In 1904, the Whitmore Manufacturing Co. was tasked with developing a lubricant for the center pivot bearings and the roller bearings of the emergency dams the Panama Canal, which was then under construction. The company, which had only been in business for 11 years at that point, developed a product to meet the harsh conditions the dam equipment would regularly face. The company’s products were also used to lubricate the equipment used to excavate the canal.
Whitmore’s lubricants proved to be so successful that, following the canal project, the company broadened the markets for its products to global mining and industrial operations. Today, the company enjoys a market-leading position, with its lubricant products being used around the world on heavy surface mining and excavating equipment such as draglines, shovels and haul trucks.
“Our products are used on a majority of draglines globally,” Vice President of Sales Scott Dunbar says. “Domestically, the largest mining segment is coal, but any type of surface mining is something we would be involved in. Our products are used in mines on every inhabited continent.”
The company’s mining lubricants include multi-service open gear lubricants, extreme pressure greases, enclosed gear oils, propel machinery lubricants and wire rope lubricants. “Our products can handle the most adverse conditions,” Dunbar says. “We know we’ll never compete with the major oil companies when it comes to commodity oils, but we’ve really found our niche in very large, extreme-pressure and heavily loaded applications. People will typically come to us when they’re having an issue managing temperature or load that is causing wear with the lubricants they’re currently using.”
The Rockwall, Texas-based company manufactures high-performance lubricants as well as friction modifiers, rail lubrication equipment, OilSafe® lubrication management systems, Air Sentry® and Guardian® desiccant breathers, coatings, sealants and degreasing cleaners.
For the industrial market, the company offers open gear lubricants, greases, chain and cable lubricants, cleaners and degreasers, HD gear oils, petroleum and synthetic industrial oils, food grade lubricants and anti-seize compounds. Industrial applications for Whitmore’s products include steel manufacturing, power generation and the production of cement and aggregates among many others. The company’s lubricants are used in applications as diverse as coal crushing mills and electric toothbrush motors.
In addition to its historic use on the Panama Canal dams, Whitmore Manufacturing Co.’s lubricating products have also been applied to other high-profile applications throughout its history. The company’s lubricants were used on the eight tracks of shoes utilized by NASA’s space shuttle crawler, which safely transported the shuttle down the 3.5-mile crawlerway to the launch complex.
Riding the Rails
In the late 1990’s Whitmore expanded beyond its historic offerings of mining and industrial-related products and into the rail sector. “Many people do not realize that railroad track needs to be lubricated,” Dunbar says, noting that tracks are regularly subject to heavy metal-on-metal contact as fixed train axels negotiate curves. “Absent any lubrication, there would be significant metal wear, heat build-up and loss of fuel efficiency.”
Whitmore’s rail curve lubricants reduce the friction at the rail-wheel interface; reducing rail flange wear and fuel consumption; and extending the lifecycle of both rails and wheels.
The company sells products to most domestic Class 1 railroads that haul coal and other heavy freight, as well as transit rail and industrial plant and mining rail spurs. In addition to producing lubricants, Whitmore also manufactures the application equipment that places its lubricants on the track. In 2013, the company introduced new friction modifying materials for application to the top of the rail, and they are already among the company’s top-selling items. “We have a strong position in rail curve lubricants and friction management products in North America,” Dunbar says. “This is because of the great performance improvements we’ve brought to the market.”
After application, Whitmore’s rail friction modifiers can be carried down the track by the train’s wheels significantly farther than competitive products. This allows the railroads to use less product per mile of track and fewer applicators, ensuring the cost effectiveness of both.
Many of Whitmore’s lubricant products are biodegradable. The company first started developing such products more than 20 years ago. “Environmentally friendly products make up a very significant part of our current product line as well as our ongoing research and development efforts. We think it’s not only good for us to be positive environmental stewards from an ethical standpoint but a business one, as well,” he adds. “Many of our customers view biodegradable products as better for them as well as the customers they serve.”
A WIDER REACH
In addition to its rail industry offerings, Whitmore also recently introduced a line of degreasing and cleaning products that can be used to degrease aircraft landing gear and fuselage. “We’ve developed water based degreasers that are more effective than many solvent based materials,” Dunbar says. “Not only are they more environmentally friendly, they are safer for the airline workers to use, and actually allow the planes to be cleaned faster and spend more time in the air than in the cleaning bay.” A broader line of food grade products is also about to be launched.
The company’s entry into rail and aviation sectors reflects an overall focus on expanding its business lines in light of the regulatory and other challenges facing North American coal production. “We have also broadened our scope internationally,” Dunbar says, noting that over 50 percent of Whitmore’s sales are from overseas clients. “We want to encompass all facets of best practice lubrication and promote our products to a diverse global industrial market.”
Whitmore also continues to refine its offerings to its core customers. The company is testing a new high-pressure grease that Dunbar calls “a significant step forward for us in effective lubricity.” Ongoing tests of the product in the South African energy sector indicate that its use not only saves equipment from wear, but it can also help users save significantly on energy costs of running equipment, he adds.
‘Buy and Build’
Since 1979, Whitmore has been part of Capital Southwest Corporation, a Dallas-based holding company with a portfolio of businesses in the industrial products; coatings, sealants and adhesives; and specialty chemicals segments. The industrial holdings of CSWC were split off in September of 2015, and are now managed as part of CSW Industrials (CSWI), traded on the Nasdaq.
Whitmore operates a more than 225,000-square-foot manufacturing, office, research and warehouse facility in Rockwall – located 25 miles from Dallas – and a manufacturing facility in the United Kingdom. The company is ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified, and maintains memberships in several industry organizations including the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, the National Lubricating Grease Institute, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association, the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association, the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association and the American Wind Energy Association.
The company and its corporate parent continue to seek new opportunities to broaden its offerings. “We’re in a pretty aggressive buy and build mode at the moment looking for complementary companies to merge with or acquire outright,” Dunbar says.