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Chemicals Can't Live Without Chemists: The Essential Role of Chemists and Chemical Engineers in Chemical Distribution

The chemical distribution industry is a major economic engine. Businesses in this industry deliver valuable products safely and securely every day to a variety of market segments. Within these businesses are chemistry professionals who bring integrity, ingenuity, and research methods to the products chemical distributors sell, or even what they buy.

To learn more about this important role, we spoke with chemists and chemical engineers at three NACD distributor member companies: Yong Ming, Ph.D., Technology & Lab Manager at Third Coast Terminals; Jawad Malik, Technical Manager at Tilley Chemical Company; and Terry Aubry, Corporate Director of Quality, EMCO Chemical Distributors.

Third Coast, located south of Houston, Texas, employs more than 250 employees. It provides customers with chemical product storage, transloading, packaging, distribution, blending, filtration, and reaction services. Tilley Company, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, has over 100 employees. Tilley delivers high-quality products and value-added services to partners across multiple industries focusing on highly regulated markets. EMCO, headquartered in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, has over 500 employees and is a leading North American distributor of industrial chemicals, specialty chemicals, and related products to a wide range of industries and end markets. 

First and foremost, all of the chemists agree that quality control is job number one. From inbound filling, analysis for purity, certificate of analysis, cleaning processes and evaluations, and customer complaint analysis; chemists provide quality analysis of the chemicals handled by their companies.

While chemicals should pass the quality control of the producer before shipping, sometimes the material does not meet quality specifications when it arrives. There are a variety of reasons this can occur including, but not limited to, contamination from dust or particulates in the container or by leftover water/solvent from cleaning the container. Chemists check the inbound chemicals, making sure the chemicals leaving the storage location meet specifications before being shipped to a customer. They also determine which waste container(s) to put chemicals in that are flagged as waste or can’t be used to ensure safety, cost-effectiveness, and regulatory compliance.

Beyond quality control, chemists have a front-line role in helping address customer questions or concerns as well as research on the products themselves. Third Coast’s Yong Ming shared that chemists often can help customers with ways to improve their materials and processes, often by conducting investigations on how a product is performing in certain formulations or end-use products that can only be carried out by trained chemists with a deep understanding of the materials being handled. Some chemists work with their teams and their customers to identify new products as well or improvements to existing products through collaboration and testing.

But not all chemical distribution chemistry professionals wear white coats and safety glasses. In fact, EMCO has nearly as many employees with chemical degrees outside of the lab as inside of it. Terry Aubry, who now serves as the head of corporate quality, has gone from Lab Manager to Director of Quality Programs, Director of Industrial Operations, and Director of Regulatory Affairs. Other EMCO employees with chemical degrees work in technical services, as purchasing agents, sales reps, in waste services, and in the regulatory field, where it is essential to know the properties of the materials being handled to follow a myriad of local, state, and national regulations and guidelines.

Jawad Malik at Tilley Chemical notes that a strong chemistry professional presence is necessary for a chemical distributor to move beyond buying and reselling products. While chemists are irreplaceable for quality checks at every point in the handling and shipping process, product stewardship, and safety, their expertise also allows companies to increase their value for suppliers and customers. The know-how chemists bring to custom blending, research, and development help create new products for suppliers’ materials, a value-add for manufacturers. For customers, having chemists on-hand and on-call who can problem solve and oversee complex processes means chemical distributors can sometimes help their customers find efficiencies or even take a step out of their production process, helping them to improve their products. 

From the lab to the front lines of sales and customer service, chemistry professionals are integral to the world of chemical distribution. Tell us more about how you have integrated chemistry and chemists into your companies! Let’s celebrate their contributions and thank them for all that they do.

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