Chemtool and the Giant Grease Reactors


Chemtool Inc. announced last week that it has installed the worlds largest grease kettle – a reactor with capacity of 130,000 pounds.

But the Chicago-area company adds that it has only begun to make big batches. Officials said they plan to build a new plant with 10 more of the mammoth kettles. Its all part of a strategy to capture half of North Americas grease market.

The first of the new reactors is located at Chemtools plant in Crystal Lake, Ill. Chemtool officials said they believe it to be far larger than any other grease reactor on earth.

In our investigation, the largest that we are aware of can make a batch of 60,000 pounds, said Curt Ellison, vice president of sales for the companys Metalcote line of lubricants. Were pretty sure theres no vessel anywhere in the world that can make a batch close to this big.

Knowledgeable industry sources contacted by Lube Report agreed Chemtools reactor is probably the largest.

Getting such a large piece of equipment was no simple task. President James Athans and Maintenance Manager Dan Marciniec engineered it, and Chemtool had to construct the reactor itself. Officials said they took those steps because of the advantages afforded by super-sized batches. The new kettle can make 130,000 pounds (58,500 kilograms) of grease in approximatelyone and a halfdays – half the time required with a standard-sized reactor. The new equipment does not require additional manpower, though, so the company can spread personnel, overhead, testing and other costs over greater volumes.

We will continue to develop process improvements to increase efficiency, flexibility, reduce costs and improve quality for our customers, Athans said.

Chemtool completed installation of the reactor a month ago and has since been running test batches. According to a statement released last week, it successfully produced batches of 95,000 pounds and 105,000 pounds so far. Ellison said the company expects to have it producing at full capacity in another month.

The reactor at Crystal Lakeis only a test, however, for the new plant the company wants to build. Officials are considering several possible sites in northern Illinois and will not set a schedule for opening the plant until after a location is selected. The company stated, however, that the facility will haveten 130,000-pound reactors, giving it capacity to make 50 million pounds of grease per year.

If sales keep pace with capacity, that will constitute a big step toward Chemtools goal of supplying half the continents grease. Officials say the company is already the largest producer in the United States, with annual capacity of between 150 million pounds and 175 million pounds at four plants, including Crystal Lake, Elkhorn, Wis., Tehachapi, Calif., and Milan, Mich.

According to the National Lubricating Grease Institute, North America produces 524 million pounds of grease per year. Demand has been declining, but Ellison said Chemtool sees opportunity in the fact that producers are exiting the market.

If you look around, it seems theres a grease plant closing every year, he said, and often it’s major oil companies who decide the grease business takes too much time compared to other things they can do. As these companies get out of the business, its our desire to take on more business, and, in doing so, we think we can become more efficient.

Ellison added that the theory is supported by the fact that Chemtools grease business is growing steadily. Sales kept up with the opening of the Tehachapi plant a few years ago, and the giant kettle at Crystal Lake was needed to accommodate further growth. Most of the companys sales growth has come from contracts to blend volumes sold under other companies labels.

We havent had any problem getting new volume, Ellison said. Its coming at us pretty quickly.

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