Making Safety Self-Evident at Gabriel Performance Chemicals

Gabriel’s Rock Hill, SC, Plant Manager conducts a management walk through, stopping to inspect the production wash tanks.

Although its origins date back to 1955, Gabriel Performance Chemicals took on its current form as a privately held independent company in 2001. The company offers both an extensive line of specialty proprietary products (epoxy curing agents, such as CAPCURE® and GABEPRO® mercaptans, VERSAMID® liquid polyamides and amines, PHENOXY PK™ phenoxy resins and FLUOROLUBE® specialty lubricants) and custom manufactured chemicals formulated to exact specifications for a diverse array of markets, including the adhesive and sealant, aerospace, agriculture, coating, lubricant, polymer and many other industries. In particular, Gabriel is recognized for its ability to safely handle hazardous, reactive chemicals on a continual basis, according to CEO Seth Tomasch.

This quality control chemist at Gabriel’s Ashtabula, OH, plant is injecting a gas chromatograph.

This performance has been achieved while the company has undergone significant changes. In 2010, Gabriel was largely a toll producer focused on compounding formulated products that were principally sold through distributors. At that time, the company leadership made a strategic decision to build a portfolio of proprietary products in order to better control their long-term growth. That shift created a need for more direct interactions with customers, and thus, a greater emphasis has been placed on sales and marketing in recent years. “We have expanded from one marketing person to a team with five outside sales representatives, three inside sales people, a dedicated sales leader and a marketing director,” Tomasch said. “We have been successful at implementing cross-marketing programs into different industries that are having a direct impact on the business. The successes achieved to date in such a short period of time are a significant accomplishment for the company.”

A maintenance operator at Gabriel’s Ashtabula, OH, facility modifies a supply line.

Gabriel has been busy with a number of investment activities as well, ranging from technology acquisitions to capacity expansion projects. An application development laboratory opened in September 2016 at its Rock Hill, SC, plant to support customers with new mercaptan and liquid polyamide and phenoxy resin curing technologies, including the Versamid® line of liquid epoxy curing agents that Gabriel acquired from BASF in late 2015 and portfolio of phenoxy resins purchased from InChem Corporation in late 2015.

The company moved its headquarters from Ashtabula to Akron, OH, in December 2016 to be closer to the University of Akron and its research and testing capabilities and large pool of talented graduates, according to Tomasch.

Gabriel also implemented numerous upgrades to its mercaptan processes and in 2017 will complete a project to significantly expand the capacity for its epoxy curing agents at the Rock Hill facility. The company is adding a selling entity in China as well to better serve its customers in Southeast Asia. It remains interested in making further acquisitions. “We are actively seeking epoxy-related or other adjacencies that will complement our existing portfolio; companies or product lines that will help serve our customers more effectively,” Tomasch explains.

One project that is having a significant impact on Gabriel and its employees is implementation of a “hazard recognition” program. The company ascribes to the Kaisen approach to continuous improvement and previously implemented a 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain). Increasing safety is an implied result of pursuing such a program, but Gabriel has made it self-evident by committing to a 6S program with safety as the formal sixth element. “Hazard recognition is the result of taking this approach. We have started with our Ashtabula facility, making improvements in work flows and lighting and identifying more intelligent and safer ways to conduct our operations,” he notes. The company is being even more proactive with hazard recognition efforts in 2017.

Gabriel has also benefited extensively from SOCMA’s ChemStewards® program, integrating the plan-do-check-act approach into many of its operations, widely applying the risk and hazard assessment tools and adopting portions of the operator training program. “Our Environmental, Health, Safety and Quality (EHS&Q) Integrated Management System is driven by the ChemStewards Integrated Management Database,” observes Tomasch. This system was designed by Gabriel to help chemical manufacturing facilities organize daily operational data in an easy-to-use program and specifically to help the custom manufacturing industry maintain certification in ChemStewards, ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001:2004 and OHSAS 18001:2007.

“We believe that superior levels of performance result from sound management practices, deliberately and systematically applied. The EHS&Q system is accredited by SOCMA and gives us peace of mind that we are providing a safe work environment, environmentally responsible operations and excellent products and services that meet or exceed our stakeholders’ requirements and specifications,” he said.

Gabriel representatives also participate regularly in the SOCMA Fly-Ins and other events and activities organized by the association. The Fly-Ins are an important mechanism for gaining access to representatives, which is very difficult to do for a small company on its own, according to Tomasch. He notes that in one case the permitting of a site expansion by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was rapidly sped up after the issue was raised during a Fly-In. Scheduling of a visit by representative David Joyce in 2014 also occurred shortly after a request was made during a Fly-In. “The influence SOCMA has and its ability to get members in front of elected officials is invaluable,” says Tomasch. A recent SOCMA regional meeting on process safety also provided information that was incorporated into Gabriel’s new process safety management program.

“The depth of resources at smaller firms is limited; without participation in a major industry association like SOCMA it is not possible for companies of Gabriel’s size to develop the effective safety, health, environmental, training and other programs required for success,” Tomasch said. “It is also very difficult to get issues heard at the state and federal levels and to network with other industry leaders to share and learn best practices. Doing better business – becoming more efficient with safer operations – ultimately leads to enhanced operational excellence and cost savings, and all of SOCMA’s programs are geared to helping its members achieve this goal,” he concludes.

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