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 demand for smoke grenades grew after the early years of the Iraq War, when there was more fighting in urban areas, and troops needed heavy cover to move from building to building. Dickson said the soldiers preferred using colored smoke instead of white because the chemical in the white smoke hurt their eyes. During the war, the military was rapidly depleting its large stockpile, and went in search of a supplier.
NFC, which had been making solvent dyes since 1994, eventually won the contract and made accommodations for the work, including equipment upgrades and investing in technology to meet product specifications.
NFC already made the yellow dye required for the smoke grenades, but their product was destined for the plastic market and didn’t meet military specifications. To meet the stringent density and particle size requirements, they invented new manufacturing techniques. “When we were awarded the next contract for the other three colors and some additional yellow, we had to develop specific techniques to make each of these dyes,” Dickson said. “NFC put forth a multi-year R&D effort, not only for the reaction chemistry, but also for the physical steps to make the right particle size and density. We used our research chemists to develop these techniques, and then our engineers scaled-up the processes for the plant.”
“Since we’ve made these four dyes, the Army has looked at new dyes that perhaps are better for the environment or better for the troops,” Dickson said. To respond to this demand, Nation Ford has continued to help to develop new, more sustainable dyes. “We’ve done one red dye and one blue dye project,” Dickson said. “To complete the development work, we do extensive lab work, and then we scale up to the plant. The new red dye has been completed, but the blue is ongoing.”
The smoke dye contract has increased revenue and job opportunities at NFC. More importantly, Dickson tells us his company realizes how important the dyes they make are in keeping U.S. troops safe on the battlefield. “We take that very seriously, and we’re proud of that,” he said. “To be able to help support the troops means a lot to us.”