Set up in the UK in 1990 as Master Chemical UK, Master Chemical Europe, as it became, is a subsidiary of Master Chemical Corp, headquartered in Perrysburg, Ohio, and founded by Clyde A Sluhan in 1951, a chemist with engineering industry experience. Master Chemical Corp remains a family-owned company.
Master Chemical Corporation's first and all subsequent products have been called TRIM, with the product brand name intended to convey a message about the product – efficient, cost-effective and for cutting (trimming) metal. Its product range takes in neat oils, synthetics (0 per cent oil content), semi-synthetic (5 up to 40 per cent oil by weight), and emulsions (above 40 per cent oil content).
Up to 1990, Europe had been satisfied via distribution, but Master Chemical UK was set up to grow the UK market. It became Master Chemical Europe in 1993, overseeing European distribution, which at that time was also underdeveloped. Today, located in Needham Market, Suffolk, the UK firm's reach extends to Russia, Turkey, Israel and South Africa, plus the countries of mainland Europe in between.
MADE IN THE UK
As Master Chemical Europe technical manager Peter Blenkinsop, who heads up local R&D and who joined the company in 1996, explains; today the UK-based operation formulates and manufactures in the UK and Italy some 95 per cent of all products supplied into Europe, with 95 per cent of that accounted for by 20-25 active products. Some UK product formulations are adopted by the US, or even China, with actual manufacture undertaken in those two countries, where Master Chemical has its own manufacturing plants.
Image: Master Chemical's Needam Market-based R&D facility
"We had to start manufacturing in Europe, not only because of the volume we were importing, but because of legislation. This was and continues to be different in Europe, so we commenced R&D here in about 2000 and started making our first product for the European market in 2001."
Master Chemical has R&D operations in the UK, US and China, and these share information about products.
Its R&D strength has helped it respond to European legislation and regulation, and, with the most recent development, this will again stand it in good stead. "Since I joined the company , there have been significant changes in regulations, when comparing us to the US. We were quite close at that time, but now we are somewhat different and are developing in slightly different directions."
The pressure has been on the elimination of certain chemicals from coolants. Chlorinated paraffins were the first to be attacked, followed by formaldehyde donors and, in June this year, boric acid.
However, even within Europe, the reaction on a country-by-country basis is different. "The UK is behind mainland Europe in adopting trends. For example, people started becoming aware of chlorinated paraffin in the 1990s and started to request chlorine-free products. In France, Germany or Scandinavia, for example, very few end users will use chlorinated products, but it is not the same in the UK, where there is less awareness."
Chlorinated paraffins are used in extreme pressure formulations; they are easy to work with, don't smell (like sulphur) and are cost effective. Short chain chlorinated paraffins, classified as category 3 carcinogens (R40) and as dangerous for the environment (R50/53), haven't been used for some time, says Mr Blenkinsop. Medium chain types are also now listed as a substance of environmental concern. Master Chemical Europe itself only uses "acceptable" long chain chlorinated paraffins in some extreme pressure formulations, but expects these to become listed in the coming years.
ALTERNATIVES, AT A PRICE
Formaldehyde donor biocides were next to come under attack, on the basis that certain studies had shown a cancer risk with formaldehyde (see Machinery website
). France, for example, has its own legislation about formaldehyde, but formaldehyde donor biocides, used to control bacteria growth, don't contain free formaldehyde, Mr Blenkinsop underlines, adding "but they are tarred with the same brush". The argument is too complex to try to get over, it is suggested, so coolants without formaldehyde donors are offered by Master Chemical instead.
And now, as of June this year, boric acid has been added to the REACH list of "substances of very high concern", categorised as a CMR - carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction (see here
). In coolants, boric acid is typically reacted with other chemicals to produce a corrosion inhibitor. As with the formaldehyde argument, free boric acid does not normally occur in metalworking fluids. The Independent Union of the European Lubricants Industry issued a position paper on this subject
And, since free boric acid is not employed, it is, says Mr Blenkinsop, a moot point whether suppliers of coolant using reacted boric acid will have to label their products as having boric acid in it. Once again, Master Chemical Europe has coolant formulations that are boric acid-free, so is ahead of the game.
Image: Formulating new coolants is a challenge Master Chemical has set itself up to master. Others are not in the same position, says the company
Existing customers are already requesting information from Master Chemical Europe on the latest addition to the REACH substances of very high concern list, specifically a German automotive company. In this case, it is being supplied with a product that does not employ boric acid, reacted or otherwise, to inhibit corrosion in the formulation.
This most recent change is, suggests Mr Blenkinsop, the most significant of the lot. "To many coolant manufacturers, boric acid is more fundamental than either chlorinated paraffins or formaldehyde donor biocides. Reacted boric acid is a good corrosion inhibitor, but boron also inhibits bacteria growth. In aqueous product, one of the main concerns is control of bacteria growth. Over the past 20 years, more and more coolant suppliers have employed reacted boric acid as a biostatic agent to help control bacterial growth. It is also one of the cheapest materials that we, as coolant formulators, can use, apart from water, so having this key material restricted or banned in the future will be problematic."
Again, this means that users must be informed that the substance is in the product, together with its risk factors, while, over time, its use will become more heavily regulated and will be increasingly avoided by end users, as well as boron itself, which is not on the list, but will be confused with it, it is suggested.
CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
Mr Blenkinsop highlights that this industry challenge is also an opportunity for Master Chemical. The problem for other coolant suppliers is one of R&D to create new formulations, he says, because R&D teams have been thinned out during the recent recession, while bringing a new chemist on board is not enough – it takes 10-15 years to gain full experience in metalworking fluid formulating. For Master Chemical Europe, R&D resource has been increased in the past two years, to three chemists/formulators. R&D is recognised as a key resource by the corporation as a whole and Mr Blenkinsop concludes: "It will be a very interesting time in places like France, if the market does not want formaldehyde or boric acid. If you take away those traditional methods of bacteria control, will it be like stepping back into the 70s or 80s, where fluids went rancid in a few months?"
Box item 1
Most work relates to creating a modified formulation using one of the existing platforms. "The key to our success is that we have some very good platforms. We have a very good synthetic platform to which we can add or take away materials depending on the application; the same with the semi-synthetics and emulsions. That makes things a lot easier – you have a backbone that you know works. That's a very cost-effective method of R&D, as we are not reinventing the wheel every time." More than half the time, the platforms are the starting point. A formulation may be from 10 to 25 individual constituent chemicals. All products are created according to a formalised process and are field tested before general release.
While the stability of a product is one challenge, it is not necessarily the greatest, Mr Blenkinsop offers. "How we emulsify the oil [for semi-synthetics and emulsions] –makes Master Chemical different to its competitors. There are infinite ways to do this, but how you do it makes one product better than another. And this is why many companies buy off-the-shelf products from specialist suppliers, because they don't know how to achieve it."
Box item 2
Vegetable oils – what happened?
Vegetable oil is still more expensive than mineral oil. In its unrefined state, it is also much more unstable than mineral oil and so can't be used sensibly. Refining or using more expensive esters adds yet more cost and the market won't accept it, says Master Chemical Europe.
People discovered this, particularly in US automotive plants, where the United Autoworkers' Union lobbied to have 'safer' vegetable oil-based product, but which proved to be unstable, a better food source for bacteria and prone to foaming. It was the US automotive industry that drove the wave of vegetable oil developments, but it reverted to cheaper, more effective mineral oil and the impetus died, hence the seeming lack of any great push behind them now. Master Chemical spent five years developing its product – NatureSol, a vegetable ester based product. Says the company: "It's a really good product, but a really good one at a certain price. The product is popular in Scandinavia, for example." NatureSol has about 50 per cent vegetable ester (oil), so it is an emulsion.
Box item 3
TRIM VHP E820 – boron -free, formaldehyde free, chlorine-free low-foaming emulsion for high pressure machining/grinding. This is a Pratt & Whitney-approved product. TRIM® SC 415 – semi-synthetic , low foaming, ferrous machining and grinding.
TRIM SC 617 - semi-synthetic, low foaming, ferrous machining and grinding, with an extreme pressure additive, making it suitable for stainless steels and other challenging materials.
Typically, instead of topping up with a 1-2 per cent dilution to achieve a 5 per cent concentration, 0.5 per cent of the new semi-synthetics are required. Indeed, when trialled in a 50,000 litre central system, consumption of TRIM® SC415, by comparison with the previous semi-synthetic, dropped by 50 per cent.
Master Chemical Europe's range includes both wide scope, general purpose fluids, plus niche, application-specific products. In the main, the company's customer base is SMEs, with fewer large companies.
First published in Machinery, September 2010