The commercialization of single-site catalyst technology, the birth of new families of polymers, and the promise of further developments are reshaping the polyolefins business. For plastics companies to succeed in the future, it is important to capitalize on the opportunities presented by new technologies. In early 1992, just prior to the introduction of Dow Plastics' Insite technology, the company's objective was to build a 500 million-pound global business by the year 2000, less than seven years from initial plant start-up - a never-before-achieved effort in specialty polymers.
The invention of metallocene technology was the most important event in the polyolefins industry in the last 20 years. The lessons we've learned in commercializing this technology will be critical to the plastics industry.
The philosophy on which we've based our efforts is threefold: utilize speed-based decision-making, understand the performance requirements of given applications, and concentrate on focused efforts with customer-partners.
Everything we do is speed-based, whether it be customer response, market research or capital planning. As an industry, we must strive to do things faster.
Understanding performance requirements means recognizing what the film or part needs to do in an application. Too often people start at the polymer and say, ``I need a 1 melt index, .902g/cc density product for this application.''
Our first questions should be: What are the end-use performance criteria, and how do we fit into the entire film structure, or part? Understanding requirements is central to maximizing those ca-pabilities; developing a product specific to them is a feat unto itself. One answer is single-site catalyst technology, and the whole new range of capabilities it brings.
Focused development efforts with customers are critical to commercialization success, too. Supplier success depends on customer success. Establish priorities, and stick with them.
People are central to commercialization success; a lot of the time and effort should be placed on staffing. Specifically, look for skill, experience and desire.
Another element of a sound personnel strategy is flexible resource allocation. This concept is driven by assigning people by skill rather than project orientation.
Developing winning applications is critical to the success of any business. One tool that can evaluate and track a portfolio of opportunities is a stage gate system. The five gates are: concept shaping, concept analysis, fit validation, positioning and development, and implementation/launch. There are specific issues to address in each stage of development and a decision point, or gate, separates each stage. For a project to proceed, gate criteria must be met.
Portfolio management is another valuable tool. We have four commercial development teams aimed at each market area. These teams select applications and drive projects to fruition, or to an early grave. They target applications based on technical gap, market need, ante to payout and customer commitment. Rigorous analysis of an opportunity across the criteria is essential.
The market potential for new metallocene-based polymers is significant. Leading consultants have projected global sales of metallocene-based specialty polymers, alone, to be 900 million to 4.5 billion pounds by the year 2000.
We must learn to harness new technology and drive it to market success as quickly as possible. With the rapid increase in polyolefin global competition and technology capability, the winners will be the suppliers and processors who develop the most rapid capability to use science to meet market demand.
Pappas is marketing director, specialty olefins and elastomers, for Dow Plastics.