To be truly innovative, a material supplier must understand not just what a customer needs now, but what they are thinking about five years or even 10 years out.
This means a successful supplier should listen to and work with a variety of customers, not just those that represent a single industry but ones that operate in whole host of markets, to achieve material innovations that are ready to take advantage of emerging megatrends now.
We believe a close supplier and customer relationship, grounded in experience and technical expertise and knowledge of trends, is truly where innovative material ideas are created.
Based on this model, we've been able to successfully develop some pretty innovative materials that are expanding the design space and helping our customers to develop their next generation of products in a variety of markets.
Changing the “DNA” of Acetal Copolymer
In the past few years, we've pushed material innovation back into the reactor to change the backbone chemistry and create truly innovative polymers that meet customer application requirements that are increasing all the time.
One example of how we've applied our experience in the lab to change the DNA of an engineering polymer involves Hostaform POM , the Ticona brand name for polyacetal copolymer.
As the market leader of this engineering polymer first introduced in 1962, Ticona scientists have significantly expanded the application landscape for what was previously possible with conventional POM.
Listening to our customers, we learned they wanted a material with better short-term mechanical properties, combined with long-term stability and chemical resistance, to give them a competitive edge in developing innovative products across many automotive applications such as door latches and components, wiper mechanisms and seating components.
Our response was a significant long-term R&D effort and allocation of resources to come up with the new high-strength Hostaform HS15 that was introduced in April 2010.
It is a member of the family of Hostaform POM S Series grades that includes high productivity and high impact performance, both designed to help customers develop innovative new fastener and seat belt component applications that need to withstand heavy impacts. Additional applications include seat belt ratchets, buckles and air bag components, bumpers and quarter panel brackets.
The Hostaform S Series, though, is just the latest in material innovations that are the culmination of Ticona seeing a customer need, conducting the R&D and coming up with a portfolio of materials that outperform traditional polymers.
Enabling Customers to Develop Eco-Friendly Innovation
Several years ago, we saw that the consumer electronics industry was being pushed to make eco friendly products and required to remove hazardous substances from their products, not only by governmental regulations such as RoHS, WEEE, REACH but also pressure from non-government groups such as Greenpeace.
We saw this as an opportunity to help consumer electronics companies such as Sony, Apple, Dell and Nokia meet these future challenges. We committed the necessary research and development to come up with a portfolio of polymers dedicated to eco-friendly innovation.
One key polymer at the top of this list is liquid crystal polymers (LCP). As the leading supplier of LCP for connectors, Ticona has a long history of applications in the electrical and electronic equipment industry.
Branded as Vectra, this patented LCP from Ticona was created more than 23 years ago. These highly crystalline, thermotropic thermoplastic LCPs have a UL V-0 rating and can withstand high surface mount technology soldering temperatures, including those needed with lead-free solder.
The materials help customers meet RoHS and WEEE requirements. New developments to this LCP portfolio includes innovative grades to solve emerging needs of our E/E customers regarding high flow for thinwall and complex shapes, higher temperature resistance, fast cycle times and recyclability.
We've also enhanced and developed new flame resistant thermoplastic polyesters, under the brand name Celanex XFR, to help manufacturers produce eco-friendly system components without the use of hazardous chemicals such as antimony, beryllium and phthalates.
This innovative flame retardant (FR) system, recognized in 2006 with a Frost & Sullivan Product Innovation Award, replaces conventional FRs, and actually enhances the performance of the engineering polymers while making components more eco-friendly. Once again, we anticipated trends, talked to customers and developed innovative material solutions that help our customers use eco-friendly solutions for their applications.
Creating “Looks That Thrill”
Another example of material innovation involves the development of a portfolio of polymers that give designers new ways to express their creativity via enhanced interior aesthetics while reducing costs.
Designers told us they wanted ‘looks that thrill.’ These designers understood plastics offer a number of benefits in designing complex shapes and parts integration. But to achieve a color, metallic or special effect look, we raised the bar for these types of parts to a new level. By eliminating painting and secondary finishing operations, costs could also be reduced.
This challenge resulted in the development of a portfolio of polymers for Molded-In Colors and new MetaLX  metal-effect polymers that designers are using in applications where they want to achieve brilliant solutions with plastics while eliminating secondary operations such as painting and plating and also reducing the environmental impact of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) for those processes.
As these examples demonstrate, innovation takes more than a good technology based company applying some of its technology.
Material innovation takes a great company that does everything well — from the way it uses its recourses to how it looks at markets to help its customers differentiate their products in a way that gives them a sustainable competitive advantage.
For more information on Ticona engineering polymers, visit http://www.ticona.com/homepage .