany, and since August 2004, it has belonged to Rockwood Holdings Inc. The corporate headquarters provides a centerpiece to a global network that has grown to include about 40 subsidiaries located in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Australia and Africa. The major subsidiaries possess their own production facilities and development laboratories. With the decentralized nature of the overall organization, each local company is able to quickly respond to its market and customer needs. At the same time, each is able to draw upon the overall group’s resources. In this way Chemetall combines the strength of a global supplier with the flexibility and customer focus of a medium-size company. More than 2,700 employees strong, Chemetall has recorded sales above 714 million Euro in recent years.
The aerospace division didn’t arise from a vacuum. Rather it has an antecedent that dates back to the early 20th century and a company called Oakite® Products. “Oakite was established in 1909 as a cleaner company,” relates Sanko. “Through the years it expanded into different markets and in the early 1990s, Oakite was purchased by Chemetall.”
Throughout the Chemetall organization, product portfolios are based on continuous research and development, and this has led both company and customers into leading-edge technologies and high-performance offerings. Further, Chemetall’s DNA includes fervent dedication to customer service and support. In this way, through the decades, Chemetall has established excellent market position in all fields of activity – especially aerospace.
AIRFRAMES, ENGINES AND MRO
Chemetall’s aerospace division directs product and services to several industry elements and clients. “Our products help airframe manufactures, including companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier that assemble the aircraft,” explains Sanko. “We also offer products to engine manufactures such as Pratt and Whitney, Rolls Royce and GE Aircraft.”
When it comes to airframe, Chemetall has attained a market leading position for the supply of chemical products that find application in aircraft maintenance programs (from daily cleaning to complete aircraft overhaul). Specific product applications include general cleaning, exterior cleaning, paint carbon and oxide removal, temporary protective coating, conversion coating, corrosion inhibition and dewatering, gas path cleaning, non-destructive testing, cabin care, interior cleaning, sealants and sealant removers.
In the aero-engine area, Chemetall provides manufacturers with a comprehensive range of Oakite® and ARDROX® products. These were developed for use on a variety of high-strength alloys employed in the construction of the most sophisticated power units. In this area, Chemetall is a recognized expert when it comes to crack detection. It supplies a range of non-destructive testing products for detecting cracks in turbine blades and structural components.
ARDROX® and Oakite® products are used by commercial and military operators to clean and service aircraft on- and off-stand. As the company explains, high standards of cleanliness need to be maintained for both the interior and exterior of the aircraft to ensure safe and efficient operation of equipment, as well as to maintain passenger comfort.
“Further, within the aerospace industry is the MRO segment, or maintenance, repair and overhaul,” continues Sanko. “Once an aircraft has been assembled and placed in operation, certain service intervals need to be addressed. MRO companies provide that service and, in turn, we provide them the products that support their efforts.”
All of this points to a significant division differentiator. “We offer a much wider product assortment than similar companies,” says Sanko. “Some may just sell cleaners; others may just sell products such as paint strippers. But Chemetall’s aerospace division is special in that we can offer a client a product for nearly every application necessary to assemble or maintain an aircraft.”
Service has also separated Chemetall from the competition, he adds. “Along with providing a comprehensive product line, we strongly emphasize customer service,” he reveals. “That has been a theme that has run through the tough economic times. Many competitors found it necessary to cut back on the staff that serviced their businesses. Conversely, we haven’t needed to make that kind of sacrifice. Service has always been a cornerstone of the overall Chemetall organization, and that filtered down to the aerospace division. Our sales and technical support staff remains intact. Customers know that a human voice will always answer the phone, that we will provide the technical support and that we can provide the appropriate product that will effectively address any problem they encounter.”
The division’s business and R&D activities are headquartered in New Providence, N.J., in a facility that houses both Chemetall’s aerospace and general industries groups. Beyond New Jersey, the division has manufacturing facilities in La Mirada, Calif., Romulus, Mich., Jackson, Mich., and Queretaro, Mexico, reports Sanko.
The research and development for North America is conducted at the New Jersey site. “R&D has always been a major brick in the Chemetall’s foundation,” comments Sanko. “The organization includes more chemists and PhDs than the other companies that serve our industry. They help us develop the technology we require to support the industries and customers that we serve. The R&D headquarters in New Jersey, coupled with the R&D facilities in Frankfurt Germany, and the Chemetall Asian group located in Singapore, should position us as a technology leader for many years to come.”
So, when the company looks at milestones, it chooses not to focus on past points or a historic timeline; rather, it prefers thinking about upcoming milestones. “We are proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we look forward to what we hope to achieve in the coming months and years,” says Sanko. “In particular, we’re focusing on two product lines; one is our line of aircraft sealants that have been successfully sold in Europe and Asia for many years. This line of polysulfide-based material that provides the seal for the aircraft fuselage, as well as the fuel cells and wings is now being offered in North America. Chemetall is actively developing new materials in this fast growing area. It’s not necessarily something new, but it is something that we see having great potential.”
The other line involves products that Chemetall acquired though the recent acquisition of Nalco Finishing Technologies including coolants and lubricants for the machining of many types of metals. They’re enhancing Chemetall’s surface treatment product and service line for the processing of metals.
All products that find their way beneath the Chemetall umbrella – and especially those that enter into the aerospace division – are tested meticulously. “Products must meet the aerospace industry’s very stringent demands, and demonstrate consistent quality,” says Sanko, adding that such diligence is critical to the aerospace industry, as the industry understandably undergoes close scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory entities. “We are proud that our products pass the intense scrutiny and meet the requirements and that our batch-to-batch consistency is extremely high.”
Further, the division boasts a sales and technical staff roster comprised of experienced, perceptive individuals. “We hire people who know the industry and understand the needs of the key players,” says Sanko. “This keeps us on top of the market and, in turn, at the top of the industry.”
Individuals have at least 15 to 20 years experience. “That positions us to effectively address any customer issues that arise,” says Sanko.