×

Chemetal taps into solar with 560-panel roof array

  • David Kubera uses chemicals to patina a piece of metal. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Kubera, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, uses chemicals to patina a piece of metal. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Kubera, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, uses chemicals to patina a piece of metal. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Kubera, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, uses chemicals to patina a piece of metal. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kurt Houle, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, transports a piece of metal in the production process. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Kubera, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, uses chemicals to patina a piece of metal. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tommy Belanger, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, grinds a sheet of metal as part of the production process. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tommy Belanger, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, grinds a sheet of metal as part of the production process. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Kubera, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, uses chemicals to patina a piece of metal. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kurt Houle, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, transports a piece of metal in the production process. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tommy Belanger, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, grinds a sheet of metal as part of the production process. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kurt Houle, an employee at Chemetal in Easthampton, transports a piece of metal in the production process. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geoff Schaefer, the creative director and president of Chemetal in Easthampton, on the roof with the newly installed solar panels. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Sunday, August 27, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — While officials at this longtime Easthampton company are jazzed about making metal and laminate designs for the inside walls at casinos and airports, leaders at Chemetal are equally pumped these days about what’s happening on the manufacturing plant’s roof.

That’s where a 201.6-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, with 560 panels, hums along, providing up to one-third of the power used at the plant at any given time.

When they decided to move ahead with long-held plans to double the size of the 39 O’Neil St. plant in 2016 — providing much-needed room to make and ship its laminates — Chemetal leaders also saw a chance to bring a significant amount of green energy to the site. Solar panels now cover half of the roof of the company’s 32,000-square-foot addition.

The photovoltaic system fits with the company’s ethos of being environmental stewards, says Geoff Schaefer, creative director and president.

State and federal tax incentives, including Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, were obtained as Chemetal worked with Solect Energy of Hopkinton on installation on the large roof.

“The incentives, including tax credits and accelerated depreciation, were beneficial, as was the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint with renewable energy,” Schaefer said.

Chemetal produces decorative metallic laminates that are mostly for vertical use in interior commercial spaces, such as walls in casinos and airports or column wraps at hotels and restaurants, Schaefer said.

Architects and interior designers can select from more than 200 designs, with each custom made.

One recent customer is New Balance, which uses Chemetal product at its new site in Boston, with more than 250 sheets of metal with an aged aluminum look placed in the work stations.

Other sheets, tinted blue, are installed at Bradley International Airport.

Other uses for the laminates, sold in sheets measuring 4 by 8 feet or 4 by 10 feet, include architectural finishes for bar countertops, door fronts and sign backings.

In addition to the solar, Chemtal recycles a lot of scrap metal, with bins for aluminum, copper and brass, alongside ones for paper and cardboard.

“Aluminum is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet,” Schaefer said.

Chemtal also sells TreeFrog wood veneer laminate, sourced from Italy and Forest Stewardship Council certified, as well as HBL plastic laminate that is sold under the name InteriorArts.

Aged steel

Chemetal was acquired by longtime family business the October Co. in 1995, and was relocated from Stratford, Connecticut, to Easthampton to a 32,000-square-foot building in 1998. The expansion project in 2016 doubled that space.

“It was something we were looking at doing before the (Great) Recession we were so tight on space,” Schaefer said.

Of the 40 employees, seven are involved in production, some work various kinds of machines, grinding, oxidizing or spray-coating the thin sheets of metal.

In the manufacturing space, David Kubera uses chemicals mixed in bottles to spray the surface of the metal, giving the product an old-time look — called patina — that otherwise would take many years to achieve through a natural process, Schaefer said.

After adding this patina, Kubera brings the metal piece to an air drier, and it then gets a coat with urethane. The metal goes into a drying rack for two days before its aged antique mirror look is ready to be shipped.

In another area, Tommy Belanger uses a grinder on the metal to dull the shiny surface, while Kurt Houle lifts a brass sheet, weighing about 10 pounds, and dips it into a tank with chemicals. Other metal sheets go through an abrading machine.

“A lot of what we do is making it look like aged steel or copper,” Schaefer said. “We’re doing works of art in manufacturing.”

The company also has large coils of anodized aluminum that it sells as sheets.

Plant manager Russ Gilardi said any metal cut and not reused is recycled.

The solar project, he said, has benefited Chemetal more than it might another manufacturer because the plant is closed at night and during the weekend.

“Whatever we produce goes out and we get the credit,” Gilardi said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.