WILMINGTON, Del.—Chemours Co. is in the middle of constructing a state-of-the-art research and innovation facility that is slated to open in early 2020 on the University of Delaware's campus.
The chemicals firm that produces the Viton-brand fluoroelastomer line is investing about $150 million on what will be known as the Chemours Discovery Hub, which will be located on the university's Science, Technology and Advanced Research—or STAR—Campus.
Together, Chemours and the University of Delaware will conduct research focused on new process, product and application development "to better meet customer and market needs," according to a Chemours statement. The Chemours facility will be 312,000 square feet and is expected to house roughly 320 Chemours researchers. Chemours is the public company that was spun off from DuPont in 2015.
The Discovery Hub will bring together researchers from all parts of Chemours that currently are spread among about 15 research and development buildings that are near the company's headquarters in Wilmington, said Bianca Hydutsky, Chemours technical services manager for fluoropolymers.
Anton Soudakov, regional product manager for Viton fluoroelastomers, said the R&D center will promote collaboration between the different businesses within Chemours, which include fluoroproducts, titanium technologies and chemical solutions.
"We want to get rid of the silo mentality," he said during the recent ACS Rubber Division International Elastomer Conference in Louisville, Ky. "We will still have our own wings and areas. The thinking of it is instead of calling or sending an email, you can walk down the hall and talk to a Viton expert. Or you can walk upstairs and talk to another expert. Having everyone together will promote discovery."
Hydutsky said at the IEC that besides having a state-of-the art facility, Chemours is investing in a variety of new equipment to help with the application development effort. This will give the researchers the tools they need to test its products and design new ones.
"We will be able to get a better insight into how it will perform for our customers," she said. "We'll be making prototypes and trialing new products and new ideas. ... We'll be able to host customers and often times run trials with them. They will be able to optimize parameters or make prototypes to take back to their facilities."
Another intent of the hub, Hydutsky added, is to set up programs and work on projects with the University of Delaware and its students, including the hiring of interns and co-op students.
"It's a huge undertaking," Soudakov said. "It shows a true commitment to being customer-centric and being a technology leader in making an investment like this."
Viton moves forward
As work continues on the new R&D facility, Chemours continues to see strong growth for its Viton FKM, as well as for other fluoropolymers, with a continued focus on automotive, according to Soudakov. Even with the car build fairly flat, the materials firm continues to see engines getting smaller and running hotter.
"We're seeing more and more need for high performance materials in the engine," he said. "So even as the builds are flat, we're still projecting a growth in FKM."
With that, Chemours at the IEC introduced two new Viton grades. VTR-7667 is a peroxide-curable type that Soudakov said offers higher elongation and tear strength, and can also perform well at elevated temperatures.
The firm also unveiled VTR-7671, a pre-compound version specifically designed for turbocharger hoses. "It has improved bonding and adhesion to the silicone rubber layer of the turbocharger hose," he said. "That's another trend in automotive, more cars using turbochargers in their engines."
Soudakov said Chemours is starting to be more focused on customer needs than in prior years. As part of that the firm identified four key market segments to focus on: Automotive, semiconductor, consumer electronics, and energy and energy storage. There are market development managers in each region for each application, with their job to look into future customer needs.
"They're the ones who are going to the OEMs and finding out what we need to be working on and what new products we need to be developing," he said.
Hydutsky said Chemours is aiming to understand what solutions customers need, rather than trying to push the technologies the firm has developed. "I think it helps us prioritize and truly understand the needs and what parameters are most important for the customers, as opposed to us assuming we know what they need."
In most cases, she said Chemours has guessed right on the parameters, but the firm also is finding there have been instances where the supplier didn't truly understand what was key to its customers. It could be resistance to a certain chemical, or may relate to temperature or pressure, where one criteria was more important than another.
"In some scenarios we're looking at more questions around sustainability and the life cycle of a product," Hydutsky said. "We're capturing that feedback and understanding what we can do to make our products more sustainable."
Soudakov said Chemours really wants to be more of a technology partner with is customers, as opposed to being just a supplier. "Customers seem to be appreciating it, and we're having a lot of success with the market development organization program," he said.
Hydutsky said Chemours has been identifying new opportunities and ways to collaborate with customers as well. There are cases where several Chemours staff members will meet with their counterparts at a customer and identify specific items to work on, with both organizations dedicating resources to the programs.
"It's a better directed approach, and broken down into a timeline," she said. "I think Chemours in general is working at a faster pace, but I think this is helping us to accelerate that pace even further."
And Chemours definitely is putting more emphasis on Viton than before the spinoff from DuPont, Soudakov said, adding this is indicative of FKM being identified as a "power brand" within the organization. "I think it's reflected in where resources are allocated," he said. "Chemours sees Viton as a very important part of the future of the company, and sees somewhere we can really grow."
Besides automotive, he said Viton has seen growth in the aerospace and oil and gas industries.
And the Viton licensee program continues to grow, where certified customers can use the Viton trademark as part of their marketing process and on product labels.
"The customers that are in it recognize Viton is a strong brand," he said. "People know what Viton is, and they know that it's important to protect it. ... They say it helps them get business because people trust the trademark. When people see they are an official Viton licensee they know they're going to get high quality parts."