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DuPont execs talk packaging, innovation and collaboration

By: Robert Grace

June 10, 2013

GUANGZHOU, CHINA — DuPont Co. is a significant player in the film and sheet business, yet that operation keeps a relatively low profile within the $34.8 billion behemoth corporation. Plastics News estimates the company has North American sales of about $1.3 billion worth of those products, which ranks it as the sixth-largest such firm on that continent.

Three executives of the DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers business – which encompasses flexible packaging film applications and glass-laminated solutions – sat down for an interview at the recent Chinaplas show in Guangzhou. Dale Outhous, vice president of ethylene copolymers, was joined by Philippe Hanck, the unit's Shanghai-based Asia-Pacific managing director, and Roger Kant, its Australia-based Asia-Pacific marketing director. They provided a brief overview of the Packaging & Industrial Polymers unit's activities and some current market trends.

DuPont splits its Packaging & Industrial Polymers business into two broad sectors:

  • Food and nonfood packaging, which is seeing its greatest growth in Latin America and Asia-Pacific.
  • Various diverse industrial and consumer applications, such as golf balls, cosmetics, roofing, asphalt modification for paving, polymer modification and the like.

All have been growing quite nicely, according to Outhous, who noted that infrastructure growth drives use of DuPont's various types of specialized engineering resins. And in Asia, Kant added, the unit also supplies adhesive polymers for the composite building-panel industry. Used mainly in outdoor siding and indoor curtain walls, these typically have a high density polyethylene core.

One of the firm's more interesting developments has been a frangible pouch — with two compartments, divided by a burstable seal made of Surlyn iomer resin.

"Even with the force of a child's hand," said Outhous, a user "can squeeze that package and bring some clean water and some nutritional food together so that they can consume that food. It's been very popular, as an example of really trying to feed the world."

First introduced in Mexico about 18 months ago, the product has been well-received, and it's being tested now in other Latin American markets. DuPont is seeking local partners, he said, noting that it takes government involvement, too, because it is essentially an effort to feed the poor.

Kant said DuPont is working to apply the same concept to other products — combining a liquid with a dry product, to create some fun products. Brand owners are intrigued by the possibilities, he suggested. The company declined to provide any more details about the pouch, saying it is still a developmental program.

Also very popular now are easy-open, peelable structures, as well as reclosable packaging, Kant said.

Hanck noted that packaging product development, while often driven by the end-user industries, also is compounded by the introduction of more-sophisticated machinery that requires more-sophisticated resins in order to get all the value of the new equipment in terms of productivity, down-gauging, and the like.

"We often develop together with the machinery maker," Hanck said. "The faster, thinner you go, the more important it is to be able to work together."

That is exactly why DuPont put a nine-layer pilot line into its packaging and industrial polymers development lab at the firm's Wilmington, Del., headquarters facility late last year.

"When you get to the nine layers," Outhous said, "the adhesive layers become more and more challenging, as those structures have to do more. As [Hanck] mentioned, down-gauging is also key in that, so you really have to have the right combination of layers to get the barriers, sealing and adhesion. We wanted to work more closely with our customers on this."

DuPont also has a nine-layer line in its Shanghai technical center, as well seven-layer pilot lines in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Japan. "So we have a global network of laboratories," Outhous said. "Given the advanced resins we provide, this is a nice marriage of equipment, resin and the needs of the consumer."

Kant noted the ever-present theme in the packaging industry of striving to do more with coextrusion as a technology to make packaging structures that are more complex but that can do a better job with less material. "That really empowers our business," he said.

Outhous noted DuPont's current slogan of "Welcome to the Global Collaboratory."

"In the world today," he said, "with the speed at which things are changing, nobody [in the value chain] can do it by themselves. It really takes the whole chain working together."