What is Specialty Manufacturing?

  • Specialty chemicals are manufactured on the basis of their performance or function. They can be single-chemical entities or formulations whose composition influences the performance and processing of the end product. Individual customer service to provide innovative technical solutions is an important component of the service provided by specialty chemical producers.

The process in which specialty chemicals are created is called batch processing:

  • A batch process is one in which a finite quantity of product is made during a period of a few hours or days. The batch process most often consists of introducing measured amounts of starting materials into a vessel followed by a series of unit operations (mixing, heating, reaction, distillation, etc.) taking place at discrete scheduled intervals. This is then followed by the removal and storage of the products, by-products, and waste streams. The equipment is then cleaned and made ready for the next process.

What is Specialty Manufacturing?Specialty chemical manufacturers produce organic chemicals that are used in thousands of products vital to consumers and U.S. industry. Specialty chemical manufacturing is sometimes referred to as custom or fine chemical manufacturing. The term specialty chemical is based on use and fine chemical is based on purity, yet they are both considered a part of specialty chemical manufacturing.

This unique niche in the chemical industry is innovative, entrepreneurial and consumer-driven. Specialty manufacturers make smaller quantities of chemicals that have specific performance applications.

In contrast to the production of commodity chemicals, specialty manufacturing requires that the raw materials, processes, operating conditions and equipment change on a regular basis to respond to the needs of customers.

Specialty vs. Commodity

How Specialty Chemicals Differ from Commodity Chemicals

Specialty chemicals differ from commodity chemicals in that each one may have only one or two uses, while commodities may have dozens of different applications for each chemical. While commodity chemicals make up most of the production volume (by weight) in the global marketplace, specialty chemicals make up most of the diversity (number of different chemicals) in commerce at any given time.

Commodity chemicals are typically produced in continuous processes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Specialty chemicals, because of their complex chemistries and narrowly focused applications, are frequently produced batch-by-batch in a reaction vessel. Since continuous processes employ continuous feeds and yields, the production volume is usually far greater, per chemical, than for batch processes. The main difference, however, is that a batch process is not necessarily automated, and the chemical reaction (which yields the desired product) has a distinct beginning and ending for each batch.


Photo Gallery


Manufacturing Processes

Chemical Manufacturing Methods: Batch vs. Continuous Processing

Chemicals are manufactured using one of two distinct methods: batch or continuous. A continuous operation requires a constant raw material feed to the process vessel and continual product withdrawal. A batch process, which is used by specialty chemical manufacturers, requires intermittent introduction of frequently changing raw materials, varying process conditions within the vessel, and different removal methods. In batch processing, vessels are often idle while waiting for raw materials or undergoing quality control checks and cleaning. Thus, emissions from batch processing are substantially different from those of continuously operating processes.

Read More


SOCMA and Specialty Manufacturing

The major concern of specialty chemical manufacturers in 1921 was the need for barriers to foreign manufacturers importing into the United States. Members of this specialized sector of the infant chemical industry felt that American companies had the knowledge and capacity to compete against these more well-established companies in countries like Germany that were dominating the U.S. market. Thus, they created a trade association – then the Synthetic Organic Chemicals Manufacturers Association – to advocate for their needs.

Read More

Ask the Expert

Patti Turcan, General Manager of Parchem fine & specialty chemicalsPatti Turcan, General Manager of Parchem fine & specialty chemicals

Q: 1. How or why did you become involved in the specialty chemical industry and how long have you been a part of the industry?

A: For many years I’ve been involved in the specialty chemical industry. My interest in the industry was prompted by the complexity of processes, operations and a multitude of organizations engaged in the manufacture of chemicals and their derivatives...

Legislative & Regulatory Issues

There are many legislative and regulatory issues facing the specialty chemical industry. The Miscellaneous Tariff Bill is the hottest industry issue.

Miscellaneous Tariff Bill

The Miscellaneous Tariff Bill expired December 31, 2012, and Congress has yet to act on this critical piece of trade legislation that is impacting SOCMA members and chemical manufacturers of all sizes across the country...

Industry News

U.S. Olympic luge team rides into history on Ashland resin

American Olympians zipping down the luge track in Sochi, making history with the country's first singles medal, were firmly planted on precision-built sleds made with a donation of Ashland AME™ resin. In a sport where tiny fractions of a second determine medalists, gaining an edge through innovation is huge and the effort barely paused for the Olympics.

Batch Processing Facts

  •   Process is a chemical reaction that takes place in a reactor (stainless steel, glass lined, etc.).
  •   Reactors range in size from kilogram-scale containers to units up to several hundred kilograms in size and are typically less than 16 feet high.
  •   Batch processing allows different products to be made in the same reactor or system.
  •   A batch producer can make more than 100 different chemicals in a given year.
  •   Batch processing is used when there is not enough product demand to make continuously.
  •   Batch processing is more practical and feasible for multi-step synthesis.
  •   Batch processing allows chemists to maximize the yield of a desired compound, which reduces waste.
  •   Batch processing can reduce overall process complexity.

By the Numbers

The following numbers represent the impact of SOCMA member companies on the specialty chemical sector.

  •    $24 billion – Total value of SOCMA member products and services.
  •   46,500 – Number of employees SOCMA members employ in the United States.
  •   93 and 192 – SOCMA members export to as few as 93 and as many as 192 countries.
  •   18% – Percentage of sales member companies generate through exports.
  •   $815,000 – Average expenditure of SOCMA members on meeting government regulations in 2010.

Click here to learn more about ChemAlliance.org!

Roll Call...


Specialty chemicals go into many different sectors...


Product Applications

Specialty chemicals go into many different sectors, including:

  •   Adhesives and pressure-sensitive tapes
  •   Automobiles
  •   Clothing and textiles
  •   Computers
  •   Cosmetics, soaps, personal hygiene products
  •   Crop protection
  •   Detergents and cleaners
  •   Electronics
  •   Flavors and fragrances
  •   Food Products
  •   Gasoline, tires and lubricants
  •   Inks, dyes and pigments
  •   Medicine
  •   Paints, varnishes, sealers, and other coatings
  •   Performance chemicals
  •   Petrochemicals
  •   Plastics

Specialty Chemicals

Specialty chemicals can be material additives that enhance performance, ingredients in a formulation or mixture or intermediates, which are compounds used to make other chemicals.



Why They’re Special

What’s Special about Specialty Chemicals?


Specialty chemicals:


  •   Are generally characterized by their innovative aspects.
  •   Are sold for what they can do rather than what they contain.
  •   Are relatively high valued, rapidly growing chemicals with diverse end product markets.
  •   Have unique characteristics with applications in a myriad of sectors.
  •   Have higher market growth rates and prices.

Specialty Businesses

Specialty Manufacturing Businesses


  •   Contract Manufacturing
    •     •  Batch producer makes a compound, under contract, for another chemical company

    •     •  Often done in small quantities
  •   Research & Development
    •     •  Specialize in specific type of chemistry and perform R&D for other companies
  •   Pilot and Development
    •     •  Test production methods and techniques on a small scale prior to commercialization
  •   Niche chemical market companies for small quantity chemicals

Industries Served

Curious about which industries SOCMA members serve?


Click here to find out!