IKEA partner Dendro’s sales revenues topped PLN 400m in 2014. Michal Soltysinski, the firm’s head of PU foam production, told Urethanes Technology International his hopes for strengthening the partnership with one of the world’s biggest furniture retailers.
Dendro operates one of the largest mattress production facilities in Poland. It is located 50km north of Poznan. Dendro only supplies IKEA and is not currently seeking any more clients, according to Soltysinski.
The firm produces more than 2m mattresses annually. In 2015, IKEA sold 8.3bn mattresses worldwide according to its annual report. Dendro’s total foam production 16kT/year to 17kT/year and comprises high resilience, standard and visco-elastic foam. The foam is produced on one line to 30m blocks on a one shift a day basis.
The firm’s foam production facility, which measures 55,000m2, is equipped with Hennecke’s high-pressure Quadrofoamat foaming machine which was installed in 2009. Dendro uses storage tanks by H&S Anlagentechnik and Polish firm Metalko. German firm Baumer supplied the cutting equipment as well as an additional storage system for long blocks.
Dendro’s 220,000m2 storage facility means 10% of the firm’s yearly production can be kept onsite, according to Soltysinki.
Currently Dendro has capacity to recycle its own scrap foam. H&S installed a polyol recovery process based on acidolysis, under which flexible PU foam is converted into polyol in the presence of different carboxylic acids.
Sulingen, Germany-based H&S delivered the plant to Dendro in 2013. The plant is designed to recycle 2,500 tonnes of scrap PU foam annually, with a five tonne capacity per shift.
Soltysinski is keen to broadcast how his firm is continuing to develop green credentials beyond the polyol recovery plant – which he said, began when his boss handed him a copy of Urethanes Technology International containing an article about the H&S polyol recovery system in 2010.
The next phase of Dendro’s waste recovery blueprint is the creation of a test reactor to recycle post-consumer mattresses. Soltysinski says the move is being driven by the prediction that European Commission legislators are set to propose end of life recycling targets similar to those imposed on electrical and electronic equipment such as computers, TV-sets, fridges and cell phones, in the coming years. Soltysinski’s vision for recycling post-consumer flexible foam bedding will come to fruition if retailers and distributors have to set up a take back service for end of life products, as they do in the electricals business under EU law.
He said: “We can recycle most of our scrap today and turn it into polyols to use within new mattresses. But today we have proven that it might be possible to recycle post-consumer mattresses.”
The way the firm has done this is by developing a 700kg plant to carry out tests on foam besides its own scrap. Soltysinski said that while the H&S reactor Dendro uses to recycle its own scrap can deliver polyols of high enough quality to replace 20% of the virgin polyols used on its own foaming line, polyols made from post-consumer mattresses are not destined for use in new mattresses.
Soltysinski’s vision for recycling post-consumer mattresses is sensible because already, according to the UK’s National Bed Federation, end of life (EOL) mattresses are already subject to recycling rates and landfill bans in several countries as authorities act to stem environmental damage from throw away culture and instil circular economic values in society.
It is likely the European Union Waste Management Policy Review Process will legislate on environmentally acceptable disposal of post-consumer mattresses in the near future. In France, say EcoMobilier, around 4m mattresses are discarded each year. Taking an average weight per piece of 30kg, France is creating 120kT of waste foam from end of life mattresses every year. If France’s waste mattress record is scaled EU-member wide, more than 1,000kT of waste mattresses are created annually.
Soltysinski said it is possible that polyols created out of recycled post-consumer mattresses – using glycolysis and acidolysis techniques to break down the polyurethane - will most probably end up in rigid foam for applications such as insulation panels.
There are a lot of ideas,” Soltysinski said. Possibly, in one year we could have a full scale reactor.” But the future is highly dependent on the firm getting support from IKEA for the plans it has put in place. The recycling plant operates on two shifts per day. Cutting operates on three shifts a day, as does the covering operations departments.
Aside from recycling, one of the main business challenges, according to Soltysinski, is that customers want to lower costs. “The customer is not ready to pay for the heavy, high density foams because they do not see any benefit for that. In past years we were producing higher quantities of foam in terms of weight – perhaps 22kT/year in weight. Now we are producing more mattresses but the overall weight of our output is going down.”
Soltysinski said: “The cost of chemicals is a challenge. If you are not big enough to be a partner with the big chemical companies, when crude oil prices go up your costs rise. I can mitigate risk of crude oil prices rising if I am using more bio feedstock. This would be a positive side effect of our innovations with soya-based polyols. There are many reason for creating a more sustainable product and if it helps to reduce the cost of oil that is good.
"Today we see a positive impact on a price. As raw materials for polyols and isocyanates production are coming from crude oil, when the price of main component goes down, polyols and isocyanates go down as well. However, in the past, from time to time, we couldn’t observe such direct link. I mean, if the price of crude oil went down then the price of polyols did not move. Thus, the price mechanism probably is more complicated and connected with other factors, such as crude oil cost, demand and supply of polyols and isocyanates, exchange rate and so on.
“Exchange rates are also an issue, with the Polish currency getting weaker and whilst I do not believe it will kill a business next week. This is particularly an issue for the smaller players in Poland,” he said.
“Added to that is the impact of rising labour costs and potential for labour shortage in itself. That is why we create a decent working environment for our staff, said Soltysinski.
“It’s great to have a big customer like IKEA and for now we are trying to diversify our portfolio, to innovate and offer IKEA new products, which I hope the retailer is going to agree with.”
Recent announcements by IKEA confirm it is seeking greater sustainability in its products. The firm announced in November 2015 that it plans to produce 100% of its plastic products using renewable and recycled materials by 2020. The scope, however, did not include its PU-based products such as upholstered furniture and mattresses.
In Soltysinki’s view, quality remains the key factor for IKEA. He said: “If you compare the price of products, the former collection versus the new one, you will see that the prices of final products are more or less the same. It looks that, as far as the current collection is concerned, our customer focused more on improving quality and visual aspects of covers, but it’s my personal judgment.”
That said, Dendro is working hard to establish a more sustainable raw material supply for its products. Soya-based polyols are a key area of development for the country – an approach that fits with IKEA’s – but the issue is not without its problems. Soltysinski said: “The end customer still cannot see the value in spending more on products with a sustainable profile.”