By Jenny Gaines, Manager, Public Relations & Media
Smoke grenades have multiple roles on the battlefield, from providing soldiers with cover while in combat and signaling landing zones, to identifying friendly troops and isolating the location of enemy targets. When it comes to creating the color dyes for these important military tools, the U.S. government turns to Nation Ford Chemical’s expertise.
For more than a decade, Nation Ford Chemical (NFC), a custom manufacturer of specialty organic chemicals located in Fort Mill, S.C., has been the only domestic supplier of four color dyes – yellow, green, red and violet – used in smoke grenades for the U.S. Army, according to NFC President Jay Dickson.
The process in which specialty chemicals are created is called batch processing:
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 chemical manufacturers can be tollers, custom chemical producers, and/or proprietary chemical producers. Whether a company operates in the specialty or fine sector, it may play in one, two or all three arenas. Specialty chemical manufacturers may serve a downstream customer, which is either a formulator* (blends materials together, but there is no chemical reaction) or another chemical manufacture (doing a reaction). Some may also operate formulating businesses as well as reaction processing.
*An example of a formulator is an adhesives company that blends various raw materials (ingredients) together into a mixture, packaged, and sold to a big-box retailer such as Walmart.
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.
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.
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.
Keith Terhune, Vice President, Supply Chain, Chemicals and Industrial Services, Baker Hughes
Q: How or why did you become involved in the specialty chemical industry and how long have you been a part of the industry?
A: I have been in the chemical industry for about 26 years. While growing up in rural Arkansas, the Eastman Kodak Company purchased about 2,500 acres of prime farmland along the White River near my hometown and proceeded to build a green field facility focused on photographic chemicals and the specialty chemical market. That development brought an influx of chemists and chemical engineers into our community as role models and opened my eyes to opportunities in chemical manufacturing...
There are many legislative and regulatory issues facing the specialty chemical industry. But in 2015, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform and trade policy have been among the top industry issues before lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Toxic Substances Control Act Reform
After the swift passage of the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (HR 2576) by the House in a 398-1 vote in late June, all eyes turned to the Senate, anticipating a floor vote to be scheduled on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697)...
Ashland's Derakane™ Momentum wins 2015 Ringier Technology Innovation Award
Epoxy vinyl ester resin helps China power plants deal with extreme corrosive challenges
Shanghai, China - As China's coal-burning power plants work to reduce emissions through improvements to the flue gas desulphurization (FGD) process, a growing number are looking to Derakane Momentum epoxy vinyl ester resin to combat the effects of corrosion...
The following numbers represent the impact of SOCMA member companies on the specialty chemical sector.
HPLC, High performance Liquid Chromatography – a way to tell purity of non-volatile materials, a technique used in analytical chemistry to separate compounds in a mixture. It is used in the medical industry detecting vitamins in blood samples, separating synthetic chemicals from each other.
Specialty chemicals go into many different sectors, including:
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.
What’s Special about Specialty Chemicals?
Specialty Manufacturing Businesses
Curious about which industries SOCMA members serve?