Houghton International: Leading the Way in Specialty Chemical Solutions for 150 Years

As a trusted supplier of specialty chemicals to customers in metalworking, automotive, aerospace, steel, aluminum, offshore and other industries, for nearly 150 years, Houghton International knows the most important formula it has is the combination of internal elements that go into making it a market leader. CEO Paul DeVivo says there are many crucial components of Houghton’s winning formula, but the most important catalyst is the company’s devotion to serving its customers with the solutions  they need. “Houghton International continues to focus on serving its customers,” DeVivo says. “The long historic engagement of focusing on customers goes back many, many years.”

Houghton has been in business since 1865, providing first its Cosmoline® rust preventive products but soon branching out into other product lines. Today, the company is a leading provider of specialty chemicals used in metal removal, heat treatment and quenching, metal cleaning, rust prevention, metal forging and steel mill applications, to name a few. The company also specializes in developing hydraulic fluids, friction modifiers, and aluminum anodizing and paint pre-treatment products.

In addition to the physical products it supplies, Houghton also provides value to its customers through the process application and technical expertise it can offer. The company’s numerous chemists, metallurgists, microbiologists and engineers give Houghton the know-how it needs to work hand-in-hand with customers to create high-performing solutions to meet their product, process, environmental, health and safety requirements.

With all of these components in place, Houghton remains solidly at the top of the industry, and DeVivo says its formula for success will remain as consistent as it has been throughout its history.

“The strong fundamental focus on high-technology products, the excellent commitment to serving customers’ needs and expanding globally to serve their needs … we’ve done that for a long part of our history,” DeVivo says.

Value Proposition

Houghton has become a major force in the specialty metalworking fluids market because it supplies its customers with a level of service that many of its competitors can’t match, according to Vice President of Global Business Development, Marketing and Strategy Jeewat Bijlani.

“I think our first big strength and differentiator is our ability to create value for our customers,” according to Bijlani. This ability to create value comes in many forms, ranging from improved part quality, to increased productivity, to reduced tooling costs; all leading to reduced customer total cost of ownership.

A key component of the company’s process when working with customers to develop optimum solutions is Houghton’s emphasis on identifying “pain points” within customers’ processes. For example, Bijlani says, the company can help its customers identify and resolve areas of inefficiency from a metalworking fluid consumption point of view and develop lubricants or other specialty additives that can make equipment function more efficiently.

Nevertheless, this can be a challenge when considering the fact that many of Houghton’s customers have global footprints, with differing conditions and equipment from site to site. That’s where Houghton’s application / technical expertise plays perhaps its most important role in the company’s formula because it allows the company to customize its solutions for virtually any condition. “We’re able to provide customers with a solution that’s consistent on a global scale,” Bijlani says. “Our role is to make those solutions successful for them in every situation and every circumstance. We’re side-by-side with them in their globalization process.”

Bijlani says the expertise Houghton has in-house also gives it a better foundation from which it can respond to major changes in the marketplace. He says this is important because in some areas, such as metalworking fluids, the ability to react and change course quickly is essential. “It gives us the nimbleness and the flexibility to adapt to the needs of the customer,” Bijlani says.

Working Together

The close partnerships Houghton has with its customers is another key element in its formula for success, according to Vice President of Research and Development David Slinkman. “Our strength is the fact that we have members of our research group that are out with our customers in their locations on a day-to-day basis,” he says.

One current example of Houghton’s commitment to working with customers is how the company is helping clients as they make the transition from ferrous metals to aluminum and higher-strength steels. The manufacturing processes for different metals come with their own set of unique requirements. At the same time, environmental and occupational safety and health regulations continue to become stricter. Slinkman says Houghton is working to develop fluids that are more environmentally and worker friendly while living up to the higher performance expectations on the production floor, as well as helping customers meet their waste discharge limits. “I don’t think you’ll find that expertise at many of our competitors,” Slinkman says.

Mike Shannon, Executive Vice President Global Operations and Supply Chain, adds that the ever-changing regulatory landscape makes it more important than ever for Houghton’s customers to know exactly what’s in every container of specialty chemicals. Houghton is developing a new global system that will provide on-line access of safety data sheets to its customers. This will be introduced in 2015. Slinkman says Houghton has proactively taken steps to ensure timely compliance with the U.N. Standard for the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. This system will feature standardized formats for safety data sheets and product labels including hazard statements and pictograms which will provide greater understanding for customers working with such chemicals. DeVivo says this is one of the many ways Houghton works to create the safest working environment possible.

Customers’ needs continue to evolve, and Houghton’s formula for success is allowing it to evolve right along with them. “We focus on helping our customers be successful, and they believe that we have the capability to do that in so many ways,” DeVivo says.