Materials Science

Customer chemistry key to successful projects

By Kathryn Emsley, Head of Technical, and Jessica Fox, Dyestuff Laboratory Manager, at Airedale Chemical

Kathryn Emsley, Head of Technical, and Jessica Fox, Dyestuff Laboratory Manager, at Airedale Chemical explain how working closely

Kathryn Emsley, Head of Technical, and Jessica Fox, Dyestuff Laboratory Manager, at Airedale Chemical explain how working closely with customers has been the key to the company’s longevity.
Airedale Chemical, which began in business more than 45 years ago specializing in dyestuffs for Yorkshire’s rich textile industry, is now one of the UK’s leading independent chemical companies.
With innovation at the heart of the company ethos, it boasts two women leading the company’s technical and R&D teams.
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In this article, Kathryn Emsley, Head of Technical, and Jessica Fox, Dyestuff Laboratory Manager, talk about their work at the helm of the business and how working closely with customers has been the key to the company’s longevity.
Kathryn Emsley:
Having worked at a number of different businesses throughout my career, the experience I’ve been able to bring to Airedale Chemical has been invaluable. Although many of the principles of testing and formulating products remain constant, customer applications and uses vary greatly. Being able to draw on experience is a useful skill to produce a successful prototype for each application.  
Where bigger companies offer a standard range of products, we have the facilities, flexibility and technical knowledge to provide a much more niche offering which meets exact specifications of the customer’s requirements. 
For example, we recently worked with a company which was looking for a certain industrial cleaning agent. Although this is a very commonly used product, we were approached to provide it at a very specific strength for a particular use. Where we can add value is by fulfilling these specialist requests.
One of the reasons we’re so successful as a company is that many suppliers will only be able to supply a standard off-the-shelf chemical, but we often find customers coming to us for more environmentally friendly or specific surface treatments. That is where our skills are best used – in optimizing mixtures specifically for customers’ needs.
We also work regularly with an entrepreneur who invents concepts for innovative cleaning products. By combining his ideas and requirements with our technical knowledge and practical skills, together we create an innovative product ready to take to market.
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We are also keenly aware of the commercial pressures on our customers and we continually strive to improve existing products, by making formulation modifications with updated raw materials. This enables us to keep up with changing regulations and consumer habits.
New product development makes up a large part of activity and is something we look forward to working on. Much of the chemical laboratory’s time is spent researching new raw materials which will offer more advanced performance, CLP or ecological benefits.  Wherever possible we will try to incorporate new raw materials into existing products where we believe it will enhance efficacy but also in response to specific customer requests. 
Our protocol for delivering product development tends to follow a standard procedure. This begins with a brief we work on closely with the customer which specifies the pre-requisites for the product, including what function it will carry out, what they want the USP of the product to be, what applications it will have and health and safety considerations. It will also need to contain details of any legislative requirements such as Biocidal Product Regulation and REACH, how it will be packaged and the budget it needs to fit into.
A literature search is carried out utilizing the company’s current formulations and looks at supplier’s prototype formulations, marketing information and any patents.
We then move on to prototype formulation which is devised from theoretical interpretation and followed by the development of prototype samples.
Initial stability testing is conducted by storing products at ambient and cold temperatures and throughout the freeze/thaw cycle. Any relevant performance trials are conducted simultaneously with stability tests by the customer.
The compliance department also plays a huge role in the successful completion of new product development including compiling and checking safety data sheets.
It is essential to calculate initial raw material costs to ensure products remain within the customers parameters and remains cost-effective and profitable. The price of packaging, labelling and associated costs are always included in estimates.
Once the customer has given initial approval, stability is initiated by storing samples in the laboratory under controlled conditions with samples being stored at 4oC, ambient, 40oC in glass and packaging determined by the customer and product type.  If stability testing highlights a problem with the formulation, amendments will be made and the process begins again.
If approved, a laboratory small scale pilot batch is prepared to highlight any processing issues and a bill of materials and quality control specification are prepared ready for the first batch to be manufactured.
With over a hundred years of combined experience, the team has also become adept at troubleshooting which has become a major part of our service offering and we have developed our facilities to allow us to problem solve all issues on site for products that fail quality check testing or found to be faulty. It is an essential part of the industry to not only to fix an issue but also find out what went wrong in the first place and at what stage of production.  
When a sample is unstable it is the skills learnt over years of experience from formulating and developing new products that inform the troubleshooting process.  Knowing how each raw material behaves individually and its interaction with other chemicals in the system all help with the process.
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Jessica Fox: 
Troubleshooting also plays a major part of our work in the dye lab. Often there are issues with the partition between fibres and we carry out a comprehensive testing schedule to identify the dyestuff selection and auxiliary chemicals that will help solve the problem.
Colour matching is one of the skills this business was founded on and requires an experienced eye and experienced mind to identify how different colours behave in different situations and in varying light conditions.  New product formulation initially requires breaking down dyestuff mixtures into the most basic building blocks of homogeneous colours using our in-house chromatography equipment, which separates mixtures of colour substances into their components.
This is combined with the process of spectrophotometry which determines how much light is absorbed by measuring the intensity of a beam of light as it passes through a sample solution to show how each compound absorbs or transmits light over a certain range of wavelengths. The spectrophotometer can identify the spectral curve of a colour but it is experience which really helps when deciding the composition of a dye, and knowing which colours work together to create certain hues, and to offer the correct dyestuff properties and fastnesses.
The colours we source are put through rigorous quality checks before being made into optimized mixtures which go on to be used mainly on carpet yarns and textiles with end uses including aircraft yarns, cruise liners, department stores, casinos and hotels as well as domestically. 
Throughout all these processes, working closely with customers is absolutely paramount and what differentiates this third generation family-run business from the competition. One of the reasons we have been able maintain client relationships that run into decades is a combination of close and personal relationships with customers combined with trust in the experience of the team throughout each department. We offer a flexible and unique service, reacting quickly to customer requests. The textile industry is often dictated by trends and customer demand, so it is important to be responsive to the needs of the dyehouses we service.