By: Robert Grace
April 25, 2014
SHANGHAI — Despite rampant speculation by financial analysts, the Netherlands-based Royal DSM chemicals group remains firmly committed to its materials business and it went to some lengths at Chinaplas to underscore that point.
Roelef Westerbeek, president of the group's Singapore-based DSM Engineering Plastics unit, said in an April 23 interview at the Shanghai exhibition that DSM's previous public statements about seeking a partner for its struggling caprolactam business were misinterpreted by analysts who suggested the company wanted to dump that business and focus on being purely a life-sciences company. He said that analysts suggested DSM split the group into two companies — life sciences and material sciences — and sell the latter to unlock further value for stockholders.
"We think the analysts are wrong," said the 24-year DSM veteran, who assumed leadership of the Engineering Materials group in 2008.
In fact, Westerbeek stressed, DSM wants to accelerate its growth in the materials sector, where its plastics portfolio includes a broad range of polyamides, plus polyesters, thermoplastic copolyesters and other high-performance materials. It aims to grow its materials business at a rate of two to three times that of GDP, he said, while also seeking partnerships in the high-performance plastics field. Its materials find use in a variety of end markets, including automotive, electrical and electronics, flexible food packaging, consumer goods, and building and construction.
He spoke candidly about DSM's challenges with its caprolactam business. The firm has 400,000 metric tons of capacity for that material in China — and the market now is saturated and highly volatile. DSM is the world's largest merchant supplier of caprolactam, which is not a desirable position at the moment.
The complicating factor is that caprolactam, when used internally, provides vital backward integration into the polyamide 6 chain. DSM values that function, and so does not wish to unload the caprolactam business. Rather, it is looking for a way to lessen its exposure to the merchant market, while remaining a key captive player for the material.
At the same time, Westerbeek said, his firm is looking for ways to grow its engineering materials business. To that end, he noted that DSM launched its seventh compounding line at its Jiangyin, China, complex in November. It also opened technical centers recently in both Nanjing, China, and in Yokohama, Japan, and intends to open a similar facility in Pune, India, in the foreseeable future.
DSM currently employs 3,400 in China, where it operates 25 manufacturing facilities and has 42 affiliates. With its DSM China regional headquarters in Shanghai, the group reported China sales of more than $1.7 billion in 2013. Globally, Royal DSM employs 24,500 and has annual net sales of about 10 billion euros ($13.8 billion).
At Chinaplas, the firm announced the launch of a new extrusion grade of its bio-based EcoPaXX polyamide 410 for the film, fiber and monofilament sectors. This follows, it said, successful adoption of an injection molding grade.
Its ExoPaXX 410 has been selected by Turin, Italy-based Dytech-Dynamic Fluid Technologies for the fuel vapor separators it produces for Ferrari and Maserati sports cars. Use of the halogen-free, flame-retardant ExoPaXX Q-KGS6 is said to increase the fire safety of the cars be combining flame retardancy with a high level of chemical resistance.
Additionally, DSM showcased some recent key applications for various polyamides. It noted that electronics companies are choosing its Stanyl polyamide 46 and Stanyl ForTii polyamide 4T grades for use in housings for the latest generation of synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM) connectors. These so-called DDR4 connectors — with data transfer rates up to twice those of current DDR3 versions — demand even more from thermoplastics in terms of thermal and mechanical performance.
Meantime, DSM said that China's WanJie Electronic is using Stanyl ForTii T11 in its surface-mount-technology (SMT)-soldered terminal blocks, which connect printed circuit boards to external devices. This is instead of the more traditionally used liquid crystal polymer.
The company also said its Stanyl 46 grade is being used for automotive chain tensioner slide shoes. Use of the material offers up to a 25 percent lower coefficient of friction and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by lowering fuel consumption by up to 1 percent.