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Much has changed and progressed since then, as the company has evolved and built upon its continued success through both a respect for tradition and an emphasis on innovation to become a world leader in metalworking fluids. Chuck Faulkner – Market Development Manager, Hank Limper – Technical Program Manager, John Burke – Director Engineering, R&T, Dave Slinkman – Vice President R&T, Neil Winterbottom – Director Operations FLUIDCARE™, and Dianne Carmody – Director Marketing Americas of the company all come together to talk about the historical progression of Houghton International, the various industry-changing elements they have brought to a number of different markets over the years, and why their dynamic business approach has them poised for an even stronger future. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Houghton International initially launched its business in the 19th century with the release of its Cosmoline® rust preventive, a product that was unprecedented at the time. “Our development of Cosmoline really served as one of the foundational blocks of our business,” Limper says, adding, “it became a reference point going forward and allowed us to expand into a wider range of products through its performance and popularity.”
Limper says that when he looks back at the history of Houghton, he can point to three “chapters” that serve as cornerstones of the company’s journey and its overall identity today. “The development of Cosmoline certainly serves as the first one, and its success led to a deep, ongoing relationship with the US Government,” he says, adding, “fast forward to the 1950s, we found ourselves again in contact with them, and the nature of the job led to what I see as the second major chapter in Houghton’s history.”
He says that the U.S. Government came to Houghton in 1954 in response to accidental explosions and fires that were occurring onboard aircraft carriers after World War II, as upgraded catapult systems were being implemented and tested. The most serious of these disasters was on the USS Bennington claiming over 100 lives. “These ‘peacetime’ fires were being ignited as a result of flammable mineral oil hydraulic fluids and hydraulic systems, and the U.S. Navy came to Houghton to see if we could develop a solution for a grave problem that resulted in tragic loss of life,” Limper says, adding, “in short order, Houghton was able to develop a fire-resistant hydraulic fluid, and through its success, it soon spread and was adopted throughout the U.S. Fleet.”
Houghton’s success with the military soon became known by a broader audience, and all of a sudden the same fluids they had designed and manufactured specifically for the federal government, were then being demanded by industrial businesses in the private sector. “We received an influx of orders from steel mills to food processing plants, where hydraulic-related systems were in heavy use, and the risk of fire could mean endangering their employees and lead to significant loss of human life, production and profit as a result,” says Faulkner.
Houghton’s solicited and successful entry into the private sector proved to be instrumental in providing them with a dynamic market for what would become a dynamic line of products. A big issue in the 1960s through 1990s, across major industries including automotive, aerospace, fabricated metal goods and others was the rapid deterioration or ‘souring’ of metalworking fluids, causing them to be dumped and recharged at an excessive rate and a high cost. “It resulted in a lot of waste being generated by these factories and creating a situation that neither the company nor the surrounding community desired,” says Slinkman, adding, “so basically what you had were metalworking fluids that had to be supplemented with significant amounts of ‘sump-side’ additives designed to prevent growth of various microorganisms including fungi and bacteria, and when these fluids were no longer effective, they were being disposed of at significant rates, resulting in a potentially harmful situation to the environment that was also very costly.”
And so the third chapter was written in Houghton International’s history, when they developed revolutionary technology to produce metalworking fluids that minimized or eliminated the need for sump-side additives. “We created a more independent fluid that didn’t have to rely on additives, lasted dramatically longer and provided an odor free operation. The result was our company quickly became recognized for our leading edge biostable technology allowing us to expand our business into a number of other countries, and leading to what today is a Global leader in metalworking fluids.”
More recently, Houghton has continued its momentum, acquiring D.A. Stuart, a leading provider of specialty chemicals and related services used in metalworking applications, in 2008, giving the company an established presence in India and expanding its steel industry business. 2011 was a busy year as well, as the company acquired Royal Dutch Shell’s MWO business, whose product portfolio strengthened Houghton’s geographic footprint with its 3 additional European facilities and gave them a deep-rooted presence in southeast Asia. This year, the company acquired Henkel’s North American Steel Mill business, including an expanded product line and vital resources in sales, technology and business development to serve existing and new customers in the steel industry.
Through all these strategic acquisitions and expansions, Houghton International represents a company that is deep in both its historical roots and its impact and influence it has on the global marketplace today.
The breakthrough product line is known as the Hocut 795 series metal removal fluids and through its twelve different variations, serves as the company’s flagship solution for industries ranging from automotive to aerospace to fabricated metal goods. Slinkman says that the product’s effectiveness is a direct result from the investments the company puts into its research and development efforts. “We consider research and development as an extremely important area that contributes significantly to our overall identity,” he says, adding, “Our investment into the sciences, an intimate partnership with our customers, and a deep understanding of the overall processes of each industry is really what sets Houghton apart.”
This differentiated value proposition is displayed further in their recent patenting of an aluminum acid etching technology prior to anodizing, a finishing method Slinkman says that unlike alkaline etching, produces a superior matte finish while significantly reducing aluminum removal and sludge waste. “It’s a much more efficient process that enables our customers to put a final finish on aluminum extrusions used in architectural aluminum, producing higher quality and significantly improved aesthetics,” he says, adding, “We see ourselves continuing to successfully convert customers away from older, caustic-based technologies because of the reduced waste, improved quality and increased operational efficiencies in this process.”
While efficiency is key, safety is held in even higher regard at Houghton, when designing their products. “The nature of our industry is that regulations surrounding the use of raw materials that can or cannot be used get tighter each year,” Slinkman says, adding, “We continuously work with our product stewardship group to ensure Houghton’s new product developments deliver offerings that are renewable and sustainable from an environmental health and safety standpoint.”
Non-ferrous and Zirconium Phosphate-based technology are also part of Houghton’s expansive line of products. Recently, the company developed a cutting-edge fluid technology known as NOA™ (Non Oleic Acid). The chemistry of the product is unprecedented in that it is the first aluminum hot rolling lubricant that is not oleic-based, while still maintaining and even surpassing the performance of the standard rolling lubricant technologies available in the market, eliminating the negative impact of metallic soap generation.
With respect to Zirconium Phosphate, Houghton brings a technology to the market place that challenges the presence of traditional iron phosphate by offering significant savings for companies in a number of areas, including energy requirements, environmental impact, water usage, operational efficiency, and waste generation. “Our surface finishing capabilities take a solution-driven approach comprised of world-class products and services that gives our customers an overall competitive advantage,” Slinkman says, adding, “we pride ourselves on innovation and product development, and have developed an application expertise that we believe is unmatched.”
The application expertise Slinkman discusses has allowed Houghton to not only bring industry-leading products to their customers, but also cutting-edge service in areas such as waste-treatment and recycling system design. “Twenty years ago, many companies had staff in-house to handle these needs,” Burke says, adding, “nowadays, as companies have become leaner, they don’t have these resources anymore and what we do is come in and fill the void, taking them through every step from start to finish in a number of programs.”
He says that Houghton is the only metalworking fluid company in the world that offers recycling design and waste treatment. Most of this work is done through Houghton’s chemical management service, FLUIDCARE™. Winterbottom says they “conduct a comprehensive audit of the customer’s metal working and manufacturing processes, including an evaluation of their value streams, EHS and operational processes in relation to their fluid management requirements. Through our FLUIDCARE group we are able to implement operational improvements providing both cost savings and environmental benefits and provide our customers with the necessary service, where a customer may lack the appropriate in-housepersonnel or expertise.”
One recent example, was when one of the largest automotive companies in the world solicited Houghton’s waste treatment services a few years ago, needing a ‘one size fits all’ solution for their vast number of global sites. “I was put onto a team with five other of the customer’s employees, and we met many times to design a system that would recycle and reuse the water being used at each plant,” Burke says, continuing, “there were a lot of variables to consider with regards to differing international standards at each site, but we were able to work together and develop a total recycle design system of zero discharge that could be applied to each of their metalworking facilities.”
The system has the potential to be highly successful for their partner, and when the customer recently rolled out their annual innovation awards, Burke and Houghton International received top recognition. “We were the only outside company with representatives nominated for the award in innovation, which was an aggregate competition amongst the company’s global workforce,” Burke says, adding, “to not only be nominated but then to actually win the award from a company as prestigious as it is, I think it speaks a lot towards the talent, dedication, and environmental adaptability that is present here at Houghton.”
And that’s really what Houghton sets out to do in each of the partnerships it enters into with its customers. “The ability to establish deep-seeded relationships with our customers and bring them capabilities they otherwise wouldn’t have access to is what really drives us forward as a company,” Carmody says, “whether it’s through our high performing products and services, the applications expertise of our personnel, our global reach, or a combination of all three, we know that we are bringing solutions and services of high value to our customers that go beyond what a standard chemical supplier brings to the marketplace.”
It’s a confident feeling for companies when they can come in and bring the best product and services to the table, and Houghton International is a company that not only has traditionally done that in the past, but looks to continue to do so for many years to come.