FAIRLAWN, Ohio—Showa Denko America has quietly made big strides in the U.S. latex industry in the past year.
But it took the removal of anti-dumping duties on imported chloroprene rubber in the U.S. in 2010 for the firm to begin making some serious inroads, especially in the latex market.
Part of the petrochemical business of Japan-headquartered Showa Denko K.K., Showa Denko America had been a key supplier of polychloroprene, under the Neoprene trade name, since 1960 as part of a joint venture the company had with DuPont Dow Elastomers L.L.C.
Partners DuPont and Showa Denko parted ways and dissolved the manufacturing venture in Japan in November 2002. That decision started the Japanese company on a solo path in the latex industry, said Scott Silver, sales and marketing manager for the U.S. operation.
“DuPont and Showa Denko agreed that after ending the joint venture the two would independently operate their respective elastomer businesses,” he said at the International Latex Conference, held recently in Fairlawn.
Based on the pact, Showa Denko America was able to sell both in Japan and globally. The firm chose the new trade name Showa Denko Chloroprene for its elastomer product. “We continue to expand our elastomer business today,” Silver said.
However, anti-dumping duties imposed on imported chloroprene in the U.S. in the early 2000s naturally impacted the company. Those duties were lifted in 2010, clearing the way for Showa Denko America to make a concerted effort in the latex industry.
In late 2002, when the firm was marketing Showa Denko Chloroprene for existing industrial applications, Silver said, “we started developing a latex-type product. Furthermore, new applications and grades were developed through increased R&D efforts and joint development with customers.
“Since DuPont discontinued some latex grades, we were requested by U.S. industries to back up their demand by supplying chloroprene.” The company has been producing its latex grades for all global regions since 2006.
Today, the firm's production capacity is about 23,000 metric tons annually, making it the smallest among global suppliers. Because of that, “it is natural that we target niche markets,” he said. The company produces its products at the company's plant in Kawasaki, Japan, which has its own electric power facility that supplies the chloroprene operation.
“Our plant is operating at 100 percent, even after the earthquake and tsunami that affected Japan,” the sales and marketing manager said. “We continue producing chloroprene without interruption.”
Showa Denko Americas was exhibiting at the latex conference because the firm wanted to gain greater exposure for its products in the latex industry and the American market.
“It was a good opportunity to promote that the anti-dumping duty imposed on the imported chloroprene was lifted,” Silver said.
“Since the lifting of the duties in 2010, companies have the benefit of purchasing Showa Denko Chloroprene at market prices,” according to Silver.
The latex conference gave the company a much better awareness of the industry, he said, primarily because it gave company officials the opportunity to participate in educational seminars and networking events, he said.
Businesses represented at the conference also became much more aware of Showa Denko America while “we learned more about our customers' needs and the trends in the market,” Silver said.
“We wanted to present our diversified selection guide with grades that include 115, 116A and 750. We have received a very favorable response from the industry. We are able to offer these grades and our entire polychloroprene line to the market.”
He believes that future trends in the latex industry will include further growth in the medical sector along with the accelerated replacement of natural rubber latex with synthetics, primarily in surgical glove production.
“There has been a lot of demand for material with less volatile organic compounds,” which are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids, according to Silver.
“Many of our customers, specifically in the adhesives area, are creating products that meet the demand for VOC free material” and Showa Denko America has been working with companies to create more environmentally friendly products.