Better in this context means building on the expertise of the people who are now employed by Lanxess rather than Chemtura, breaking down regional silos, and helping the team to communicate better with each other and the customers.
The business is being run by Markus Eckert, who heads up the Urethane Systems unit at Lanxess.
He has many years’ experience with Lanxess and, before that, Bayer. His enthusiasm for the very diverse polyurethanes business after four years spent running the Lanxess leather products business shone through in conversation.
As a graduate in chemistry and economics working for Bayer, Eckert found himself co-opted into the global team that helped pull Lanxess out of the German chemical giant in 2005.
‘I learnt a lot, as that’s not the natural environment for a graduate chemist,’ he said. After the spin-off, he found himself heading Lanxess’ corporate development function for four years. Following that, he gained hands-on business management experience running the leather products business.
Clear business focus
Under the previous owner, Chemtura had bundled gasoline additives and polyurethane chemicals together in the same division. Eckert said this led to greater management focus on larger gasoline additives business, to the detriment of polyurethanes.
While customers knew that individuals at Chemtura were committed to the polyurethanes business, there was always some doubt about the long-term commitment to what was a small, albeit high added value, segment of Chemtura’s portfolio.
Eckert said that Lanxess has shown its commitment to the business segment with the purchase, and this is giving customers greater faith.
In polyurethanes, Lanxess obtained former Chemtura production assets in six locations: Baxenden, near Manchester, UK; Latina, Rome, Italy; Nantong, China; Perth Amboy, Gastonia, US; and Rio Claro, Brazil. The company also has technical centres in Naugatuck, Connecticut, US, Latina, Italy; and Nanjing, China.
He is pleased with the spread of assets and technical centres, and added that these locations will stay. ‘You need critical mass for research and development,’ he said.
There are a number of opportunities to grow the business through innovation, by a greater regional focus, and by communications between the different regions, Eckert believes.
Like other Lanxess business groups, it will be run as a stand-alone medium-sized company with dedicated procurement and technology functions, but will use shared services from the parent company in areas such as accounting, HR and logistics, where Lanxess has strength.
The aim is not to run it as a silo within Lanxess or within regions but to spread the expertise across the group. ‘If there are forty applications for our materials, we may find that the US group has expertise in 15, Europe 15 and Asia 10,’ Eckert said.
Use all the resources
‘We want our customers to know that problems can be solved by not one technician working alone in a region but by the global team, of which our technicians are all a part,’ he added, saying that more global focus and less regional isolation is the goal.
In the first move to break down regional barriers, at end of August all of Lanxess newly acquired polyurethanes technologists met in the company’s technical centre in Naugatuck, Connecticut.
This was to enable them to get to know each other more closely face to face and increase the coherence of the team, he said. A number of key business issues were discussed, Eckert added.
Additionally, Eckert is able to use the size and track record that Lanxess has built up with governments around the world when it needs to. For example, in China, Chemtura had a technical centre in Nanjing and production in Nantong and was, in terms of the Chinese government, quite a small player.
Lanxess was the first company in China to achieve a certificate for an outstanding example of ecologically sound production at its site in Wuxi. This was commemorated with a visit from the prime minister and a postage stamp.
Most of the business is and will remain in hot cast polyurethanes. The Chemtura brands of Vibrathane and Adiprene will remain on the market he said. There are also interesting products in TPE and TPU which are ripe for further innovation under the new management.
‘We believe that some technologies have more potential in the future,’ Eckert explained. He is keen to ‘further promote the Low Free prepolymers with low isocyanate content’.
Aim high with Low Free
He added that the plan is to invest in products with better properties. These could be in traditional physical or mechanical properties, but also in products with more desirable environmental properties.
For example, there is a big regulatory aspect in the applications which are closer to the customer, he said. ‘The closer the application is, the more strict the health and safety aspects become,’ he explained. This is an area where he suggested that the Low Free products could be useful.