BASF AG is emphasizing a coordinated research and development effort to stay ahead in the wide-open China market, according to executives at the German chemicals and plastics company.
BASF held a media briefing April 16 - the day before the Chinaplas trade show started - at the company's Jinqiao Auto Center in the Shanghai suburb. BASF exhibited at the show.
``China is a growing market for engineering plastics, especially in automotive, but also in the electrical and electronics field,'' said Hermann Althoff, group vice president for engineering plastics for the Asia-Pacific region.
The Ludwigshafen-based firm employs more than 6,000 at 30 production sites in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. BASF opened its first China-based engineering plastics compounding plant last year, in Shanghai. The firm also makes polyurethane and other plastics materials.
The largest chemical plant is BASF-YPC, a 50-50 investment between BASF and state-owned China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. of Beijing, known as Sinopec.
BASF's Jinqiao Auto Center opened in October. Auto applications are displayed in a gleaming showroom. But the real work happens in a network of labs BASF runs in the Shanghai area where specialists study automotive, electronics, personal-care products, pharmaceutical, textiles, coatings and other applications. They often work on specific customer projects, using computer-aided engineering to simulate how a final part will perform.
The labs are integrated under the Verbund, or ``alliance'' concept from BASF in Germany.
Zheng Daqing, a BASF senior vice president and member of its Greater China Country Board, said annual sales growth has averaged 23 percent in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the last decade.
BASF works closely with universities in China. So far, Zheng said, the firm has invested 50 million yuan (about $7.2 million) for scholarships, benefiting 1,650 students.
Althoff outlined some breakthroughs from BASF labs:
* Plastic car body panels that can be painted on-line, in a baking oven without special treatment - made from Ultramid Top 3000, an impact-modified, mineral-filled nylon. ``We think this is a real breakthrough,'' Althoff said. ``This is a very difficult challenge.'' He said the application has gained lots of interest, but declined to identify any carmakers.
* Opel, a German subsidiary of General Motors Corp., is using a part combining metal, plastic and structural foam, called a lower bumper stiffener, developed with BASF. When a car strikes a pedestrian, the bumper stiffener keeps the victim from being pulled under the car. Instead, the victim is pushed onto the hood, which results in far fewer injuries, Althoff said. CAE allowed BASF to design the part to predict how it will function upon impact.
* BASF designed structural inserts from plastic with foam sections. These are placed inside of hollow metal profile sections on a car body, cutting weight. CAE showed how the metal and plastic sections react together in a crash. Althoff said an automaker is using the application, but he declined to identify the vehicle.
* The firm pioneered the first nylon oil pan for large trucks. The large part has to resist hot oil and constant impacts from stones kicked up by the truck tires.