Even as it restructures and spins off its nylon feedstock operations, DuPont Co. remains firmly committed to its market-leading nylon resin business as the ``flagship product line'' in its engineering polymers portfolio, according to the company's top polymers executive.
Craig G. Naylor, group vice president for DuPont Performance Materials, told an international media gathering June 27 at the firm's 200th anniversary celebration in Wilmington that DuPont views its nylon products as core to its future polymers growth.
He also indicated that nylon demand is showing some improvement, while acknowledging that - despite DuPont's recent efforts to raise some nylon prices in a very targeted fashion - widespread U.S. price increases for the materials probably won't take hold before later this year. Naylor added that nylon demand in Asia has been ``very strong for the past three to four months,'' while it has ``held up'' in Europe, and is ``ticking up'' in the Americas.
DuPont Executive Vice President John Hodgson said internal discussions continue on the best way to secure nylon feedstock supply once the firm spins off its textiles and fibers unit. Included in the spinoff will be the production assets for adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine, the key raw materials needed to make nylon 6/6. But Hodgson maintains that DuPont's future feedstock supply ``will be seamless, it will work.''
DuPont used the occasion of its bicentennial to announce plans for building on five growth platforms: Performance Materials; Coatings & Color Technologies; Electronic & Communication Technologies; Safety & Protection; and Agriculture & Nutrition.
Naylor noted that the newly constituted Performance Materials group turned in disappointing earnings last year of $280 million, on sales of $4.7 billion. ``This year will be better, a lot better,'' he added, without offering specifics. The unit - which includes engineering polymers, flexible packaging resins, industrial resins, performance elastomers and performance films - currently employs 10,400 worldwide, with assets of $3.3 billion.
When it comes to end-market prospects, DuPont is most bullish on electrical/electronics, where Naylor projects 8-10 percent industrywide volume growth potential for materials substitution. The firm traditionally has kept a low profile in that market, but has become much more aggressive in the past few years, said Hodgson, and is targeting it now.
By comparison, Naylor offered the following growth-potential estimates by end market: automotive/transportation, 4-6 percent; flexible packaging, 4-6 percent; and construction, 4-5 percent.
``The development pipeline is our lifeblood,'' said Naylor, who offered the following examples of recent and pending materials applications:
* Biomax hydro/biodegradable polyester (e.g. for food packaging).
* SentryGlas composite safety glass systems (e.g. for automotive and construction security windows).
* Caltrel-brand plastic heat-exchanger systems (essentially moldable radiators that can replace metal).
* Polyethylene naphthalate films for organic light-emitting diodes (e.g. as digital displays on portable electronics).
* Engage metallocene-catalyzed polyolefin elastomers (e.g. for automotive interiors).
* Proton-exchange-membrane fuel cells (e.g. for portable, stationary and transportation applications).
Another example of such efforts is the firm's Sorona-brand 3GT polymer platform, based on fiber-grade 1,3-propanediol terephthalate derived from corn. While the polymer is being targeted now at the apparel markets, Ian Hudson, the venture's global business director, said his group also is working closely with DuPont's engineering polymers researchers. He believes the PBT-like material will find use as a flexible-packaging barrier resin in food applications.
Meanwhile, Tom Connelly, DuPont's chief science and technology officer for the past 18 months, said he has been charged by DuPont Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chad Holliday with finding ways to bring technology to market faster. DuPont's current goal is to earn one-third of its revenue from products that are less than five years old. Last year, Connelly said, the 79,000-employee company increased the share of five-year revenue to 24 percent from 22 percent in 2000.