When you work in custom toll blending – producing a specialized blend of minerals, aggregates and additives according to a customer’s specific formula – you’re used to being behind the scenes.
“People don’t taste a wedding cake and think, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I wonder who manufactures their flour!’ That’s what working in toll blending is like,” says Matt Shinnick, key account manager and one of the experts at Black Lab®, the custom toll blending division of Covia®. And Shinnick would know, he’s been blending for 10 years.
No matter where you live, if it’s in an industrialized country, it’s likely you’ve seen or interacted with something that required toll blending in your every day life. This is the first in a series of blog posts that explore three of toll blending’s most common applications: flooring, industrial construction and cement, which is an ingredient but also a category all its own.
Getting in on the Ground Floor
No matter where the flooring is – a school, city hall or megastore – it’s safe to say it was designed to withstand a significant amount of wear and tear. Most commercial applications require a floor that’s durable and can easily be cleaned, but the flooring in manufacturing environments must meet a wide range of demands that are specific to what’s being manufactured.
Just start by imagining food and beverage production facilities. Generally speaking, floors must be slip resistant for safety and able to withstand frequent cleaning. But if you’re producing potato chips, you also have to consider fryer temperatures and hot oil spills. In a meat-packing facility, you have non-stop damp conditions and the need for seamless floors with bacterial and microbial resistance. In breweries, you have very large processing equipment and bottling machinery running almost constantly – and where there are bottles, there’s shattered glass. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, flooring must comply with regulatory standards for sterile work environments, help lower the risk of airborne dust, and be able to withstand subzero temperatures for drug storage.
We ask a lot of our floors, and for floors to deliver on those expectations, they rely on a recipe of highly specific ingredients, blended in the exact proportions every time. “That’s harder than you might expect,” explains Black Lab sales manager Jeff Merritt. “But to be fair, most people haven’t considered the many kinds, shapes, and sizes of grains of silica sand, and how to consistently source large quantities of each of them.”
The components used in toll blending for flooring solutions vary depending on the specific application. Silica, white cement, and lime are common, and various additives to the cement or epoxy enhance the properties of the flooring. When working with Black Lab, companies gain not only expert guidance, but also a greater degree of flexibility in sourcing components or finding substitute components as necessary.
Four on the Floor: Why Engage Toll Blenders?
Many customers who come to Black Lab for toll blending services have proprietary recipes for cement and epoxy flooring but have recently encountered significant growth in their business. “They come to a point where they have to decide, do I want to expand my business to focus on the logistics of sourcing and blending these components, or do I focus on my end-product and my customers and let someone else take on those logistics?” says Shinnick. “It may seem like an easy decision, but there are a number of things that builders need to feel confident about before they make that move.”
- Protecting intellectual property — When working with a custom toll blending operation to create high-performance flooring solutions, companies share their proprietary information. Some customers are naturally hesitant to take this leap. The experts at Black Lab understand this and build trust with customers as a strong start to what is often a long-term relationship. “In addition to mutual nondisclosure agreements, we maintain strict security policies and procedures to protect customers’ proprietary information,” says Merritt, “But I do know the fact that we don’t develop any of the formulas for our customers helps many feel more at ease. We’re not in a position to benefit from using knowledge of one customers’ recipes to help another. That’s a big decision-making factor.”
- Consistent Quality — When working in highly regulated environments, like pharmaceutical manufacturing or food production, consistency in the recipe is essential. Black Lab has strict quality control measures in place to ensure that products follow the recipe to the letter to comply with industry regulations. “We package products directly from the mixer, not the hopper, and that makes a huge difference,” says Shinnick. “That’s how we can be certain customers receive the exact same blend from the first bag to the last.”
- Reliable sourcing and schedules — As a division within Covia, the leading high-end industrial sand producer, Black Lab is able to source high-quality raw materials easily. According to Merritt, “If a customer tells us what type of silica sand they need — a particular size, shape or color — we can either find it or make it, thanks to our position within Covia.” Black Lab also has the benefit of three toll-blending locations, providing access to customers throughout the country. This helps to reduce shipping costs and time.
- The advantage of working with experts — Since many customers come to Black Lab when they’ve recently grown, there is a need to scale up their production. Blending at scale, and perhaps sourcing slightly different components to deliver at scale, may require tweaks to recipes. In addition, flooring does not exist in a vacuum. “When a customer’s geography was in the dry climates of the Southwest, and now they’re making cement flooring for projects in Louisiana or Florida … things change,” Merritt explains. “Black Lab’s customers rely on us to provide guidance in those situations. Over the years, we have developed a deep understanding that goes beyond just the different elements to include how they all work together in different environments. That helps us problem solve, which our customers really value.”
Black Lab serves both small and large companies, helping to make products in the quantities and packaging that suit the needs of growing and established organizations, offering expertise that makes a difference when it comes to creating high-quality, specialized flooring solutions across varied industries and settings.
Choosing an experienced toll blending partner can help a company expand to meet increased demand or enter a new market, improve product quality and consistency, strengthen a supply chain and ultimately boost the bottom line.
Look Around and See the Evidence
As you see, the evidence of toll blending is everywhere. Be sure to look for our next blog post in the series which focuses on how toll blending contributes to industrial applications – and don’t forget to check out the flooring you walk on today and know that toll blending may have been a part of it.
Black Lab’s toll blending experts are available to answer customers’ questions and provide support as needed. Contact us today to see what it’s like to work with a trusted and experienced custom toll blender that can deliver the customer service and quality you expect.