"I will tell you, it's not just because we have been holed up in remote offices and not been able to interact for awhile that we are excited for this center," Ian Moore, vice president of silicones at Wacker, told Rubber News. "Rather, the excitement comes from creating an environment that caters to the flow of ideas."
While Wacker's two previous announcements—planned capacity expansion for LSR and HCR in Adrian, Mich., the Czech Republic, Japan and India (totaling $107 million) and an intent to increase (captive) silicon metal refinement in Norway—were international in scope, this expansion is distinctly North (and Central) American.
The NCA Innovation Center, only 30 minutes from the Adrian production site that is flagged for an increase in LSR capacity, demonstrates the shift Wacker has made over the last several years from leveraging investment in capacity to leveraging investment in research around that capacity.
"We were in a different phase a couple years ago," Moore said. "Now we are at a point where Wacker is in a very good position, with the ability to fund and accelerate investments."
Moore, who maintains Wacker's consumer business unit and has more than 30 years experience in the silicone industry, joined the company five years ago as it was considering an innovation center and new regional headquarters on American soil.
"Wacker knew a couple years ago that North America was one of largest regions for silicones, next to China," Moore said. "We did not have a research and development presence in North America ... we had some development and technical services, but really all the research and development was done in Burghausen (Germany)."
As such, the Board of Directors in Munich made a decision to invest in Ann Arbor.
"How can we not be developing and researching one of largest silicone markets in the world? We are going to invest and grow and accelerate the growth in that region," Moore said.
Over the next five years, the North American silicone market is expected to grow between 4 and 5 percent per year in sales volume, according to Grand View Research Inc., based in San Francisco.
"Silicones continuously find new applications and North America is a relatively mature market," Moore said. "And it is growing. We want to be the leader in bringing new innovative products to market.
"And what better way to do that than right here."
Wacker's chemists, scientists and senior leadership previously worked out of three separate Michigan locations, including Adrian, on the company's specialty silicones, polymers, polysilicon and biosolutions.
"It really allowed us to bring our research and development team physically together with our applications and marketing team," Moore said, adding that the work force could top out at between 300 and 325 at the center. "Frankly, we ran out of space at the tech center in Adrian."
The NCA Innovation Center includes laboratories, a full-service cafeteria, a 24/7 fitness center and open collaborative work spaces.
"The Innovation Center will be Wacker's new North American headquarters for a diverse and broad work force and (will) be a workspace for 300 Michiganders operating on the cutting edge of manufacturing and high-tech innovation," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the center. "This facility is a talent magnet, showing other firms that Michigan is the obvious answer when deciding where to expand or move their business."
Wacker will continue to produce elastomers, silicone fluids and silicone emulsions out of its operations in Adrian, where the regional headquarters previously was located. The Adrian site, established in 1969, remains a growing base of operations for the approximately 275 employees there.