supply polyurethane binders for the 1988 and 2012 Olympic athletic tracks. If you fly into the country through Inchon airport, the chances are that you or your plane will travel over polyurea spray that was produced using its materials.
The company has about seven different product lines, including brake pads -- an outlet for phenolic resins -- through to polyurethane grades such as elastomeric parts and synthetic leathers. It exports to about 20 countries worldwide, said Yong Kwon Lee, manager of the overseas sales team.
The company is medium-sized and in 2016 had sales of about $140m. ‘We estimate that they will be greater than $200m this year,’ Lee claimed. He said that domestic sales were up around 80% in 2016. ‘It’s going better than last year,’ he added.
With a headquarters in Seoul, the firm has four sales offices around the country and another production in Pyeongtaek, 74 km south of the capital.
Kangnam also has a presence in China, and recently moved its Chinese sales office to Shanghai because most customers are based there. ‘It is better to be close to customers,’ said Lee.
Sales of almost all types of products are growing, he added. This is driven by high MDI and TDI prices but also volumes are up by 7%, Lee explained.
The company moved into polyurethane production in 1984. ‘The idea was to introduce the materials into the Korean market because the quality of the resin was rising,’ Lee continued. He added that the main markets for the business at that time were shoe soles and cast resins.
By 1988, Kangnam was making resins for footwear OEMs like Nike and Adidas and the firm was helping them to produce better quality footwear resins. Typically, Kangnam supplies PU raw materials to OEMs via system houses. The company also supplies its own polyurethane systems for construction applications, Lee added.
The company has now branched out into water-borne polyurethane resins, breathable cast PU systems for clothing, polyurea and adhesives used in food packaging.
Overall, the business has about 500 T/year sales in synthetic leather, 2 kT/year shoe sole materials, around 1.6 kT/year in casting resins, 6 kT/year polyurethane adhesives and around 41kT/year polyethers for slabstock and rigid applications. Around 25 kT/year production is carried out in Pyungtaek. Polyols are produced using DEG as the starting point and the firm is supplied by many different companies, said Lee.
Kangnam, employs 20 people in new product development and 40 in sales, out of a total staff of 250 people, Lee said.
Like other companies visited in this trip, Kangnam uses expertise from across Korean society. ‘We develop some of our materials with the government and universities,’ said Lee.
The company’s interest in polyurethane elastomers naturally lead into a discussion about curing agent, MbOCA.
Kwang-Soon Hwang, director of the Kangnam R&D centre said that, in the light of a Korean government ruling in 2015 and tight restrictions on MbOCA residue in Japan, Kangnam developed non-MbOCA systems for polyurethane elastomers. These are based on DMTDA and amines and 1,4-butadiene. There are other systems, but Hwang said these are much harder to process.
Additionally, Hwang added, Kangnam has been working to reduce the downsides of DMTDA cure packages. He said that these are characterised by polyurethane elastomers with poor humidity resistance. Newer systems that Kangnam has developed still see lower properties, but to a much lesser extent. ‘There is still a 10-15% fall in properties, compared with MbOCA grades,’ Hwang said. He added that the company is working on developing a system that is useful all year round because in Korea the weather can be very extreme.