SHANGHAI—DowDuPont Specialty Products is boosting production and research in China with a $40 million upgrade to a compounding facility to satisfy the quickening pace of technological change there, especially in the automotive industry.
But even when that investment at its engineering plastics facility in Shenzhen comes online by mid-2019, it won't quench China's thirst for materials, said Randy Stone, president of the division's Transportation and Advanced Polymers unit.
"We need to put more polymer capacity in Asia. So we're evaluating options in China right now to do that," he said, in a late April interview at Chinaplas in Shanghai.
DuPont's China-based R&D efforts will get a boost when the Dow Shanghai labs merges with DuPont's Shanghai labs by year's end, as part of the merger of the two companies, said Tina Wu, Asia Pacific managing director of Transportation and Advanced Polymers.
Wu anticipates synergies from the joined research efforts.
Electric vehicles are also a key area of research, gobbling up "a disproportionate amount of R&D spending by key OEMs," Stone said.
For example, DuPont, together with key Chinese automotive tubing supplier Taizhou ChangLi Plastics Co. Ltd., developed cooling pipes for electric vehicle battery packs based on DuPont's nylons.
Also for electric vehicles, DuPont was showing two non-halogenated flame-retardant nylons for housing lithium-ion batteries.
"High-temperature nylons is our fastest-growing product line," Stone said.
The company also was showing products designed for today's hotter-running internal combustion engines.
A Zytel grade used in air ducts give them high temperature resistance, good mechanical strength and chemical resistance, and can be blow molded into complex forms. And a Vamac elastomer in a turbo-charged hose delivers high temperature resistance, good chemical resistance and ease of processability, the company said.
Both products are used in Volkswagen EA888 air ducts, which are 30 percent lighter than conventional air ducts.
Medical engineering plastics as yet makes a relatively small part of DuPont's portfolio, but Stone foresees benefits from the Dow medical silicones business joining DuPont.
"We think between DuPont and Dow we've got the right legal and regulatory product stewardship and good manufacturing practices," the native South Dakotan said. "We think that's a good long-term growth sector for us."
Also at Chinaplas, DuPont was also showing partially biobased high-temperature nylons for portable and wearable electronics.
A Zytel grade, FE150065, developed by DuPont in China, combines strength while lowering weight as much as 25 percent, making it a good choice for virtual reality-oriented electronics, the company said. The resin is 40 percent based on castor or rincinus oil.
Another Zytel grade, RS HTN59G55E, is used in boosting antenna performance in portable devices, and both resins deliver "better performance compared to oil-based products," said Kelvin Tseng, greater China business director for the TAP unit.
On the electronics front, it was also showing a Zytel, 30 percent glass-reinforced, nonhalogenated flame retardant nylon for surface-mount technology connectors.
"About 16 percent of our business now goes into electronics," Stone said.
Also at Chinaplas, Dow Performance Silicones, another unit of DowDuPont Specialty Products, rolled out a masterbatch aimed at shushing annoying car sounds, a particularly important problem with the expected growth of electric and self-driving vehicles.
Dow Industrial and Consumer Strategic Marketer Christophe Paulo said that passengers are more aware than the driver of NVH—or noise, vibration and harshness, as it's called in the automotive industry.
And as more of us will be passengers as self-driving cars hit bumpy, pot-holed roads, the company believes that will be a more important engineering challenge.
"Autonomous cars, which promise to transform the cabin into a haven for relaxation and entertainment, demand a tranquil interior environment," the company said.
Automotive applications for the masterbatch, HMB-1903, include interior parts such as instrument panels, center consoles and trim. The company also sees markets in refrigerators, washing machines and window frames.