GUANGZHOU, CHINA — BASF SE plans to launch a design consultation center in Shanghai next year, the company's second in Asia. Last year the company opened one in Japan, its first outside of Germany.
“With the launch of our new designfabrik Shanghai, we will be better equipped to bring to life the creative ideas of the industrial design community in China and Asia Pacific — for the benefit of our customers here,” said Andy Postlethwaite, BASF's senior vice president for Performance Materials Asia Pacific.
A May 20 news conference at Chinaplas in Guangzhou showcased a number of design projects that BASF worked on, including Puma running shoes, lightweight car seating, a lightweight solar-powered scooter, and a BMW with parts made of carbon-reinforced plastics.
Later, in an interview with Plastics News, Postlethwaite elaborated on the choice of Shanghai.
“China is 60 percent of BASF's performance material business in Asia,” he said. “Shanghai is one of the most important hubs in terms of Chinese creativity We already have an R&D center there and I think it is appropriate to put it next to the R&D center because there are a lot of synergies there.”
He said the designfabrik center is essential to bring new materials to customers and also learn what is possible. This is evident in the auto industry, which because of emissions regulations has specific design needs of lightweighting, downsizing engines, and using plastics that can withstand higher temperatures.
“Designfabrik is run by designers and they invite designers in and look at materials and understand what is possible in terms of materials and engineering and in terms of touch feel surface finish,” Postlethwaite said. “[It will help us] look at existing materials and look at design capabilities or restrictions.”
The center will be one more step in BASF's investment in the region.
“We've put a lot of investments in China from the performance materials side,” Postlethwaite said. “We've expanded our compounding plant last year and we putting designfabrik in, we built a Cellasto line, we built a TPU line, and we acquired a company in Taiwan with additional TPU capabilities. We need to continue grow our capabilities as the market here continues to mature.”
In addition, the company noted that the second phase of the Shanghai R&D center will be inaugurated in November.
“This designfabrik will serve all of Asia but with a China focus and I think the needs for designers are rather different,” Postlethwaite said. “We are still staffing it but I think one or two designers from BASF in Germany and definitely some people from Shanghai.”
Postlethwaite said the focus on design at Chinaplas is part of a conscious strategy to showcase the company's strengths and appeal to customers. He said that Asian customers are beginning to demand more in terms of design. Just outside the interview, seats were packed with Chinese designers and engineers attending the first day of the Design X Innovation Open Forum, which BASF sponsored.
“When I first joined BASF, everything that came in to China was largely imported, but now 90 percent plus or minus is made here. In the past most R&D was done in Germany and now it is done more in China. In the past any design had to be done in Germany, but next year we'll have a designfabrik in China,” he said. “We're slowly but surely evolving our capabilities in Asia for the customers who are getting more sophisticated.”