Wacker polymers business division has been producing advanced polymers for more than 80 years. Its line includes polymeric additives for paints and coatings, construction chemicals, adhesives and many other applications. According to Wacker Polymers President Peter Summo, Wacker is the only supplier to produce both dispersions and dispersible polymer powders based on vinyl acetate-ethylene (VAE) copolymers in America, Europe and Asia. The division operates 15 technical centers around the world and, coupled with Wacker Academy, enables Wacker to provide knowledge on construction trends, application expertise and training.
Last year, the polymer group had sales of more than E1.245, with a CAGR of 7% from 2007 to 2017, accounting for 25% of corporate sales, according to Summo. Moreover, Wacker dominates the global construction polymer market with more than a 50% share and is the No. 1 supplier in the global consumer and industrial polymers market.
In 2018, company executives expect polymer division sales to rise by a mid-single-digit percentage.
“Worldwide demand is rising; for example, for functional paints and coatings,” explained CEO Rudolf Staudigl at the company’s annual meeting in Munich. “That is why we have developed specialty dispersions for stain-resistant floor and wall coatings. Stains made by oil or red wine can now be wiped away easily.”
How to Grow
Company executives maintain that Wacker Polymers’ gains are helped along by several global megatrends:
• One billion people will enter the middle class by 2025;
• 30% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions
are attributed to buildings;
• $49 trillion increase in global infrastructure investment
from 2016 to 2030;
• 200,000 people are added every day to the world’s urban
• 6% CAGR growth of India’s adhesive market until 2020;
• 2-5 times higher VOC compounds found inside U.S.
homes than outside levels.
“We offer solutions for global megatrends like urbanization, higher living standards, and increasing environmental and health requirements,” explained Summo. “(And) we are focusing on sustainability along the entire value chain, a trend that is big in Europe and growing in Asia, but is not yet important in North America.”
He told reporters that cement production is responsible for about 5% of global man-made CO2 emissions; more than 10,000 kilowatt hours of heating energy escapes through the walls of an uninsulated detached house each year; and sand, the second most widely consumed natural resource (after water) is becoming scarce.”
“Wacker Polymers’ products enable material savings and CO2 emission reduction,” he asserted. “Incorporating our polymers in production could reduce the use of sand by 80%.”
Wacker has three different product groups—dispersions, dispersible polymer powders and solid polymers, explained Summo who added, “our VAE technology creates value in a wide variety of applications.”
These valuable attributes include excellent weatherability, high cohesion level, superior workability, improved flexibility, high dry and wet strength, machinability, low odor and low VOC, scrub resistance.
Wacker is expanding its VAE dispersion capabilities throughout the world to remain close to its customers. It already operates production sites for both dispersible polymer powders and vinyl-acetate-based dispersions in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Now, it is expanding its capacities for VAE dispersions in Nanjing and Ulsan, and building a new spray dryer for dispersible polymer powders at its Korean site, which are all expected to come on-stream in 2019.
“We are close to our customers throughout the world,” asserted Summo. “We have 15 technical centers and continuously invest in our global competence network, helping our customers formulate and customize products.”
Customer focus is one of three pillars to Wacker’s success, according to Summo. The others are substitution and innovation. Pushing transformation in construction and new binder concepts, and replacing non-VAE technologies based on value offerings are examples of the substitution pillar. And finally, innovation is exemplified in new products, productivity improvements and developing new applications and products beyond existing core markets.
“No company has a broader technology portfolio than Wacker,” asserted Theo Mayer, innovation director, Wacker Polymers. “Our technology roadmap focuses on the entire value chain, process, product and application.”
Wacker’s Primis SAF 9001 for mineral surfaces improves stain and abrasion resistance and impregnation, which makes surfaces easy to clean with excellent durability. For outdoor wall paints, Primis AF 1000 significantly improves soil resistance for topcoats, according to Wacker. The company also produces hybrid polymers with multiple applications including water-proofing, advanced binding and road stabilization.
“Polymers is a fully-loaded innovative pipeline,” concluded Mayer.
Unfortunately, the global construction industry is not very innovative and could use some help—desperately. According to Christophe Berset, strategic marketing manager, construction polymers, Wacker Polymers, the construction sector lags other industries in terms of on-site productivity. He noted that while the manufacturing economy has nearly doubled its hourly output during the past 20 years, the construction sector has stayed at the same level of real gross value added per hour worked. Put another way, construction productivity is costing the global economy $1.6 trillion a year.
“The construction industry must evolve in order to keep up with the construction megatrend,” he told reporters. “Every construction site is re-inventing the wheel. A lot of education is needed to improve productivity.”
Further, most construction companies (74%) are having a hard time finding qualified trade workers. To improve productivity, according to Berset, the industry must reshape regulations and improve transparency; rethink design and engineering processes; improve on-site execution; infuse digital technology, new materials and advanced automation; and reskill the workforce.
Wacker’s Vinnapas, Etonis and Primis polymers, he said, are adding value to mortar and concrete systems in construction.
“We know construction,” asserted Berset, who began his career in construction. “We are well-prepared for the future with our products.”
Southeast Asia Presence
Demand for Wacker’s products and services are soaring in Asia, where the growing economies are seeking a variety of solutions. Lilyana Budyanto, marketing manager, construction polymers, Wacker Chemicals (South Asia), noted that Wacker has 28 sales offices in Asia, including eight in Southeast Asia: Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Jakarta, Indonesia; Manila, Philippines; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Yangon, Myanmar and Singapore, which also serves as the company’s regional headquarters.
“Wacker embraces customer proximity,” explained Budyanto. “It helps Wacker gain an in-depth understanding and thorough know-how about local customers’ needs, which serves as a background in developing, serving and growing the market.”
For example, every technical center includes an outdoor weathering stations to ensure the right formulation is developed to suit the tropical climate of southeast Asia. These stations analyze natural weathering behavior of exterior applications such as skimcoat and tile adhesives under local conditions.
To increase awareness in developing and emerging markets, Wacker on Wheels is a mobile marketing tool that is driven to construction sites to educate end-users about the benefits of dry mix technology.
Exceeding the needs of its customers in Southeast Asia and around the world calls for a world-class production and supply chain, according to Konrad Bachhuber, VP-operations, Wacker Polymers.
“Wacker is the only manufacturer in the world that is able to supply both VAE dispersions and dispersible polymer powders in significant quantities in key growth regions,” said Bachhuber. “Our VAE dispersion and powder capacities even surpass those of our two closest competitors.”
Since 2013, Wacker has boosted VAE capacity by 245,000 metric tons, with 120,000MT expected to be added for 2019. Dispersible polymer powders capacities increased by 80,000MT since 2014 and will add 80,000MT when Ulsan’s spray dryer comes on-stream in 2019.
“We have the broadest portfolio that is closest to the customer,” Bachhuber concluded.
Production sites are close to the customer, too, and world-class as well, according to Wacker executives, who provided an overview of its comprehensive and systematic approach to drive improvement at all sites. Bachhuber pointed out that Ulsan site will include the biggest and best dryers in the world, capable of producing 80 kilo tons of VAE powder a year. The site will also include world class reactors to produce VAE dispersions. In addition, Wacker’s overall VAE capacity has soared since 1995 due to asset optimization; a process that continues throughout the company.
“We will take operational excellence to the next level,” Bachhuber assured reporters.
Digitalization is top-of-mind among consumers and businesses. But corporate digitalization has lagged home digitalization, according to Dirk Ramhorst, SVP-information technology, Wacker. His company is out to change that with the 2017 launch of Wacker Digital, a program that systemically evaluates the opportunities and threats posed by new technologies and their relevance to Wacker. At the front end, the company is working to improve its customers’ digital experience; ie, via apps and the internet. This, according to Ramhorst, will enhance customer loyalty.
Operationally, production, logistics and R&D have enormous potential to benefit from digitalization, according to Eric Frauendorfer, senior manager, R&D, Wacker. For example, digitalization will lead to self-learning data analysis in research, and smart control and simulation processes in production plants will avoid component failure.
“Our goal is clear,” concluded Frauendorfer. “We will become a digital leader within our industry.”