Interview with Dr. Yusuf Aktalay

Dr. Yusuf Aktalay
Dr. Yusuf Aktalay
Group Vice President Process Chemicals
Cognis Deutschland GmbH & Co.KG
Cognis Deutschland GmbH & Co.KG

The majority of textile and leather manufacturers have relocated production to countries
Yusuf Aktalay (born 1953) is Group Vice President Process Chemicals at Cognis, and a member of the c

Can we start with a brief overview of the company?

"Cognis is a global specialty chemicals company, and is among the leaders in many of its markets worldwide. We offer our customers a complete range of products based on natural oils and fats, as well as assistance in developing innovative product concepts, and comprehensive chemical and technical expertise. We are dedicated to the principle of sustainability in everything we do, delivering natural-source raw materials and ingredients for food, nutrition and healthcare markets, and the cosmetics, detergents and cleaners industries. We also supply a number of other industries, including coatings and inks, lubricants, textiles, leather, agriculture and mining. We employ about 8,000 people at production sites and service centers in almost 30 countries, and sell our products to customers in more than 100 countries. In 2004, Cognis recorded total sales of 3.07 billion euros. With over 125 years of experience, the Textile Technology business of Cognis is one of the world’s leading suppliers to manufacturers and processors of yarns and fabrics. We offer a wide range of concepts: process auxiliaries for spinning mills, weaving shops and textile printers, finishing additives for improved comfort, and fiber-friendly enzyme-based dying solutions to give denim jeans a washed-out look. We supply high-performance products for wool, cotton and man-made fibers, and integrated natural-source solutions that improve productivity in complex manufacturing processes. We are also among the world’s foremost suppliers of naturally derived raw ingredients, and our expertise in textiles and our know-how in naturally derived raw ingredients come together in our four ingredient brands marketed under the “Active Textiles” name. These are based on active ingredients from renewable natural sources, and can be incorporated into the fabric of clothing. "

Could you throw some light on the demand-supply scenario in the speciality chemicals industry?

Demand for functional textiles that contain active ingredients is growing. These are used in sports clothing, pantyhose, and bathrobes, to give just a few examples. Most current innovations in functional textiles are passive in nature – for example, breathability, wind- and waterproofing, or UV protection. However, the functional textiles of the future will offer active functionalities. They will adapt to the surrounding temperature, protect the wearer and enhance their sense of well-being. Consumer demand for easy-to-use products also continues to grow. If we take trousers, shirts and suits as an example, “ease of use” means being machine-washable and resistant to creasing and stains. 80 percent of retailers believe that ease of washing and care is an important criterion in the purchasing decision for customers buying a woolen pullover, and 50 percent would like to be able to offer stain-resistant suits, jackets and trousers. UV protection too would be a strong selling point. Specialty chemicals companies who want to be successful have to offer innovative solutions that meet exactly these demands.

What is the growth prospective in the speciality chemicals industry and how is your company positioned compared with other players?

Our business is always linked to our customer markets. In recent years, the textile industry has undergone major structural upheavals. The majority of textile and leather manufacturers have relocated production to countries such as South-China, India, Pakistan and Central America. As a result, Asia and South America account for the lion’s share of sales for suppliers like us, with China seeing the fastest growth of all. In order to reinforce our presence in these expanding markets, and improve our ability to serve our local and regional industrial customers moving forward, we have realigned our business processes with the structures of these traditionally fragmented industries. A network of strong, local teams has replaced the previous system, which was based on more centralized management. At the same time, the supply chain has been reorganized so that we can respond as quickly and as flexibly as possible to differing requirements. Responsibility for the different regions has been devolved to the local markets – another step forward, as we evolve from being a production-oriented specialty chemicals supplier into a service-oriented partner for our customers. In Asia, especially in China, we’re building up both production capacity and customer service capability. With our updated strategy, we are ready to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.

What is the kind of growth the company expects in the years to come?

The functional textiles market is expected to grow strongly over the next few years in the USA, Germany and Japan – although the active sportswear market was already worth some 3 billion euros in 2002, in Europe alone. Sales in the emerging economies, especially in Asia, will also drive business growth. However, when I say “Asia”, I am obviously grouping many national markets together, and consumer requirements often vary greatly from one country to another. The manufacture and use of high-tech products is most widespread in Japan and Korea, closely followed by Taiwan. In China, functional textiles are not currently used outside the sportswear category, but experts predict that by the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, sporting apparel will have made the crossover to mainstream fashion.

Can you give us examples of successful innovations from your unit?

"At the heart of Cognis’ functional textiles innovations are our four ingredient brands: Skintex®, Cyclofresh™, Repellan® and Securlana™. Skintex is an innovative encapsulation technology that allows textiles to be treated with natural actives giving a variety of effects. The microcapsules are made of chitosan, a substance derived from the shells of shrimps. Friction between the wearer’s skin and the garment activates the gradual release of the actives contained in the Skintex capsules. This means that clothing worn next to the skin – sportswear, tights, underwear and the like – can be given caring, cooling or revitalizing properties. This innovative technology has been patented worldwide, and it ensures that the active ingredients in the capsules remain present even after several washes. Cyclofresh is a technology for impregnating fabrics with long-lasting deposits that can both release deodorants and absorb unpleasant odors. It is especially suitable for use in sports and leisurewear. Body odors, such as those caused by sweat, are temporarily absorbed, before being released the next time the garment is washed. As a result, the wearer stays fresh, and so does the fabric. Where Cyclofresh is used in this way as an odor absorber, the fragrance deposits can be recharged either by washing with a perfumed fabric conditioner or by spraying them with a fragrance. As soon as the clothing is exposed to sweat, Cyclofresh can then release the stored fragrances in order to counter any unpleasant smells. Repellan offers long-lasting protection against stains and moisture for sport and outdoor wear. It coats the fabric in an invisible film, making it difficult for greasy and wet substances to penetrate it. The Repellan film is itself breathable, and is thus suitable for use on breathable textiles. Water-based fluids such as coffee, tea and wine, and oil-based foods such as butter, fries and sauces remain on the surface of the textiles, making the fabric easy to clean. Securlana gives wool long-lasting protection against pilling, color deterioration and deformation. It hinders the formation of pills, and also enables woolen garments to be machine-washed and tumble-dried, by protecting them against shrinking, felting and discoloration. As a result, clothes keep that “as new” look for longer."

What are the research and development initiatives of the company? Do you have any Capex plans?

"As I said, Cognis is increasing its development effort in the area of textiles with tangible extra benefits. We are focusing on applications in sportswear, outdoor clothing and fashion wear. Industry experts agree that functional textiles offer the potential for above-average growth worldwide, in what is generally a saturated apparel market. We have already started expanding our Textile Technology business, and have realigned its operations in order to exploit this potential. But while these specific finishing products for functional textiles are an important new revenue stream, we will not lose sight of our other business: additives for fiber and yarn production, textiles manufacturing, dyeing and printing, and for the finishing of the end product. As we recognized Asia’s potential, we also started building modern production facilities and stable customer relationships, which are necessary for success. And we will continuously expanding our position in the Asia-Pacific region. "

What are the tasks of your research unit? Is innovation the sole purpose of research?

For us, innovation is not something that exists in a vacuum. We don’t develop new products and technologies to show off our technical ability, we do it to make our customers more successful. So innovation can also mean finding new applications for existing technologies, and using these as a basis to develop completely new markets. This is exactly what happened with our Active Textiles range. The idea here was to combine Cognis’ excellence in cosmetics with its deep understanding of textiles. As a market leader in the personal care segment, we have decades of experience relating to active ingredients, sensory perception and product performance. All our formulations and active substances use natural-source, sustainable ingredients, primarily derived from oils and fats from coconuts and palm kernels. This ensures that Cognis products are not only highly effective but also dermatologically safe.

What is your message to the Industry?

We have developed our product range in response to specific consumer requirements, and so we are actively helping our customers to satisfy a real and increasing demand. Our detailed knowledge of local and global trends and our technological expertise mean we can do much more than just supplying textile and fashion manufactures with innovative products – we can also provide them with marketing ideas that can help them build long-term success in their marketplaces.
Published on: 24/04/2006

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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