DuPont Performance Polymers Asia Pacific Regional Business Director Colleen Pritchett sat down with Plastics News last week at the Chinaplas show in Guangzhou, sharing the company's strategies as well as market trends.
Q: How was 2014 for DuPont Performance Polymer Asia Pacific?
Pritchett: We continue to see very strong demand for our performance polymers globally and throughout Asia Pacific in 2014 and this year as well. In the markets that we are serving, to give you some examples, automotive, consumer electronics, electrical components, railway, oil and gas, just to name a few.
In China, specifically, we see the GDP and market grow probably in that 6 to 7 percent year-over-year type of growth rate. Our goal and what we continue to do is outperform market growth as well as competition.
Q: What are the growing needs in the industry?
Pritchett: One thing is they need more robust materials that can handle harsher conditions, be that higher temperature, higher pressure, harsher chemicals. Not only materials, but the applications they are used in.
A continued need is in replacing metal, replacing rubber, replacing alternative plastics, is very much in need. For the purpose of, in some cases, lightweighting; in some cases, making it thinner, lower total system cost. It depends on what market and industry, but those seem to be general trends from our customers in this industry.
An example, we work closely with the automotive market, with our customers, there is a real industry need for lightweighting, making vehicles more fuel efficient, helping reduce CO2 emissions, etc. We work very closely with automotive customers in providing current and new materials, new applications, and new designs, to help them do that.
We also work with consumer electronics, and a lot of their needs [are to make components that are] lighter, thinner and lower cost. We work closely with customer in providing structural parts into these types of applications, helping them achieve those goals.
One material we've been working with a customer in China is our Zytel HTN, it's renewably sourced, high-temperature polyamide material. It's used in a structural part for a smartphone application.
We are excited. We see a lot of growth potential. Those are just a couple different markets.
Photovoltaics, LED, these are huge potential markets for us. We are already with customers in these spaces, and I only see it continuing to grow. We are doing a lot around thermo management needs.
Q: What issues do you think are keeping industry executives up at night? What's DuPont doing to deal with these issues?
Pritchett: One, thinking big picture on the environment and sustainability of materials, is a real big need, may keep them up at night. Another topic would be global competition, many competitors, not only in Asia, but globally. Another topic might be keeping pace with the changing cost of raw materials and the instability of some [material pricing].
Sustainability is really important to DuPont as a company. We have clear company sustainability goals, to reduce our footprint on the environment. In Performance Polymers, we have renewably sourced offerings, and we continue to innovate in that area, working real close with other parts of DuPont -- industrial, bioscience -- to come up with next-gen materials that are renewably sourced and have unique properties to serve the industry.
About fluctuations of raw material pricing, our products are made from many raw materials, some are up, some are down, it's very dynamic. It's not all tied to oil. Many have their own supply and demand value chains. We have a team of experts who continue to look into that and plan against that.
Q: Where is the company focusing its materials development efforts?
Pritchett: On our development capabilities, it depends a lot on the application. We do a process called inclusive innovation, where we talk with our customers, we really listen to what their needs are, how they are trying to serve their customers and the demand of their customers. We work closely with them on material specification, material development, help them design new parts — can we take three parts and make them into one. It's a very interactive process and one-stop-shop solution.
We recognize speed is important, responsiveness. Speed of product development is very much needed in serving our customers, especially in Asia. It's true everywhere, but especially important here.
Q: What are the specific investments and plans for the Asia Pacific?
Pritchett: We are very committed to grow in China and throughout Asia Pacific. We are investing in many areas, in people. We've added a lot of new people, account management representatives, application development engineers, and technical service resources, all to better serve customers to grow faster.
We are investing in manufacturing assets, continually invest, upgrade and make it more productive, to support the growth we see and need to serve here.
We are investing in technical equipment in our R&D and innovation centers. I'll give you a few examples. We recently invested in a 450-ton injection molding machine at our technology center in Shanghai, to help generate data, to run tests and gather information on how our materials perform vs. alternative materials. That injection molding machine, we use it heavily for a lot of consumer electronics parts, small automotive parts, so we are very excited about that. We also have installed a 3-D suction blow molding machine at our technology and manufacturing site in Japan. The purpose of that machine is to produce air ducts, gathering data on air duct applications. Our team created a simulation software to help simulate how that part reacts in different situations and environments and to create new designs.
[DuPont added: The 3-D blow molding machine and DuPont's first simulation software will help customers to optimize the processing conditions and part design for lightweight air duct solutions. We are currently the first and only one with these facilities to support the customers in application development.]